Census and Scammers

Here is a great article from Scambusters.org: Scammers have a new and perfect opportunity to knock at your door or phone you to ask for confidential information.

They pretend to be Census data collectors — and since 2020 is a census year, expect them to be out in force. In fact, they’ve already started.

But they give themselves away by asking questions that genuine callers would never ask, as we explain in this week’s issue.

Let’s get started…

2020 Census Scams Have Already Started

The US Census 2020 is on its way — and you can be sure that scammers are planning to exploit it to the max.

In fact, although data collection doesn’t actually start until April, there have already been reports from Maine of people receiving documents purporting to come from the US Census Bureau.

The letters ask recipients for names and ages of children living at their address. Their requests are not from the Bureau. They’re scams. The  motive? It could be for ID theft or, since it’s asking about kids, something much more sinister.

Identity theft is the most common purpose of Census scams, but, in the past, tricksters have also been known to pose as Census workers to:

  • Gain access to people’s homes to steal.
  • Charge a fake fee for collecting information.
  • Get bank account details enabling them to drain off all the cash.
  • Solicit purchases of other products.
  • Offer to help complete a Census form in return for payment.

Your Best Defense

Because of the high risk of scams, your best defense is to know what the actual Census schedule and process is.

It starts with a mail-out or hand delivery of forms in mid-March, so if you get anything — either a call or a document — significantly in advance of that date, it’s almost certainly a scam.

(However, note that the Bureau does conduct other surveys throughout the year — more than 130 a year —  but any claim to be part of the full-blown Census won’t start happening until March. For more on those other surveys, see https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/surveyhelp.html)

From May onwards, census takers will start visiting the homes of those who haven’t responded. They’ll call up to six times, leaving a door hanger each time if they get no reply.

They will also carry and show a formal ID card, which will include their photo and the US Department of Commerce seal. You can view the seal here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Department_of_Commerce. But, of course, scammers can easily copy it, so it’s no guarantee of authenticity.

If you feel concerned, ask the visitor or caller for the name of their supervisor and the number of the Census regional office. Or, check this list: https://www.census.gov/about/regions.html

Questions They Shouldn’t Ask

You can also identify a scammer by the type of questions they ask. Genuine data collectors will never ask for your full Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers, your mother’s maiden name, the answer to a secret question, for money or donations, or anything on behalf of a political party.

After some debate, the Census also will not ask for information about citizenship status. Nor will they ask about times you’re away from home.

You’re required by law to complete the Census but a data collector will never threaten to send you to jail if you don’t give them the information they need.

It’s also possible that you may receive a genuine phone call from the Bureau. This could be for quality control or if you’ve failed to respond to doorstep visits.

The US government has issued guidance on how to identify a genuine call, including details of phone numbers for its contact centers in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and Tucson, Arizona.

These are, respectively, 812-218-3144 and 520-798-4152. Of course, it’s perfectly possible for scammers to spoof these numbers via caller ID. The Bureau says if you want to verify a call, you can use one of the following toll-free numbers:

1-800-523-3205   Jeffersonville, IN
1-800-642-0469   Tucson, AZ
1-800-923-8282   Customer Service Center

To check on the name of any individual claiming to be working for the Bureau, you can also use its online Staff Search service: https://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/main/email.cgi

Fact Checking Page

One final link that’s worth bookmarking is this fact-checking page that’s kept up to date with ongoing rumors:

This makes clear that everyone living in the US, including non-citizens, is required to be in the Census and that answers are not shared with law enforcement agencies.

Right now, for example, it alerts citizens to a rumor, currently circulating, that individuals posing as representatives of the US Department of Homeland Affairs are going door-to-door to check that everyone has a valid ID for the Census. Not true.

Note that while the US does have a Department of Homeland Security and a Department of Home Affairs, it doesn’t have a Department of Homeland Affairs.

Finally, if you think you’ve been targeted by Census scammers, you’re advised to call the Customer Service Center on the toll-free number listed above.

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