Dear Social Security Administration … I am me.

Dear Social Security Administration website

In general, the difference between the good and the great can sometimes be a matter of how effectively you sweat the little things, the things that actually matter to people at the human-level interface. We call this the tactical user-level interface. Sometimes this is the difference between a positive experience and a negative one. This difference matters for any brand.

Today’s brand example is the US government. Specifically the Social Security Administration, a part of the government I have never harbored any animosity toward … until last week.

I am me.

I was asked to retrieve my social security benefit amount and retirement age. The Social Security Administration no longer mails out statements. That’s a good thing, since a few hundred million statements equate to a LOT of paper. Instead, they recommend that you obtain this information from their website, ssa.gov, which I proceeded to attempt to do. A banner headline greets me on a responsive, seemingly newly minted website with words like “just how easy it is to apply online.”

Please understand, I have registered on many (too many) websites before. I use the web. The web is a big part of my business. More than one hundred thousand people read this blog last year. I am not a newbie … and I failed to successfully register. Twice.

I failed not because the website was poorly designed or hard to use. It’s actually very good overall. I failed because I could not answer all the security questions they asked in order to verify that I am me.

I called the Social Security Administration and got the information I needed over the phone from a very friendly and personable representative. This was relatively easy and did not require that I divulge much information.

Phone easy. Website hard. I don’t see the efficiency in this.

Phone easy. Website hard. I don’t see the efficiency in this. And yet, a clearly stated value of their website (and your website) is to make things easier for me (as well as to save paper and money through the efficiency that is a fundamental benefit of doing such things as obtaining your records online instead of through the mail.)

In the call, I also asked about the website and whether she knew of other complaints. She was not forthcoming on this. I felt responsible to tell her they were being inefficient by making me call her. When I went on to tell her that I think the information they have about me—the information that I needed to know in order to satisfy them and prove that I am me—might be wrong, she told me I would have to contact the credit bureaus to correct anything. When I asked if I could register a personal complaint about the website not serving me well, she said no. They were recording my call, but I wonder if they are tracking the volume of failed attempts to register on the site?

She was kind enough to unlock my account so that I could try again to register on the website.

I did try again, being VERY careful…to…get…every…thing…right. I even looked stuff up on Google about myself to ensure its veracity.

I am not me enough to access my social security data.

I failed. I got locked out a second time.
I am not me enough to access my social security data.
Okay, maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the only one who does not, off the top of my head, know the model year of the car I once owned while in grad school.

My wife also needed data from them, so she gave the website registration process a good college try (she does have a graduate degree).

She got locked out … and she was done. She was not going to bother with that ever again.

How much is such animosity worth?

Social Security is a good thing. The Social Security Administration is a government agency that I should have positive feelings for.

So why this?

The lady on the phone said it was for security. In this case apparently, to protect my data … from me

The lady on the phone said it was for security. In this case apparently, to protect my data … from me.

I wonder what percentage of potential accessors of their data have tried to pass through this particular security gauntlet and have, like my wife and I, failed and then just given up. Admittedly, this is not a critical service like obtaining healthcare coverage through a government exchange, but still, this is something I should be able to easily obtain … of the people, by the people and for the people and all that. Is—as this hot new Princeton study (PDF) suggests—democracy as we thought it existed in America just wishful thinking? Is my situation just a byproduct of poor user-testing on a well-intentioned and generally well-designed website, or is it a symptom of something larger? I hope it’s the former. I hope it’s just something they haven’t gotten to yet.

In general, the difference between the good and the great can sometimes be how effectively seemingly minor things are attended to.

To reiterate my opener: I believe that, in general, the difference between the good and the great can sometimes be how effectively seemingly minor things are attended to. On the positive side, these things can be a trim tab. On the negative side, they can be an incitement to animosity and even brand disavowal. This is an example of one of those places. I want us to be great. I want government to work. I want to believe it exists to serve, desires to be efficient, and is supporting the greater good. Perhaps this is why this situation upsets me. It’s an affront to my sense of pride.

The Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? effect

In case anyone is interested, here is the problem with the Social Security Administration website’s registration security protocols from a usability (UX) standpoint: It’s something we could call the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? effect.

Many of you have seen or heard of the TV quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? It was popular in the early 2000s and from its origins in the UK, eventually spread all over the world. It’s even the context of the Academy Award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire.

