It’s that time again. The deadline to submit your census form is drawing near—April 1, to be exact. But that won’t stop scammers from making a last ditch effort to pull a fast one on you. I spoke with Scott Stevenson, an identity theft expert and president and CEO of eliminateidtheft.com, who says now is the time to be especially watchful. “Any time there’s a large-scale data mining operation, such as tax returns or in this case, census data mining, there’s an opportunity for con artists to steal your personal information and commit fraud and identity theft,” says Stevenson. Here are four tips to keep you and your information safe.
Be leery of visitors. If you fail to fill out and return your survey, it’s possible that a census worker will come to your house. However, you should not allow that person to gain entrance into your home. Census workers are never allowed to enter a resident’s home. If a worker knocks on your door, before you do anything, ask to see his or her official photo ID and call your local census office to confirm the information is correct.
Don’t give up your money. The Census Bureau does not ask for payment for filling out and returning the form. They will also never ask for donations. If someone claiming to be a census worker asks you for money, this is a red flag.
Keep an eye on your e-mail. Another thing that the Census Bureau won’t do is send you an e-mail asking for financial or personal information or about participating in the survey. They state on their Website that the 2010 census will not be conducted via the Internet and they don’t send e-mails regarding the survey. If you’ve received an e-mail from an organization claiming to be the Census Bureau, immediately forward it to the Census Bureau’s fraud reporting e-mail address, which is ITSO.Fraud.Reporting@census.gov.
Pay attention to your questionnaire. Sometimes scammers will send fake forms in the mail. Make sure there are only 10 questions on your form. There should be no questions asking for your Social Security number, bank account number, or pass words. If this is the case, you have a fake form and you should immediately contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and fill out a mail fraud complaint form. It would also be a good idea to go to the Census Bureau’s Website and familiarize yourself with the questions on the form. Also pay attention to the questions that someone claiming to be a census worker asks you if you get a home visit. “They will never ask for your social security number, bank account information, credit card information, or financial documents. If they come to your door and start asking questions that are not on the census form, they’re probably a con artist,” says Stevenson.
“It seems so simple,” Stevenson continues. “You get a form, you fill it out, and you send it in. But whenever there is some sort of confusion or deception that can come into play, you’re going to see criminals take advantage of that. Even though it seems very easy to fill this form out, the ways con artists can deceive you can be confusing and there can be chaos.”
So as you hurry to fill out that census form and mail it in, be on guard.
Sheiresa Ngo is the consumer affairs editor at Black Enterprise.