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Social Security Administration now requires text message security code for online access

Now, all new and current my Social Security account holders will need to provide a cell phone number able to receive text messages. People will not be able to access their personal my Social Security account if they do not have a cell phone or do not wish to provide the cell phone number. (SSA)

(KOMO) -- The Social Security Administration was ordered to increase its online security so it's adding a new layer of protection. But if you don't have a cell phone phone with text and agree to share your phone number, good luck viewing your account online.

Starting this month anyone who wants to check their personal social security benefits online must provide a cell phone number that's able to receive text messages.

Each time you sign in to your my Social Security account , in addition to your user name and password, you'll need a third identifier- a one-time security code sent by text, which you must also enter to log in and view account details.

While many consumers applaud the idea, others complain it puts too many seniors at a major disadvantage.

"I really do think that they're trying to take care of us." said Gayland Gump of Ferndale. "But if you're going to take care of people, make sure that you give them the options."

Gump and others who contacted the Problem Solvers say forcing people to use cell phone texts is crazy, considering the number of non-tech seniors who need social security information.

Roberta Fox of Lacey questions the logic.

"What brilliant person came up with this?" Fox asked. "I can't be the only person who doesn't use text messaging. With this policy the people who would most need access to their SS information are the ones this decision cuts out of using the only system we have to look at our account."

Gump volunteers at his local senior center and says many retirees he knows can't afford phones with texting plans. Many don't know how to text, and lot of people live in locations with poor or no cell service.

"I was a software engineer. " said Gump. "I have a few skills. And I know most of the people my age don't. I have a problem with being forced to use this method." he stressed.

Gump happens own a late- model smart phone, but objects on principle to being required to share it with SSA.

Sticking to principle, means the next time Gump wants to check his social security account he'll have to drive to the closest Social Security Administration office, or spend extra time on the phone.

An SSA spokesperson in Seattle told KOMO the agency's research shows most adults have cell phones and use them for texting, and that was a key factor in choosing text as an additional authentication factor.

The SSA cancelled a scheduled on-camera interview to explain the new policy, and instead sent the following written statement from the SSA headquarters in Maryland:

"Dear Colleague:
"Our my Social Security customers now have an extra layer of security. my Social Security account holders must now use their cell phone — in addition to their username and password — as another authentication factor during online registration and every sign in. When our customers register or sign in, we send them a security code that they must enter to finish the process.
"We have always offered this extra security feature, but until now it has been an optional step. This new requirement is the result of an executive order for federal agencies to provide more secure authentication for their online services. Any agency that provides online access to a customer’s personal information must use multi-factor authentication. We take the security of the public’s information very seriously, and we are committed to employing the best technologies and standards available.
"Our research shows that an overwhelming majority of American adults have cell phones and use them for texting. Because of technical and resource constraints, we are not currently able to offer alternative methods of satisfying this security requirement. However, we may consider adding more options in the future. We appreciate your patience as we work continuously to secure your online information.
"For more information about the use of a cell phone with my Social Security, visit our Frequently Asked Questions web page.
"Please help us spread the word about this important change. Social Security is securing today and tomorrow with critical benefits and technology to protect your personal information. We appreciate everything you do to keep the public informed about our programs and services."

The fact that SSA says it may consider more security options suggests decision makers are monitoring the impact and success of the new text policy. If your situation hinders your ability to text, phone or getting to a local social security office- this is a good time to let them know by email, or by calling your local SSA office or toll-free: 1-800-772-1213 .

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