The game was simple. Fifteen seemingly easy multiple-choice questions were asked of contestants who, if they could answer all of them, would win $1,000,000. Part of the entertainment value of the show was how easy many of the questions were. The trick was that getting ALL of a series of fifteen—even relatively easy—questions correct was actually much more difficult than it sounded. To spice things up and enhance the gameplay, the game also had three “lifelines” to help the contestants. These were call a friend, ask the audience, and half the options.

The fact is that no, I don’t remember the model year of the car I bought in 1996.

My thought during my second unsuccessful attempt to get all the security questions correct on the Social Security website was this: I need a lifeline. No, I thought, I do not remember the model year of the car I bought in 1996, but I do know a lot of other things about myself! Maybe I could call my college girlfriend about the car …

My more serious point is that The People’s relationship to their government is actually a very important matter in a functioning democracy. So is access to our own publicly held data. Even if I don’t stand to collect a million dollars at the end of my working life, I do want to be able to learn what my Social Security income will be, and I should be able to do so without inordinate and unnecessary frustration.

Nothing is worse for a brand than to be hated or misunderstood because of a poorly executed or thoughtlessly designed tactical user-level interface.

I’m about twenty years from my official, gradually rising retirement age, and it’s natural for me to be thinking about it more as the year approaches. I asked a few of my friends to try their luck with registering on the Social Security Administration website (please try yours and tell me how it goes). My suspicion is that the older you are—and the more you actually need the information—the less likely you will be able to get it from the website. Among my friends and colleagues, the failure rate so far has been 66.6%. This is no joke if you extrapolate that out across the entire working-age population of the United States.

So what flower of wisdom has grown out of the ashes of my frustration? Other than an inferior product, there is almost nothing worse for a brand than inattention to the tactical user-level interface.

Now, excuse me while I attend to my civic duty as US citizen and web user …

Dear Social Security Administration:

Please sweat the details. Please make the online wall between me and my data easier to climb over. I grow tired quickly, as I am getting older now.

Sincerely, 
James Heaton

___

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Comments

  1. Ari-Veikko Anttiroiko says

    Absolutely vital points, James! If public authorities were just more ready to listen to this. There are severe problems in “tactical user-level interfaces” in practically all public services. And, as your story implies, this has a lot to do with brand problems of public sector organisations.

  2. says

    I attempted to obtain Medicare Part D Prescription coverage. After experiencing similar frustration, I blocked out quiet time, phoned, and waited on hold. I too was greeted by a friendly, proficient woman on the phone call. When I apologized for not being able to utilize the website, she responded, “Oh no. You could never do that. We had three weeks of schooling to learn this”. These programs are simply too large for we the people to navigate. :)

  3. B.Chester says

    There is a list of optional questions. You DON’T have to make it hard on yourself, UNLESS, of course, you want to. I only have a High School education and I didn’t have any problem at all, I also watched a buddy of mine accomplish the same thing with no issues. Move to a question you know the answer to, and your problem will be over.

    • James Heaton says

      B Chester: Thank you for your note, and I’m glad you were able to get in.

      On hearing your response I was hopeful that maybe they had made a change to the process to make it easier, so I went back and tried again (my third attempt)…and I was blocked. There were NO optional questions for me. Just as the first two times I tried, there were four questions seemingly pulled from my credit report, ALL of which I had to answer correctly in order to verify that I am me. This time the third question was one I could not answer: It asked for the date I opened a credit card from a particular bank. Unfortunately for me, I happen to have multiple credit cards with that bank, opened over the course of the last 25 years, so on that question I could only guess which of those credit cards they were referring to. I was thrown out for 24 hours.

      I continue to occasionally ask others to try, and sadly the percentage of failures among my peers has held.

      • Leslie V says

        I have tried 4 times and failed each time. It’s telling me I have a mortgage on a home. I do not. I have never owned a home. It said I have a car loan. I have never had a car loan in my life. It asked what street I used to live on. I lived on none of the streets provided. It’s really maddening.

        • Merrill says

          Yes, I also got locked. It said I also had taken out a mortgage loan in 2017. My mortgage was paid off 15 years ago. It asked about a student loan that I don’t have. Then I had to make an appointment to apply for Medicare because I don’t have enough points since I was a teacher. The first available appointment was over a month away.

      • Ben Baca says

        I got blocked out too. The 4 questions they asked me were totally not related to anything recognizable in my past. My mortgage is paid off, but one of the questions was implying that I took out a mortgage in 2014. That has never happened. By selecting NONE OF THE ABOVE for an answer I was blocked out too, and I am trying to apply for benefits as I will be 65 in a month. I guess I am screwed. The other three questions were nothing I could relate to including an address I have never lived at. Yet another NONE OF THE ABOVE as an answer. I am beginning to think that the older you get the harder it is to get passed the questions just to get an account.

