Those receiving Social Security Benefits are already targets of current scams, but at 8.7% this is the highest increase COLA Increase in almost 40 years. Recipients of this benefit now have an even larger target on their back from potential scams. Scammers use the trends and hot topics to give themselves what they view as a better chance of success. The COLA increase is a hot topic at the start of the year and that puts it on the top of scammer's to-do list.
Scammers will go to great lengths to try and convince someone that they are from the Social Security Administration or that the person is doing the right thing. They will build fake websites, send text messages or emails, and they'll also try to call. Your social security number is the one thing they are looking to get from you and that will open you up to much more than just this one scam.
Here are the top three ways scammers are trying to benefit from the COLA increase of 2023:
Request Information to Activate COLA
COLA increases happen automatically, but not everyone remembers this when someone is on the phone trying their best to convince otherwise. Once they have you responding back to them, they can attempt to convince you that this year it is different or that you've been selected randomly to confirm your information. There may also be a request for you to pay a fee to activate this increase. However, the increase is automatic and at no cost to the recipient.
The "You are about to lose your benefits." Threat
While this is a more common scam, going back several years, it is still something that people are caught unaware of and end up falling victim. Often the scam will detail that you will have possessions seized, loss of benefits, or even be arrested for misuse of your social security number. Scammers will portray themselves as someone in an official capacity to the Social Security Administration - they may even relay you to another person at some point during the call. In an effort to get the information they want, they will try to make their call seem as valid as possible.
The phrase "there are plenty of fish in the sea" can have a different meaning when applied to the mindset of a scammer. Searches for the cities with the largest retiree population will provide more than enough targets. There are nearly 400,000 people in the city of Chicago that are able to receive Social Security benefits. If automatic calls are set up and go out to those people and only 10% of them call back, that is 40,000 people. If within those that return the call only 5% of them continue the call that is 2,000 people. Of those people, even if they only convince them to pay a fee of $100 that is $200,000 from Chicago alone.
Here are the things you can do to keep yourself safe from those scam attempts:
Your Personal Notification Settings
The Social Security Administration will only contact you via text message or email if you have opted into their service for notifications via those methods of communication. Text messages from SSA will only be in order to provide you with additional security details to log into your account or to receive general updates, but it will NEVER request a call-back.
If a text message or email identifies itself as Social Security and requests a callback this is a scam.
Knowledge of Scams
Making yourself aware of the methods scammers use to target their victims is the best defense you can have. Thankfully, the SSA is also aware of these scams and their attempts to defraud you. On their website they have an entire page dedicated to the claims scammers make about social security numbers. This information is available for anyone to verify via their official website https://SSA.gov which also has an important notice about being able to recognize that their website is an official government site and how you can tell.
Behavior is Everything
Scammers often want to catch you off-guard. They want you to be in a rush or unwilling to verify the information they're telling you. Anytime you receive a call that is suggesting they are an official entity take the time to listen and verify. Demands for immediate payment, gift card purchasing, disclosing of personal sensitive information - should all be red flags. If you question their validity scammers will often use hostility or fake stories to gain sympathy. By trying to get an emotional reaction from you they are shifting your thought process away from logic and onto what they want you to believe. Professionals from SSA, or any corporation, will not react this way.
Before you return a phone call or text message - take the number provided and place it into a search on the internet. If this number is associated with an official company it will be easily verified. If other people have receied a phone call from that same number and believed it to be a scam, often times they will share that information online. If the scammer is asking you to do something specific - such as purchase a gift card or provide you with banking details, you can also do an online search for that request by adding the word SCAM at the end of your search. "gift card for COLA increase scam" "verify banking info for COLA increase scam" Any of these searches will provide you with more articles about scams that could related directly to the request you are receiving.
Contact Them Instead
Any company where you have a registered account should have a contact us area on their website. If you are being asked to do something that seems out of the ordinary for that company, simply tell them you will contact them directly. Visit their website via a direct link - not one from a text message or email - and log into your account. From there you can use their contact us feature to notify them of the contact being made with you and they will be able to confirm or deny that the contact was made. Any need to contact you should be associated with your account and there will be a record of any contact made to you from the company. Most of the time, scammers won't even want you to do this step and if you inform them that you'll contact them yourself later their shift in urgency should clear up any doubt that it is indeed a scam.
Protecting yourself always starts with YOU. For more information on scams and ways to protect yourself against financial fraud visit our Security and Fraud Center.
For more information from the SSA on potential scams you can view this article: https://faq.ssa.gov/en-us/Topic/article/KA-10018