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Avoiding Census Fraud

04/23/2020
AShleigh, K-Staff

2020 is the year of the big 10-year U.S. census, a count of every person in the United States. The 10-year census, as well as the smaller and lesser known annual American Community Surveys, are an essential tool for states and local municipalities, as well as the federal government, to properly budget and allocate resources. 

The surveys ask some pretty unusual questions—such as what time you leave for work—and as such tend to spark more than a few phone calls from citizens concerned about fraud. Because of these unusual questions and the blanket method with which information is collected during the 10-year census, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate census communication and a fraudster’s attempt at capitalizing on the survey to steal your information.

Census-based fraud can happen year-round and may come in the form of fraudulent mailings, phone calls, e-mails, texts and even in-person visits. 
  
RED FLAGS:
  • You receive an e-mail communication. Like many government agencies, you’ll almost always receive official communication via regular mail.
  • You’re asked for bank information, Social Security numbers, passwords or password hints (such as mother’s maiden name). A real census worker will never as for this information
  • You’re threatened by a census worker or communication. Taking part in the census is required by law, and you can be fined, but not imprisoned, for refusing to do so.
If you experience any one of these, you may be looking at a scam.
  
HOW TO KEEP YOURSELF SAFE
 
DO DON'T
Verify that a census taker who comes to your home is legitimate. They should have a Census Bureau photo ID badge (with a Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date) and a copy of the letter the bureau sent you. You can also search for an agent’s name in the Census Bureau’s online staff directory. Don’t give your Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, or bank or credit card numbers to someone claiming to be from the Census Bureau. Genuine Census representatives will not ask for this information.
Do confirm that a questionnaire you’ve received is on the Census Bureau’s official list of household or business surveys. Don’t reply, click links or open attachments in a suspicious census e-mail. Forward the message to ois.fraud.reporting@census.gov.
Do contact the bureau’s National Processing Center or the regional office for your state to verify that an American Community Survey or other census communication is genuine. Don’t trust caller ID — scammers can use “spoofing” tools to make it appear they’re calling from a real Census Bureau number. Call the National Processing Center at 800-523-3205, 800-642-0469 or 800-877-8339 (TDD/TTY) to verify that a phone survey is legitimate.
Do check that a census mailing has a return address of Jeffersonville, Ind., the site of the National Processing Center. If it’s from somewhere else, it’s not from the Census Bureau.  
Do check the URL of any supposed Census website. Make sure it has a census.gov domain and is encrypted — look for https:// or a lock symbol in the browser window.  

You can report suspected scams to the regional Census Bureau office serving your state and to the Federal Trade Commission (online or at 877-382-4357).



 
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