  4. Dark Penguin says

    The worst thing about all these questions is that you are SOL if you don’t remember EXACTLY how you entered your answers the first time. Did you grow up on a ST, Street, Lane, or LN? Were you born in L.A. or Los Angeles or New York City or NYC, or New York, NY? Did you graduate from a high school or an HS, or did you leave that part out when you entered the name of your school? You better be sure before you hit enter or else the part of the algorithm which holds the key will cast you deep into Lockout Land.

    And all that doesn’t even touch on the problem confronting many if not most women–that of having used different surnames in the past–a maiden name, then a married name. We’re going through this now with my wife, or at least we were until we–uh–got locked out while trying to register her on the website. No, she doesn’t remember how her name was styled on her SS card, which she hasn’t seen in a decade or two. (Nor I mine. I just have my SSN memorized and rattle it off when needed.) But with a maiden name, my surname, and her ex’s name, which she continued using for professional purposes, then allowing for hyphens/spaces, there are at least a half-dozen plausible versions that she might have used.

    THE SSA *knows* us fine. We went into our local office and got her SSRI set up; we’re expecting a substantial back payment any day now. That piece of business is done. But it would be nice to be able to log into the website, because then maybe we could discover when that payment will go out.

  5. John says

    +1. I’ve been locked out after answering the questions accurately, but apparently, “incorrectly.” Offering a multiple choice for the year I refinanced my home doesn’t work if I refinanced 4 times (yay for low interest rates!). Having a single field for phone number is useless. It would be a little more helpful if they told me what year they got my phone number — at least then I could search through old emails to track down what my number was that year!

    Complexity in software that works is magic. Complexity in software that doesn’t work is torture. If you can’t make it work correctly 95% of the time, then just make it easy — have me enter a phone number and call me when you have an operator ready!

  6. Sandy Klocinski says

    I had the same problem. I did manage to get mine correct the 2nd time. The first time they asked me what year I opened a bank account (about 30 some years ago) and that I no longer have. I then tried to do my husband’s. (Yes, I know, technically illegal.) None of the questions were questions that were prior to my husband and I being married but one thing that tricked me up was that they asked me which street had we lived on…well they gave me 4 choices, one of which said Fawn. Well we lived on a street called Fawn Crest…so was this a trick question or what?

    Anyway, I answered none of the above…WRONG! I didn’t fare any better the next time and got locked out. Stupid system.

    Now I need to change his address since we moved…can’t. They won’t talk to me and he won’t call. You can’t do it by mail so exactly what am I supposed to do?

    I guess I will make my voice really deep and call and tell them I am him. If you think about it, they have no idea who they are talking to on the phone. I could have another man call and feed him the information he needed and they would change the address or reset the account for him but they won’t do it for me….not much security there…stupid, stupid, stupid!

  7. Abbie O'Gallagher says

    Both my husband and I made multiple attempts to establish a My Social Security account online and failed every time. We ARE geezers but are both very computer literate. We failed every time. Our experiences were very similar to the ones the author of this article described.

  8. Dan S. says

    I got my account set up the first time. I was lucky. I then tried to do it for my wife, since she hates stuff like this (as someone else said, technically illegal, but give me a break…) I entered *something* wrong on the personal verification section, and am waiting until 3:35PM today for the 24-hour lockout to expire, before trying again. I was going to call, but someone else has already stated they won’t do it for a spouse. Fooey – what nonsense!

    • Sosecurity RejeKt says

      Ditto to everything posted here except the lucky person who said it was easy. I have a graduate degree and I have been locked out twice. Scary that Big Brother knows way more about me than I do as does any other agency, corporation or computer clown out there. Now if I could just remember the passwords to my other retirement and bank accounts maybe I wouldn’t completely starve to death. :)

  9. Kathy says

    Totally agree with all the comments! Locked out 6 or so times so far over the past few weeks.

    First 2 times was before I realized that you need to unlock your credit history with Equifax before trying to obtain the my SS account. Unlocked my credit and even ran both Experian and Equiax reports to help answer the questions. It locks every time even though I am answering the questions correctly.

