According to MSNBC's "Consumer Man" more than just counting can go on during a census year. As we all have gotten a bit savvier at manipulating information, especially through the new media and new technologies, so have the crooks, cheats and scammers. Here is a small rundown of the ways the scamming crowd might try to use the census to lay their grubby little hands on your personal information.
First, beware of emails purporting to be from the Census Bureau. According to Consumer Man, the Bureau is not using email to communicate about the census, at least not this year. Any emails you receive will be phishing schemes looking for information like your Social Security Number or anything else useful in identity fraud. If you receive one of these fake emails, before you delete it, forward it to the Census Bureau so they can investigate at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not all census scams will be high tech; sometimes old-school devices work just as well, or better. Telephone calls from people seeking information may be the most difficult to tell real from fake, as the actual census workers will be making calls. Consumer Man says that a legit call will only focus on the 10 questions on the census form. If a caller asks for any financial information or for passwords, put your hand on your wallet and the phone back on the hook. If you are uncertain about a call, you can contact the regional census center in your area.
As discussed in a prior post, watch for faux mailers purporting to be from the Census Bureau. You can view a real census form by clicking here. The genuine article has only 10 questions and will not request your SSN, financial information, passwords, or pin numbers. You can report a fake census form to the Postal Service.
Finally, how do you tell a real census taker from a scammer knocking at your door? First, the real deal will not begin visits until May 1. Consumer Man tells us a real census worker will have an ID badge with a watermark of the Department of Commerce insignia on the front and their name and an expiration date on the back. Census workers should also have a flier that tells you how to contact their supervisor. Workers going door-to-door may have a bag and a computer and each of these items will have the Census Bureau insignia on it.
“Our people are trained to conduct their interview on your doorstep and not go into the house,” says Census Bureau spokesman Michael Cook. “They are also trained not to push. They are happy to make an appointment to come back.”
As with phone and email contacts, census takers only ask for answers to the same 10 questions on the form. If you are asked anything that seems unusual or inappropriate (Social Security numbers or financial information) you’re probably talking to an imposter. Tell them to leave and contact your local police.
Be careful, but be counted.