For accuracy’s sake, people should first go to the Social Security Administration’s website before they visit a field office, Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin said Wednesday.

In a 30-minute phone interview with Financial Advisor, she called the website the best starting point for claimants since the program is complex and the pathways to to maximizing benefits are different for different people.

The problem of inaccuracies at field offices was highlighted in a recent Congressional General Accountability Office report that showed GAO staffers who visited the centers had received incomplete and erroneous information.

While praising her 60,000 employees who conduct millions of transactions a year, Colvin said with the volume some misinformation is probably inevitable.

People working for the SSA sometimes provide inaccurate information, but claimants often provide inaccurate information to the agency as well, she pointed out.

Colvin said the most common mistakes people make in filing claims are errors in their marital status, number of children and other personal information.

She added individuals also make mistakes in deciding when to file for benefits based on the experience of friends and relatives rather than their own personal situations.

On cybersecurity, the Social Security chief said stolen Social Security numbers are not useful alone for crooks.  

“Generally a Social Security number is not enough to get credit. Other information is needed as well. It’s just one step in the process,” Colvin said.

Although banks give new account numbers to customers who have had them stolen, she said, Social Security is not going that route.

She noted the instances in which people are given new Social Security numbers is in serious cases such as for witness protection programs and to guard victims of domestic abuse.

Personally, Colvin said, she is careful to give out her Social Security number only when she thinks it is needed.

She recalled a business asked her for her number and she refused. Because she did, the company declined to do business with her, which Colvin said is perfectly legal.

With Social Security Trustees predicting the retirement trust fund will run out of money in 2034, Colvin said, a Congressional fix should be done sooner rather than later so people can plan ahead.

As the head of the agency for three-and-a-half years, Colvin said she has seen herself not only as the administrator for the largest source of retirement income for Americans but also as a major player in the nation’s overall discussion on retirement security.

The 81-year-old program was never intended to be the sole source of income for older people, Colvin said. Social Security should be viewed as one leg of a three-legged stool that includes personal savings and workplace retirement plans.

Preparing to leave her job when President Obama leaves in January, Colvin said the biggest challenges for her successor will be to quickly modernize the agency’s antiquated computer systems and reduce the hearings backlog for disability claimants.

“We have a million people waiting two years. That is too long,” she said.