    At some points it was not even getting me to the page of questions (just locking me out on the first page for name and address). Tried different browsers and different computers. Deleted cookies and browsing history. Closed browsers. Rebooted computers. (I too have many accounts with many different websites and never have issues like this). Got to the questions page again today and am locked out again. This even though I had two credit reports (Experian and Equifax) next to me to help me answer the questions.

    Now need to take off 1/2 day to go to the local Social Security office to prove who I am so I can get a copy of my social security report for my financial planner because they won’t mail me this information. Talk about design issues. Geesh….

    • Michelle says

      I hear you, same thing with me. Thought I knew who I was but according to SS I don’t. I have been locked out 5 times and been unblocked, I still can’t get signed up. I even printed my Credit Reports but the questions they are asking me don’t match the dates. So frustrating!

      I went to my social security office and there were about 100 people ahead of me. When I walked in, there was a big screen that wanted me to enter my social security number so I could get a ticket. I looked around and thought “you must be nuts”— enter my social security number so it could be viewed by anyone near me, you have got to be kidding.

      2 Weeks later, still no access. Whoever designed this must be the architect of ObamaCare’s site!

  10. James says

    My wife needed her Social Security statement for her financial advisor. She attempted to retrieve it from the Social Security website and was asked questions from her credit report. She answered all of the questions with answers that were 100% true. Some of the answers were “none of the above.” The result is… “We have suspended your electronic access to your personal information. …Please verify your personal information again before trying to use this online service.” So…because is seems that some detail logged by someone somewhere at a credit bureau (we are not told which one) is wrong she cannot access her Social Security records. She is asked to verify her “personal information.” Is this instruction to go gumshoe all her credit reports to find out what they have gotten wrong, and figure out how to fix that, then fix it and when all that is done come back and try again? Is that verifying her personal information? Or is this just an existential admonishment: “You must know your true self better.” Your genuine truth not being relevant or of value in this case. Sigh.

  11. Sue says

    I too – became locked out from failed attempts. The questions were so nebulous! They all sounded like they could be right, but I wasn’t sure. Each question asked a number of things, so any one of those things could be inaccurate. The name of the mortgage company from 17 years ago, the month it was acquired, and the exact year. Yes or no? I spent the better part of the afternoon (on more than 1 day) trying to get this. I, ended up calling and they seemed very skilled at helping people run the gauntlet over the phone. Government at (not) work?

    • yonatan solberg says

      My frustrating experience led me to seek ‘company in misery’, which you have provided, and thanks.

      A 20-year resident and citizen of Israel, I ‘called’ home’ last week to innocently learn what might save me from poverty since arriving at 67.

      The multiple-choice questions were so far from specifically-irrelevant to any details of my life; ex: a list of streets I’ve perhaps lived on? Never even heard of any of them, so ‘None of the above’. Same story for the other two questions. Paranoid, I suspected that they had an entirely different guy in their files.

      Locked out, of course. Twice. One detail, the ‘prepare yourself’ list includes email address, yet there is no field for it in the form, at least as far as I saw. Whas up with dat?

      Once again, thanks for documenting that I’m not a lone gun-man in this episode.

      J. Solberg, Israel

  12. Jim Madura says

    Same issue, not able to register/access my own account information on ssa.gov. The kicker is, before they made the “enhancements” to the website, I was able to access it.

    • Jill Ann Adams says

      I tried to access my account too. I forgot my password, but when it goes to the window to get your password that you forgot it doesn’t like my answers. I used things that I could remember and it locked me out. I tried again to sign in after that and it locked me out again in less than 3 times trying. I need to check my account. I need to see if I need to renew my Extra Help. This is frustrating and pissing me off.

  13. Bob Schwartz says

    Glad to see this is not unique. My answer to most of the questions was NO — addresses at places I had never lived, phone numbers I never had. I also said no to a vague question about “bank” accounts that MIGHT have included a credit card that I did have — was that incorrect, and lock me out of everything? OR has my account been hacked, and someone else receiving payments. After the 50 minute wait for telephone, only help was to let me try again in less than 24 hours — with same result! I can’t believe there aren’t more widespread complaints. Fortunately we have a meeting scheduled in a couple of weeks — but for now must live with possibility that somebody else is sitting there collecting our money ….. And yes, I am computer literate.

  14. deja says

    The site asked me four questions, none of which applied to me hence I answered none of the above, and was promptly locked out. None of the accounts they asked about are on my credit reports and I monitor all three bureaus on a regular basis.

