CLT Boomer

New layer of security added when applying for Social Security online

A new two-step process online for Social Security applications has some boomers flustered. Now a cellphone or email address is required.
A new two-step process online for Social Security applications has some boomers flustered. Now a cellphone or email address is required. Getty Images/iStockphoto

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 at 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 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 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.

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 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 said.

“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.”