Editorial: Social Security should get the message

We’d think the Social Security Administration would be senior-savvy. It recently revealed it is not.

On July 30, Social Security rolled out a new safeguard for users of its “my Social Security” accounts. Those are online accounts for doing things such as reviewing benefits, changing address or changing the location for direct deposit.

New and current users of the accounts had to sign into their account using a one-time code sent via text message. Some tech-savvy seniors do that sort of thing every day. Many others do not. If a senior didn’t have a text-enabled cellphone, he had a problem. If a senior wasn’t familiar with texting, he had a problem. If a senior was disabled and couldn’t text, he had a problem.

Signing up for the text feature also requires information that may not be readily available, such as information from a W-2. As an alternative, Social Security requests the last 8 digits from a credit card. It promises it is not storing anything or charging consumers anything.

“(P)roviding only one method of authentication places an undue burden on recipients who may be unfamiliar with text messaging, may not have a text-enabled phone, or are unable to use text messaging due to disability,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., wrote in a a letter to Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin. “According to the Pew Research Center, only 35 percent of those over the age of 65 use text messaging.”

On Monday, Social Security admitted it made a mistake — without, of course, admitting it actually made a mistake. “We’re listening to the public’s concerns and are responding by temporarily rolling back this mandate,” according to a posting on the administration’s blog.

It explained the change was about security. Using more than just a user name and password to sign into an account is called “multifactor authentication” and helps improve security. The president has signed an executive order directing agencies to improve security for consumers.

Social Security is going to take six months and figure out something new. It needs to be senior-savvy.