  15. Jonathan Hopper says

    I had a similar problem with the mySocialSecurity account creation. All it asked for was my name, my D.O.B., my phone number, my address, and my SS number. All things that I know and can certainly check with accuracy. I haven’t moved recently or changed phone numbers, so that shouldn’t be a problem, I know my own name and birthday, and I triple checked my SS#. I know everything was correct, and yet time after time the website told me to correct my information. Very aggravated, and the website simply told me to go to my local SS office (which is an hour away) and sign up for an account there. Much inconvenient, much annoyed.

  16. Ginger Rosser says

    So glad I found this website. I was sure someone had gotten hold of my ss number. No it’s not me, it’s them! I just wanted my benefits statement. Sheez.

  17. Janne says

    Both my husband and I tried to set up an account so that we could access our information. I have been on other Government sites without this much trouble. This is frustrating. I know we are not the only ones with the same problems. I looked at other complaints dating back to 2014 and the problem has not been resolved. It seems when they want your money they waste no time in accessing your information and demand that you pay up but if the tables are turned then it takes them until Heck Freezes over before you get any help.

  18. Not-so-Lucky Penny says

    I am one of the LUCKY account holders! My problem is now that I am an account holder they require that you change your password often, (I think every 6 months). I knew what my password was because I had it stored. It claims wrong password! I tried it 3 times and guess what?…..LOCKED OUT! Come on….REALLY???

  19. Dan H says

    I think there’s something wrong with their system. Like many others I keep getting locked out.

    I want to make an account to use their on-line tools to start planning (I’m 60 now).

    At first I thought my problem might be the way they were getting the info and asking the questions such as “How much is your monthly mortgage payment?” Does this include taxes and insurance which are rolled into my payment or just the mortgage? Also since I’m paying an automated extra each month, do I include that? Depending on what they’re using, I could answer A, B or C on that question alone. I also get the credit card question where the correct answer is None of the Above. Is that what’s tripping me up?

    Since they told me that the questions are from the credit bureaus, I decided to open a Trans Union account and, lo and behold, there they were, the same questions. I answered them the same way as on the SS site and—I got in and created an account just fine—with the same answers.

    I tried another time to sign up and the answer to every question was “None of the Above” since they were questions about addresses, businesses and banks not even in this area of the country. Of course, I’m still locked out :(

  20. Michelle says

    I am so glad to have found this website! No offense to everyone, but I am glad it wasn’t just me having problems with logging in.

  21. Jill says

    I just tried two days in a row. No success. My co-worker tried. She had all questions that were ‘none of the above.’ It locked her out.
    So far, no one has blamed the Russians, but I’m pretty sure they are the culprits.

  22. gregf says

    “I failed not because the website was poorly designed or hard to use.” – I totally disagree with this statement. The ID verification is also part of the design and is VERY POOR. Grade F.

    • James Heaton says

      Excellent point. Thank you! Why look at this essential functional element as something separate from the design?

  23. Garrett says

    First of all, I would like to say that my wife and I are in our mid-20s, which is relevant because all the information requested to verify our identities is less than 10 years old. Additionally, all of that information seemed to be pulled from our credit reports, which seems pretty logical to me. Nevertheless, we have been unsuccessful, and are unsure as to why. Her questions related to the following:

    -current auto loan servicer
    -current auto loan total monthly amount
    -previous street of residence
    -a loan that was closed on a specified date
    -a credit card that was opened on a specified date

    The first time she entered her information, she did so strictly off memory except for the auto loan amount because it is an automatic payment that has yet to be due. All other questions were fairly obvious except the loan question. She didn’t recognize any lenders on the last so marked “none of the above” … no dice.

    The solution seemed obvious: diligently consult her credit report to ensure we are not missing anything. We did so. The result was somewhat puzzling because it turns out that all questions had been answered correctly, unless perhaps we had selected something wrong on accident.

    So we waited the 24 hours and tried again. Same questions except the credit card question this time referred to a different card. Easy enough right? We made damn sure that every question on there matched the credit report exactly. The only one we were concerned about was the loan question again … none of the servicers listed seemed to match any of the closed accounts on her report. So we start thinking, okay, maybe one of these servicers is actually being listed by their DBA/fictitious name and that’s why we’re missing it. So we do some research and don’t really come up with anything.

    (In retrospect, this name research seems unnecessary because once I decided to try my own hand at creating my account, it appears that the loan servicers listed in the questions on the SSA website are verbatim as they appear on a credit report i.e. DEPT OF EDUCATION/NELN is listed just like that.)

