Beware of Census Scams

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This week you should find the 2010 census survey in your mailbox. The U.S. census is conducted every 10 years as required by the Constitution. The Constitution mandates that a census be taken every decade to apportion the number of members of the House of Representatives among the states. But the census is also used to apportion federal funding among the states, so completing the census survey is extremely important.

And that’s where scam artists enter the picture. Taking advantage of online tools, con artists are busy devising fake census survey forms and other schemes to obtain confidential information that can be used to steal identities or even clean out bank accounts. These ploys vary in form, but one key scam involves phishing e-mail.

A phishing scam is an attempt to obtain confidential information by posing as a trustworthy entity in an online communication. Typically, a phishing scam takes the form of an official-looking e-mail asking the recipient to click a link or download a file. In the case of a census scam, the e-mail may ask you to download a census form or click a link to fill out an online census survey.

The U.S. Census Bureau will never initiate contact via e-mail. According to the Census Bureau’s website:

  • The Census Bureau does NOT conduct the 2010 Census via the Internet
  • The Census Bureau does not send emails about participating in the 2010 Census
  • The Census Bureau never:
    • Asks for your full social security number
    • Asks for money or a donation
    • Sends requests on behalf of a political party
    • Requests PIN codes, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.

If you receive an e-mail purporting to be from the U.S. Census Bureau, do not open it. Instead, the Census Bureau recommends that you take the following steps:

  • If you think it is a bogus email, do not reply or click on any links within the email.
  • Do not open any attachments. Attachments may contain code that could infect your computer
  • Forward the email or web site URL to the Census Bureau at ITSO.Fraud.Reporting@census.gov.
  • After you forward the email to us, delete the message. You will not receive a confirmation email after forwarding the information to us. However, the Census Bureau will investigate the information and notify you of its findings.

Think you can’t be fooled? Which one of the following questions is actually on the official U.S. census survey:

A. What is your household’s total annual income?

B. What is your social security number?

C. What is the account number for your primary checking account?

D. Which presidential candidate did you vote for in 2008?

There correct answer is that none of the above questions is on the census survey. Yes, it was a trick question, but it was designed to underscore the importance of taking caution when somebody asks you for personal information. In fact, the 2010 U.S. Census Survey includes just 10 questions. While the survey cannot be completed online, you can see what the questions are on the U.S. Census Bureau website. Here’s a screen shot of what you’ll find when you visit the site:

2010 U.S. Census Survey Questions

2010 U.S. Census Survey Questions

Finally, if you are looking for work, the U.S. Census Bureau is hiring. You can check out job information by clicking here.

Published or Updated: March 18, 2010
About Rob Berger

Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

Comments

  1. Yasminn Bonds says:

    I am wrirting to inquire how would I know if I have been scammed? In January I filled out a survey what i thought was the census survey, however what I filled out was way more than 10 questions. It was more like a book 20+ questions. I can not remember if it asked for my ss# but I believe it did. What I do know is that it asked questions like how old (estimate) is my apartment building.. Where are the pipes located and how is the unit heated etc…

    • DR says:

      Yasminn, what you are describing is definitely not the officlal U.S. census survey. If you believe your social security number has been compromised, I have two suggestions. First, I would definitely consider Score Watch from my FICO. This monitors your credit report and alerts you if there are any changes. If you see something you didn’t authorize, you can deal with it immediately. You can get a 30-day free trial of Score Watch by clicking here.

      Second, I would seriously consider LifeLock. Under normal circumstances, I would never use LifeLock, it’s just not necessary. But if I thought my social security number had been taken, I would seriously consider it.

      Good luck!

      • Paul says:

        Yasminn, the survey you speak of is actually the American Community Survey. It gets sent out to 3 million households on a random basis per year. Here’s the link

        http://www.census.gov/acs/www/SBasics/acs_2010.htm

        Click on the survey and a PDF version will appear. Is this the survey you filled out?

