AARP Eye Center
Social Security payments boosted by the biggest cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in more than 40 years start going out soon, and beneficiaries aren’t the only ones looking forward with anticipation.
Fraud fighters warn that the legion of scammers who impersonate Social Security Administration (SSA) officials in robocalls and other communications are adapting their pitches to the looming 8.7 percent increase, claiming targets have to pay a fee or provide personal or financial data to get their bigger benefits.
AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.
“We’ve seen actual letters sent to prospective victims, as well as text messages, emails and even a fake website, all targeting beneficiaries expecting a COLA increase,” says A.J. Monaco, special agent in charge of the major case unit at the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
“Scammers are trying to trick beneficiaries into providing PII [personally identifiable information] and other sensitive information, such as bank account numbers, to activate the COLA increase,” he says. “However, COLA increases are automatic, and do not require recipients to take any action.”
COLA coming soon
Social Security scams are a common form of government impostor fraud. In recent years, they have largely centered on false claims from phony officials that targets face an imminent threat of lost benefits, seized assets or even arrest due to misuse of their Social Security number.
Monaco says the COLA twist emerged in late 2021, after the SSA announced a 5.9 percent benefit adjustment for 2022, at the time the biggest jump in four decades. With inflation running even hotter this past year, the SSA pegged the COLA for 2023 at 8.7 percent.
People collecting traditional Social Security retirement, survivor and disability benefits will start seeing the bigger monthly payments in January. Those drawing Supplemental Security Income (SSI), an SSA-administered benefit for low-income people who are 65 and older or have disabilities or vision loss, get their first COLA-boosted payment Dec. 30.
“Scammers do watch the news and know that with inflation and stuff, there's more and more insecurity around Social Security benefits,” says Giulia Porter, vice president at call-blocking app maker Robokiller. “We tend to see this dynamic with scammers tending to lean into what's relevant, what's most like a big pain point for consumers at a current time.”