    At any rate, after all this trepidation we submit the information and of course she is now locked out of her account until she can call them. You may be asking yourself, “why on Earth do y’all care so much about accessing this site?”, which is a fair question. Essentially, my wife and I obtained a joint credit card recently for the purpose of conveniently splitting all of our bills. We linked all of our bills to that account. For some unknown reason, the account has been frozen and in order to reactivate, one of the criteria is for my wife to furnish her SS card. However, she does not have it, and she spends every waking hour engaged in her business, which is in its incipiency. Needless to say, it is difficult to swallow the idea of going to the Social Security office.

    Moving on, now I am definitely curious about this process because of the whole loan question that we were unsure about until I also failed. As before, we pulled my credit report, matched the questions and answers exactly, which in my case were completely unambiguous. Every question had the right answer selection, which we triple checked for accuracy before submitting.

    Similarly, my questions related to the following:

    -current auto loan servicer
    -current auto loan total monthly amount
    -previous street of residence
    -a loan that was opened on a specified date
    -a credit card that was opened on a specified date

    And of course I was also rejected. So naturally I had to figure out why a couple of college-educated millennials exercising a combined and very concerted effort could not seem to verify our own identities despite the fact that we presumably had the answer sheet while taking the test! I would still like for that question to be answered.

    Admittedly, I have found solace by the reviews here. Yet it is disconcerting and even discouraging to hear about the experience that ensues upon reaching out directly to the humans that are trained to assist with this matter. Any additional insight would be most helpful.

    P.S. I do not understand the comment by B. Chester from 2014. There does not appear to be any roulette of question from which I can casually choose. Please let me know if anyone else has experienced this.

    And God bless America!

    • James Heaton says

      Garrett, thank you for documenting this in such scrupulous detail! Thanks to all who have shared your stories here. It may be time to seek an answer to why this is so hard to fix. Is there some unseen force that prohibits attention to basic usability? I’ll start by asking my congressperson.

  24. Susan says

    Now I know I’m not alone. However, I would rather be alone and get the social security I waited seventy years to claim. I am disgusted.

  25. Cathy says

    I also have had three unsuccessful attempts at creating an account, Either the questions don’t pertain to me at this time, or there are street names and phone numbers I’ve never heard of. I will try again in 24 hours with renewed hope, but think I am probably fighting an already lost cause.

  26. Dylan says

    I’ve been trying to create an account for my disabled brother to get a Benefit Verification Letter. Today I attempted to create an account and all these wrong questions appeared for me to answer about mortgage loans, monthly payment amounts, credit card lenders, etc. The problem with this is that he has no credit history whatsoever so this has stumped me. Possibly his social security number is being used under a stolen identity. I call S.S. and the rude lady on the phone said to get a credit report from 1 of the 3 leading credit report sites to double-check the info. I attempted to create an account with one of those and I hit the same roadblock. This time it asked multiple choice questions on a car loan, pet insurance, the pets name, and a bunch of crap. It’s very worrying actually.

  27. Elyse says

    My sister and I have been trying for a few weeks to get replacement social security cards. Go online, they said. It’ll be easy, they said. We haven’t been able to create accounts, after many tries. My sister actually got to the page with all the questions about credit card, loan, mortgage, etc. but then they locked her out, too.

    I did call The Office and was able to give them all the info they needed to prove I was me—things that aren’t questions when you’re trying to set up the account, so far. They unlocked me 3 times and also couldn’t understand why I was locked out. But they won’t let me create an account—all I filled in is my name, address, phone number, and soc. sec. number—nothing I could possibly make a mistake on. My sister’s attempts were the same … minus that one question page—but after that, she was also locked out.

    We KNOW there must be something wrong with this site, because I’ve read so many complaints about it—but how are others able to create accounts with no problems?? It seems there are more people that can’t create them, or access their own info, than those that can. I gave up and sent them an application for another card. We also can’t get to the local soc. sec. office. I don’t remember having this kind of trouble the first time I applied for a replacement card—got it a short time later, too. They must be backed up by now mailing them out, with all the requests from people having trouble using the site.

    It shouldn’t be so hard to use the site, especially just to get a printout or a new card. Really frustrating. Why can’t they admit something is wrong with their website?

  28. Linda says

    I created an account a long time ago and last week filed for Medicare. For the past 3-4 days, I have been unable to even log in to my account to see if it has been processed. I was given a re-entry account number but guess what … can’t log in to my account. Said page not found. Site checking the OP address says the server is up and running so it must be my laptop … What? Guess I am not alone in this!!!