  2. We just received, completed, and returned our survey. It was surprisingly easy and very short. Thanks for the heads up about scammers since we were even expecting something more complex…

  3. Joan Cooper says:

    I also filled out a census survey with many more pages then the one now being sent out.
    It was called the AMERICAN COMMUNITY SURVEY. It asked for the amount of social security or retirement and interest and dividends .etc.
    I too would like to know if I have been scammed and if there is anything I can do about it.
    I would like to know if I need to submit this latest survey that I have received.

  4. violet odell says:

    My father asked me to check out his new letter from the phase 4 census. He wants to know if this is a scam abnd should he fill it ot then send it in? the return envelope is adreeded to
    Secure Amereica Alliance
    A program of the Us Public Policy Council
    PO Box 96580
    Washington DC 20090-6580

    he has already completed a 2010 census that was hand delivered to his home and sent in. the questions on that were of his living status and who lives in the house . Asling how many present and at home along with ages. no ss#’s were asked for now amount of income for the year. this new letter is asking for money donations and other info from what sourses we read either magazine or newspaper.

  5. Daddy Paul says:

    Good article. I’m sure a lot of crooks are thinking of new ways to use the census to steal.

  6. mark says:

    Not to worry Joan Cooper – the American Community Survey is legit.
    http://www.census.gov/acs/www/SBasics/acs_2010.htm

  7. Phil Cooper says:

    Seventy percent of the questions on the “official” 2010 U.S. Census form are fraudulent. Since age, sex and race discrimination are now and have been illegal for decades, the government has no business asking. Questions about what kind of house you occupy are irrelevant and just plain nosiness on the part of meddling bureaucrats. The only thing they need to know is how many people live at the address for the purposes of apportioning representation in Congress. Ages of occupants may be of peripheral interest, only to the extent of how many of those occupants will achieve voting age before the next Census.

    The U.S. Census Bureau tries to allay our suspicions and fears about prying by telling us that certain data have been collected since 1890, or whatever. I don’t care. If it’s not in the U.S. Constitution, they have no business asking it, even if they’ve been doing so for the last 120 years. Their radio ads now urge people to return their forms so that we can get our fair share of goodies from the Federal Government. That, too, is NOT a function of the government under the Constitution. Congressional apportionment is the sole function of the Census. The government needs to butt out of our lives and go back to minding its business, which is clearly delineated and restricted by the Constitution.

  8. Frederica Winston says:

    What do I do if the form I filled out asked for my SS#? Is there a way to find out if the Census Bureau has received my form?

  9. Campbell says:

    I have the same question as Frederica Winston.
    I know the response rate of mailed surveys is tracked to allow for in-person follow up as needed. I received a notification letter stating that shortly I would receive the census form. Approx. a week letter I received the form, but I’m 100% certain it asked for full SS#, but it also did *not* ask for bank acct, income or other info (I suppose a birth date and SS# is really all a scammer needs). The letter and survey looked official, and I have not received anything else from the US Census Bureau. It should be fairly straight forward to check 1) whether an official form was mailed to my address, and 2) whether USCB received a response from that address.
    How can we find this out?

  10. Anita Marie Colbert says:

    I received and returned my census form prior to April 1st. Last night, May 3rd a woman appeared at my door saying that she was requesting my census return. I informed her that I had mailed it back some time ago, and I woudl not open my door to her. If there some way to verify the fact that I did indeed send the form back? Thank you.

  11. Melinda says:

    I filled out the form for my household on time and sent it out, but just today I got a phone call asking to confirm the information I filled out on my census form. I don’t know why, since the form was filled out and just as true now as it was when it was sent out. Is there a possibility the call could be a scam?

  12. MB says:

    We filled out census and milled it in. I received a phone call and the girl said I had to answer questions to verify my answers. I guess what I need to know is do I have to answer her questions because she said if I don’t that I could be fined or even jail time if I didn’t anwer her. I don’t know the law so can someone whom knows answer this for me.

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