The Census Bureau is about to begin its once-a-decade count of the population, and crooks and scam artists are already attempting to take advantage of trusting individuals and businesses. The best way to protect yourself is to know how to recognize both real and fake census workers.
Although the 2010 Census does not officially begin until April, the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Economic Crimes Bureau is reporting that residents in their part of Florida have been targeted by crooks who pose as Census takers.
The Miami-Dade police report that bogus Census takers have entered victim’s homes and asked for personal information that the Census does not ask for, such as social security numbers. These crooks often ask to use the restroom or for a glass of water, which distracts the victim while the crooks go to other parts of the house to steal cash and jewelry.
The Miami-Date police further report that mass e-mails are being sent out by crooks pretending to be part of the Census. This is known as “phishing,” which is described as the criminally fraudulent process of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, social security numbers, bank account or credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity – like a Census taker – in an electronic communication.
Law enforcement agencies in other states have put out similar warnings to their residents.
Small business owners should be aware of these scams, as businesses as well as individuals have been contacted by the bogus Census takers. The U.S. Census Bureau conducts a variety of censuses and surveys of households and businesses during the year in addition to the once-a-decade census. The crooks know this and take advantage of it.
The U.S. Census Bureau states that they use a workforce of trained federal employees to conduct their household and business surveys. The federal employees conduct the surveys via telephone, the mail and face-to-face interviews.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises you to be cooperative but cautious. The BBB reports that 140,000 Census workers will count every person in the United States and will gather information about every person living at each address including name, age, gender, race and other relevant data.
“Most people are rightfully cautious and won’t give out personal information to unsolicited phone callers or visitors, however the Census is an exception to the rule,” said Steve Cox, the BBB spokesperson. “Unfortunately, scammers know that the public is more willing to share personal data when taking part in the Census and they have an opportunity to ply their trade by posing as a government employee and soliciting sensitive financial information.”
So how do you tell the difference between a true Census worker and a crook? The BBB offers the following advice:
- If a Census worker knocks on your door, they will have a badge, a handheld device, a Census Bureau canvas bag and a confidentiality notice. Ask to see their identification and their badge before answering their questions. However, you should never invite anyone you don’t know into your home.
- Census workers are currently only knocking on doors to verify address information. While the Census Bureau might ask for basic financial information, such as salary range, it will not ask for your social security number, bank account or credit card numbers.
- Census workers will not solicit donations.
I’d also like to pass on some facts that the Miami-Dade police believe you should make note of:
- The Census does not ask for social security numbers.
- The Census does not ask for bank account or personal identification information – They do not need to know where you do your banking, where you have any financial accounts, or where you keep your money.
- The Census does not ask for credit card account information – The Census is free, there is no charge to those participating in it, so there is no reason to need a credit card number. They also do not need to know which, if any, credit cards you have, how long you’ve had them, or when they were last used.
- The Census does not ask for any other identifying numbers such as a driver’s license or passport.
- The Census does not solicit information via e-mail.
- The Census does ask for the names and birthdates of all persons living in your home.
- The Census does ask whether you own or rent your home – They do not ask for the name of your mortgage company or for your landlord’s information.
- The Census is delivered by the postal service to be completed and returned in a pre-paid envelope.
- The Census is completed every 10 years and is required by the Constitution.
- The Census does determine how more than $400 billion will be allocated to communities across the country.
- The Census does not send a representative to your home unless you fail to return the questionnaire via the pre-paid envelope in the mail.
If you wish to verify that a Census worker is legitimate, call the U.S. Census Bureau at 1-800-392-6975 or 1-800-523-3205.