Every ten years, the U.S. census rolls around, requiring the population to complete census questionnaires by mail or phone. The Census also sees census field representatives visit homes to count the U.S. population. However, census time is prime time for scammers. It is a popular means for them to access your personal information over the phone, through emails, and even in your home.
An awareness of these census scams can help determine what is real and whether you should trust the person at the door asking to collect your information. Understanding what to watch for lessens your risk of becoming a victim and having your identity stolen.
Table of Contents
- The Census Questionnaire’s Questions
- Phone Call Scams
- Online Scams
- Postal Scams
- In-Person Scams
- Understanding the Census Process is Key to Avoiding Scams
The Census Questionnaire’s Questions
It is our civic duty to answer the census when it comes, but remember that the Census Bureau will only ask these census questions, whether you fill out your census questionnaire sent by mail, answer over the phone, or have a census field representative come to your home:
- The number of people living in your apartment, home, or mobile home on April 1, 2020.
- Any additional people staying here on April 1, 2020, not included in Question 1.
- Type of ownership (i.e., rental, mortgage, etc.) you have over your apartment, home, or mobile home.
- Every person’s age in the household.
- The race of each person in the household.
- If anyone is of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin in your household.
- The relationships between the members of your household.
Any person who asks questions outside of these, including citizenship questions, are scammers and not part of the Census Bureau.
Phone Call Scams
One way scammers can get your private details is over the phone by asking you for personal information.
- Phone Spoofing. Scammers can change the phone ID on a call to make themselves appear more legitimate, so you’ll pick up the phone to talk to them. The Census Bureau has two contact centers in Jeffersonville, IN, and Tucson, AZ, with the callers identifying themselves by their name and the nature of the questions. You can check that you’re speaking with an actual Census Bureau representative by checking the Census staff directory. If you cannot verify the name in the directory, do not divulge any details to the caller.
- Asking Questions Not Part of the Census Questionnaire. In the census questionnaire, you are asked about your household size, distinguishing characteristics, and other information that helps get a precise estimate of the U.S. population. If a caller asks for personal information like bank accounts and your Social Security Number, it is most likely a census scam.
- Delinquency Threats. A census representative may call you to follow up with you after sending a letter and not filling out a census questionnaire. Census-related threats, including police coming to arrest you, are often misleading. Callers who claim that a prepaid debit can be used to pay a fine are most likely scammers. Be aware that you will not go to jail if you do not take part in the census.
Learn more about ID theft protection on our article Lifelock Review.
In the world of online scams, fraudsters are always looking for ways to make you share your personal information, even if you are unaware that their methods are unethical.
- Email Phishing. In phishing scams, the scammer typically sends an email asking the recipient to complete a survey. For census scammers, e-mails like these are a common phishing technique, so they can install malware and gather personal information.The Census Bureau will never contact you to complete a survey via email. If you receive an unsolicited email from the Bureau with a survey to complete, you are dealing with a scammer. You can forward the email to email@example.com and delete the email from your inbox. If you worry that you may click on a link to a census scam, you can protect your computer with antivirus and antimalware protection.o not divulge any details to the caller.
- Social Media Scams. Scammers also target social media platforms. Social media scams are similar to email phishing. You may find an email or post that appears official, such as from the U.S. Census Bureau. Upon clicking or downloading, the scammers may infect your computer with malware.
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The Census Bureau also contacts you through the mail, so scammers will send out official-looking documents to unsuspecting people.
Census Field Representative with No Government-Issued Identifiers
- Postcards with QR Codes. One way to collect personal information via the mail is to send postcards with QR codes that recipients scan with their smartphones to access a census survey on a website. This leads to installing malware on your computer and phone. If you receive this survey, it is best to throw it away.
- Envelopes with No Government Identifiers. You may receive fake mail from scammers with the intention to collect personal information from you. Similarly, you may receive documents that look like they’re from the Census Bureau but are forged. If the envelope doesn’t say “U.S. Census Bureau” or “U.S. Department of Commerce” with the return address of Jeffersonville, IN, then it is not a valid census.
If you do not answer the census questions online, by phone, or through the paper questionnaire, a census representative will visit your home. However, a scammer may pose as a census representative when knocking on your door.
Census field representatives must show an ID badge with their name and photo, along with an official bag and device issued by the Census bureau. The ID badge has a Department of Commerce watermark and expiration date.
Make sure to secure your home from these in-person census scams. Before you answer any questions, ask the individual to show their ID. If they do not have one, they are most likely a scammer. If you suspect fraud, contact your local police department and the Census Bureau at 844-330-2020.
Find out more security information by checking out our Blog
Understanding the Census Process is Key to Avoiding Scams
If you receive questions about your financial accounts and credit card information over the phone, the caller is most likely a scammer. Not completing the questionnaire will not lead to imprisonment. Delete any suspicious emails claiming to be from the Census Bureau. Watch out for any visitors who claim to be census field representatives unless they show their ID badges. Knowing how the Census Bureau gathers information can protect you from falling victim to these census scams.
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