New layer of security added when applying for Social Security online

Applying for Social Security online? There’s now a second security step, using either your email address or a cellphone number.

In June, the Social Security Administration added the second step for checking the identification of “my Social Security” online account holders when they register or sign on using the internet. You can choose either, using your cellphone number or your email address as a second identification method through email or text message.

An email address already is required to use “my Social Security” online (www.ssa.gov). If you plan to select email as the second method of authenticating your online account, ensure that the onetime security code return email does not go into your spam or junk folder by adding NO-REPLY@ssa.gov to your contact list.

What if you don’t have a cellphone or computer? There’s still a human option.

Visit your local Social Security Administration office in person and use one of the “self-help” computer stations, where an SSA employee can assist. Or you can have someone at that office help you through the whole application.

There are 16 of these “self-help” computer stations in the broader Philadelphia region, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, but you’ll need an appointment. You can schedule, reschedule, or cancel appointments by calling the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, or by contacting your local agency office.

For the locations of the “self-help” offices, see the accompanying list. Office hours are typically from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., “except on Wednesdays, when some offices close at noon,” said Social Security press officer Richard Gaudiosi. So be sure to check your local office’s hours.

The two-step security measures have alarmed a lot of seniors, said Lowell Arye, who previously worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is now president of his own consulting firm in Yardley, Aging and Disability Policy and Leadership.

Arye himself applied for benefits online using a computer at home and had no issues with the new “two-factor” security.

But, he said, “there is a distinct technology divide between older and younger baby boomers, 10,000 of whom are becoming eligible for Social Security every day. So when SSA introduced this two-step process, people flipped out.”

Older boomers, those born between 1946 and 1953, tend to be less tech-savvy, Arye said, while those born later, between 1954 and 1964, “grew up with technology. In addition, there’s a tech divide depending on where you live in the country. In South Dakota, half the counties are called frontier. They’re not even rural. Cellphone service out there is really spotty,” so seniors are often worried about relying on cellphones for security purposes.

A Pew Research Center study backs that up: Only four in 10 seniors have smartphones. And among seniors 80 and older, only 50 percent even have cellphones.

“That’s why Social Security added email as a security-authentication option,” Arye said.

The need for online capability for seniors will merely grow.

“In August 2017, Social Security turned 82 years old,” Arye noted. The number of Social Security beneficiaries includes almost 42 million retirees, more than 4.2 million children, 6.4 million widows and widowers, and 8.7 million people with disabilities, he estimated.

“Prior to the enactment of Social Security, roughly one-half of seniors were estimated to be poor. Between 1960 and 1995, the official poverty rate of those aged 65 and above fell from 35 percent to 10 percent, and research has documented similarly steep declines dating back to at least 1939,” Arye said.

“While poverty was once far more prevalent among the elderly than among other age groups,” he said, “today’s elderly have a poverty rate similar to that of working-age adults and much lower than that of children.”

Self-help office locations

Philadelphia

• Aramingo: Imperial Plaza
3400 Aramingo Ave.

• Center City: 1500 John F. Kennedy Blvd., 20th Floor, 2 Penn Center, Suite 2000a.

• Germantown: 701 E. Chelten Ave.

• Nicetown: 2929 N. Broad St.

• Northeast Philadelphia: 2373 Welsh Rd.

• South Philadelphia: 3336 S. Broad St., Stadium Plaza.

•University City: 4240 Market St.

Delaware County 

807 Crosby St., Chester 19013.

8645 West Chester Pike, Upper Darby 19082.

Chester County

• 1101 West Chester Pike, West Chester 19382

Montgomery County

39 West Ridge Pike, Royersford 19468

Lehigh Valley

• 41 N. Fourth St.,
Allentown 18102

• 9090 Franklin Hill Rd
Suite 101, East Stroudsburg 18301

134 S. Fourth St., Easton 18042

Delaware

• 920 W. Basin Rd., Suite 200
New Castle 19720

New Jersey

5 Executive Campus, Suite 100,
Cherry Hill 08002