  29. Brian says

    I created accounts for my wife and myself right after getting the notification that printed annual summaries would no longer be sent. I carefully made note of the user ID and passwords that I created for each of us. The first time I tried to access my wife’s I got a “The information could not be verified” message. I checked, and the information was correct. Later, I tried it and it worked. Mine always worked, until today. So even if you end up guessing the correct answers to those long ago forgotten credit cards, loans and addresses – don’t think that your travails are over. The government gremlins lie in wait still.

  30. Rosalind says

    I’m glad I found this site. Misery loves company. Twice I have tried to create an account and each time have had to answer “None of the above” to every question. My credit history is very thin, so it isn’t a matter of remembering details incorrectly. I’ve never had a mortgage or a mortgage payment, and only one car loan, decades ago. I called the 800 number and was told the questions come from the credit agencies. So I was sure someone was taking out car loans on my SSN. I was able to check Experian and TransUnion, and those were fine. Equifax, I ran into the same problem with Equifax that I had on the Social Security site—verification questions that had no relationship to my life.

    Still, I think if something was really wrong with my credit situation, that would be reflected in the other agencies.

  31. jim attridge says

    Totally agree with all comments. I was blocked twice. The questions are ridiculous and require that you remember financial details of loans and mortgages from many years ago. I’m going to request to go back to hard copy mailings. The website is not worth the aggravation.

    • Greg says

      I just tried creating an account and I keep getting the message: “We have suspended electronic access to your personal information. We tried multiple times to match the information you provided with our records, but were unable to do so.”

      Apparently Social Security has some wrong information in their system because I’ve been at the same address for 4 years now. I remember trying to create an account 2 years ago and STILL have not been able to.

  32. Ed says

    What, you were able to actually talk to someone at their 800 number? I tried several times to log in to my account this morning, only to have it time out at every attempt. I’m still unable to log in an hour and a half later. So I tried their 800 number. After several attempts the bot recognized my SS number. Then it informed me of some privacy issues. Then it told me I would be offered a survey after I had been “helped” by a human. Then I was put on hold for ten minutes, the same distorted muzak looping endlessly. Then a click, a phone-ringing tone, more muzak, then the survey! No human! Tried again, a 15-minute wait, gave up. Still unable to log in to my online account. All I want is a copy of my earnings/benefits statement. That’s it!

    Social Security is a bureaucratic nightmare, run by lifers and time-servers who couldn’t care less about their fellow citizens, as their “technology” proves. And it will only get worse.

  33. V. says

    I’ve tried making an account several times over the past year and get locked out every single time with info that’s 100%. Every time until today, I didn’t even know there were security questions because it locked me out immediately after submitting the page with my name and general info on it. I’d have gone to the local office before now if it weren’t so terrible, and it’s too painful for me to sit for 7 hours waiting for them to call me, so I’ve put it off.

    Today, I tried again because there’s a huge discrepancy in the amount of benefit $ they’re supposed to send me and what they sent me today, and because there weren’t any letters from them in the mailbox.
    Turns out there are security questions, and now I’ve joined the club where none of the possible options to their questions were applicable to me in any way. It scared me because it has someone else’s personal info on it, even a list of middle names to choose from which are all wrong and multiple credit card questions and even a car loan question. I don’t have a car, or any credit cards. All I have is my bank savings account. So I printed the page, just in case, and then called social security and waited 45 minutes and they finally picked up. (Usually, it’s over an hour—the past few times I’ve called, I’ve been on hold for up to two hours and then get hung up on. Literally hung up on.)

    The person at the other end of the phone was really nice and helpful; they even went so far as “unlocking my account/info” and staying on the phone with me while I tried to create an account. It didn’t work. Twice. He said to go into the local office and see what I can do.

    I tried using the free credit report sites, because at that point I was more than convinced that someone is using my identity, and none of the credit reports worked. They “couldn’t get enough information” or essentially gave me the same message as social security did and said I was locked out of my information.

    I’m glad to hear that some people who have these problems have had success in the credit reports, but I’m going out of my mind with anxiety over this. I don’t see why the issue with the free, government-approved credit report sites would also be reflected in my trying to make an account. I also don’t understand why the person working at social security had to go in and “unlock” my info for me and then still have it not work. I’m still pretty convinced someone’s using my SSN after all this.

    I’m not sure what the local office will be able to tell me, if anything, and I have to wait over the weekend full of anxiety. But maybe I’ll come back and update after going, just in case someone reads this in the future and has the same problem.

