How to Spot a Census Scam

census scam
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The big United States census happens once every 10 years on the years ending in zero. The next one is scheduled to take place in 2020.

That doesn’t mean that people who are using census scams aren’t operating the rest of the time. Like most scam artists – people who pose as census workers in person or on phone, or send emails or mail that look like official government documents are good at pretending that they are legitimate.

But they also often have “tells” or specific behaviors that give them away – when you know what to look for. In this article, we’ll take a look at two of the most common census scams. You'll be able to see how you can spot them to help prevent it. We'll also show you what to do if you think you've been the victim of a census scam.

American Community Survey Scams

While the full American census only happens once every 10 years, there is an ongoing government imposter scheme that uses a lesser known government survey called the ACS or American Community Survey to gain access to people’s sensitive data and commit fraud.

The American Community Survey is a legitimate survey that contains some very personal questions and is used to help determine how budgets of $400 billion in state and federal funding are allocated.

Typically, people who are doing a census scam related to the American Community Survey will ask odd questions such as, “When do you leave for work?” - which should raise red flags for you.

They may also have a fake or “spoofed” phone number that seems to be from the Census Bureau.

If you do think that a communication you received is a census scam, you should always call the Census Bureau at 800-354-7271 for English or 800-833-5625 for Spanish.

Keep in mind it's always okay to wait and get verification before you take any immediate action if you're suspicious of a census scam.

Phishing Scams

The ACS scam is a type of phishing scam, but phishing scams can take other forms as well.

Phishing scams occur when criminals pose as trusted entities and try to get credit card numbers, social security numbers, passwords, and usernames as well as other personal information.

Phishing scams can come through phone contact, in person, by email, by regular mail or courier. Scam artists are often sophisticated and creative, so it’s important to learn how to spot a census scam.

How to Spot a Census Scam

Most of the time scammers have “tells” or specific ways that they go about their business that can tip you off. But even with these “tells”, it can sometimes be hard to tell the real deal from a scam.

Here are a few tips to help you do just that:

  • The Census Bureau has strict rules about what it will and will not ask for, so if you are being asked for any of the following, it’s a scam.
  • Donations or money
  • A full Social Security number
  • Any type of funds on behalf of a political party
  • Your mother’s maiden name
  • Credit card numbers
  • Full bank account numbers
  • Be sure to check any web addresses for a .gov extension and an https (make sure the "s" is there) prefix. The site you use should have both of these things and the official U.S. Census Bureau website is https://www.census.gov.
  • Any mail that you receive should have a return address of Jeffersonville, Indiana – if it doesn’t, it’s not from the Census Bureau.
  • If someone comes to your house, they should have a valid U.S. Census ID badge. If they don’t, they aren’t from the Census Bureau.

What to Do If You Think Someone Is Trying to Get You to Participate in a Census Scam

There are several resources available take if you think someone is scamming you. You can:

  • Contact one of the regional offices of the Census Bureau.
  • Call one of the National Processing center numbers.
  • Check to make sure the web address is legitimate – it should have an https and a census.gov in it.
  • Not answer suspect emails or click links in suspect emails and forward the email to ois.fraud.reporting@census.gov.

There are legitimate government surveys and the census is mandatory for every American citizen. But being aware of the tactics that scammers use to defraud people can help to prevent fraud. Be vigilant and be aware.