2009-07-31 / Top Stories

Pheffer: Beware Of Census Scams

Every ten years, the U.S. government conducts a nationwide census. The Census provides important economic, social, demographic, and housing information to local, state and federal governments and a host of other groups, including community groups and academic researchers.

The data will be used to allocate more than $300 billion in federal funds every year, as well as determine each state's number of Congressional representatives.

The 2010 Census will soon be underway and the U.S. Census Bureau's yearly American Community Survey continues to solicit information from a random sample of citizens. Citizens who are contacted are required to participate by Federal law.

Unfortunately, the Census provides a perfect opportunity for scammers to try to obtain your personal information.

Consumers need to be especially wary in the coming months as scammers are likely to increase their efforts to coincide with the 2010 Census.

During the Census, households will be contacted by mail, telephone, or in person by a Census worker who will inquire about the number of people living in the house.

Census workers may ask for basic financial information, such as a salary range, but they will never ask you for sensitive personal identifiers or financial account numbers nor will they solicit donations. If someone claiming to be a Census worker asks you for your Social Security, credit card, or bank account number, you are likely dealing with a scammer. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself.

All Census workers will have a badge, a handheld device, and a confidentiality notice and they should present their identification and badge upon request. They will only contact you via telephone, mail, or in person at home. They will never stop you in a public place nor will they send e-mails. If you receive mail claiming to be from the Census Bureau, you should verify that it is legitimate. Mail from the Census Bureau will be clearly identified as coming from the U.S. Census Bureau and as "OFFICIAL BUSINESS" of the United States. Once you have determined that the survey is from the Census Bureau, you may fill it out with confidence since the confidentiality of the information you provide is protected by federal law. The law specifies that the Census Bureau can use the information provided by individuals for statistical purposes only and cannot publish or release information that would identify an individual.

For more information about the Census or the American Community Survey you may call the U.S. Census Bureau's New York Regional Office at 212-584-3400. To verify that a person who has called or approached you claiming to be from the Census Bureau is indeed a Census Bureau employee, you may call the National Processing Center at 1-866-226-2864. For information about protecting yourself from scammers pretending to be Census workers, you may visit the Better Business Bureau's website (www.bbb.org).

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