    • emil says

      Same situation as you—what did they do at your local office? I tried calling and they’re basically useless on the phone. I asked the guy to help me create an account and he said to go to my local SS and asked me if there’s anything else he can help me with (funny, he didn’t help me on nothing xD).

  34. Lori Wise-Esterhay says

    I’ve been locked out too. Numerous times. I may have messed up my application. I wanted to start over. I know my dad’s middle name, the hospital I was born in and my first car model. It is HIGHLY annoying not to be able to get back in.

  35. Deb Kelly says

    Glad I’m not the only one…..I will try again and maybe one more time after that, then I will be done with the online portal and will have to call SS if I need them. I don’t remember what credit card I had 30 years ago or the phone number I had other than the one I have now. That is just information that I didn’t think I would ever need again so erased it from my memory :-/

    Unfortunately SS will not do anything about this so good luck everyone :)

  36. Joe Turner says

    I’ve had an account set up for myself and my wife for many years. Everything has been great until today when I went to log on and check my account. There is a new layer of security now that requires an e-mail or text message code to be entered. Hey that’s fine no problem. The message says it may take up to 2 minutes to receive the text. It also says you must enter the code within 10 minutes. It takes 22 minutes for me to get the code so I can’t get into my own account now after properly entering my username and password. Sad sad sad.

  37. James Heaton says

    I tried again today, and was locked out again. In the three years since I authored this article, after having what amounts to the same frustrating experience over and over again, I can see that the managers of this website have gone through the time and expense of improving the website’s appearance significantly. But they have failed to address the fundamental problems of utility that is at the heart of my article and is reflected by all the commenters who have taken the time to tell their stories of frustration here. Big buttons and attractive graphics are not the solution to a flawed user-level interface. The brand consequence in my experience today was worse than the first time because it is so clear that other work has been done. So this is not neglect but obstinance. I can only ask again: Why?

    There are better ways to achieve a sufficient level of security.

    Most of the true and correct answers for me were “None of the above,” but this question stuck out in particular: “On which of the following streets have you NEVER lived?” (emphasis mine) with a list of streets that I’ve NEVER lived on, and the option of “None of the above.” What’s the correct answer?

    I think what the question was getting at was which of these addresses has absolutely no association with any aspect of your life and has never served as a reportable address for anything including office locations you have had in the past, but it did not ask that. It asked on which of these have I never lived and as a statement of fact I have never lived on any of those streets. Am I being locked out because I feel compelled to answer honestly instead of sleuthing some semi-transparent intent within this inherently unanswerable question?

    I still do not have access to my Social Security information and I sit here locked out and frustrated for absolutely no good reason that I can see.

    • Connie Fry says

      My granddaughter, age 21, tried to set up an account to order a replacement SS card. She has one credit card and has never had a mortgage or car loan. The security questions included mortgages, mortgage amounts, car loan and amounts, credit cards other than the one she has, and addresses that she didn’t recognize. Needless to say, she got locked out, twice. So, I thought I would try to open an account for myself. At age 63, I have several paid-off mortgages (some of which had been sold to other lenders), numerous car loans, credit cards, etc., plus numerous past addresses. Voila! I got in on the first try! (I did answer ‘none of the above’ on one question regarding a retail credit card.)

  38. Shannon says

    Finding this article as well as the numerous comment entries has actually provided a sense of relief for me. Thank you.

    I also attempted to open an online account for SS. And I also ran into the IDENTICAL PROBLEM everyone else here has run into. None of those questions applied to me, not even a listing of a street I lived on. So obviously I entered that it does not apply to me. I was immediately locked out. SCARED ME SOMETHING AWFUL!

    I immediately contacted by phone and gave all my information so they could verify it was me. I explained what had happened and actually shared my fear that possibly my identity was stolen, and loans taken out using my name, and false addresses being used for my name. The person I spoke to said, “Ma’am, you have been locked out because you answered all your security questions incorrectly.” But I tried to explain that I did not answer them incorrectly. If they did not apply to me, they did not apply … period. The person unlocked the site for me to attempt a second time … which I did not do. I asked for a number to check to see if possibly I’m a victim of identity theft—it turns out that number is for Experian?

    I’m still highly upset because I did not need this, on top of everything else. I’m still rather a bit scared as well … not knowing what is going on. But seeing this article, with everyone else having the same exact problem, gave a little bit of comfort. Thank you.

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