When it comes to getting a new Social Security card, the answer will soon be yes. The Social Security Administration on Thursday announced that Americans who need a replacement card will soon be able to apply for the document online. The process will work for basic card replacements. (Sorry, name-changers. You still have to show up in person.)
The program will roll out slowly, first in Wisconsin and Washington state, before spreading to several other states and D.C.
This new function is two years in the making, said Nancy Berryhill, the deputy commissioner for operations at the Social Security Administration. The agency, she said, is well aware that members of the public haven't been too keen on heading down to their local office when all they need is a new Social Security card.
Berryhill said she's even gotten grief about the current system from her own family. One of her cousins needed a new card and had to take four hours away from work — and therefore dollars out of her paycheck. Berryhill said that the Social Security Administration is excited to offer the new process, to save others from similar situations and make things more efficient for itself as well.
"It's not only convenient for the public, but also for our field employees," she said. "It's something we've been thinking about for a long time."
That said, the agency wanted to take its time to make sure that it got the process right, Berryhill said.
Moving things online obviously comes with questions about security. A Social Security Number is obviously one of the prime ways that credit card companies, employers and others identify individuals. To shore up security, the Social Security Administration is using a few methods, said Rob Klopp, the agency's chief information officer and deputy commissioner of systems.
For one, those who want to apply for a replacement card online will have to sign up for a "my Social Security" account, which requires you to fill out forms that, among other things, sends a check to the Equifax credit-card rating bureau to ask those registering to answer personal questions from their credit history. Fail those questions too many times, and you'll have to head to the nearest Social Security office to get everything straightened out. (So if you really want to save time, know thyself.)
And having an account is just the first step. Once you've signed up, if you need a new card you will also have to submit your driver's license or state ID card number, which are checked against the records of individual states (and the District) to verify that you are who you claim to be. From there, the information is also run through an additional fraud protection review within the agency.
Klopp said that the system is also set up to learn more about how to detect fraud automatically down the line. "We're going to learn how others try to game us," he said.
Correction: A previous version of this post said the Social Security Administration used Experian to authenticate applicants' identities. It is Equifax. This version has been corrected.