Update as of 3/20/20: During this time of quarantine due to COVID-19, all Census field operations have been suspended. As noted in a press release, “Beginning today, in support of guidance on what we can all do to help slow the spread of coronavirus, 2020 Census field operations will be suspended for two weeks until April 1, 2020.” This means if someone knocks at your door claiming to be from the U.S. Census Bureau, it is a scam and do not provide them any information.
The 2020 census is approaching next spring, and forms are already being compiled to be mailed to U.S. households. With any large political event or happening, scammers try to take advantage of the public and this could soon mean a rise in census scams.
This important process comes around every ten years, and it helps with things like ensuring a region has adequate representation in Congress, adequate school funding and is cited in scientific research and social surveys. However, it is also time-consuming and can feel really invasive. Page after page will ask questions that might not seem to be anyone’s business. What is your household income? How many cars do you own? How many children do you have and how old are they? How many televisions do you have?
Unfortunately, there has been a sharp increase in identity theft and fraud that masquerades as government agency communications, which could mean an increase in census scams. Scammers try everything from claiming your Social Security number has been suspended to threatening you with police action for unpaid taxes. They can even spoof their email address or phone number on your caller ID to seem legitimate.
There is every reason to suspect that scammers will take advantage of the publicity surrounding the 2020 census in order to steal your information as part of a census scam. They may even threaten you with jail time if you do not immediately pay a fine since it is technically a crime to not fill out the census.
Here are some things to remember that will hopefully help you spot census scams:
The official website
The website for the Census Bureau is census.gov, and the specific website for the 2020 census is 2020census.gov. However, a scammer could easily buy the domain for 2020census.com or spoof their email by swapping a capital 0 for one of the zeros in the number. Remember, caller ID and email domain names are not proof that the person is legitimate. You will be directed to log in to an individual portal on https://my2020census.gov/
The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has seen a rise in our contact center through calls and LiveChat messages recently about a letter from the U.S. Census that people have been getting in the mail titled “My 2020 Census.” Read more: Is this a Census Scam?
They will only call you after no response from initial mailings
If the Census Bureau tried to call every U.S. household and take their census data over the phone, we would be ready for the 2030 census before they were finished. They will not call you and request your information unless you do not respond to their initial mailings. They will also not email you a link to complete it online, so never click a link in an email unless you are expecting it. If you get a call, be cautious.
They might come to your house, but will not request anything
In some areas, government volunteers serving as census takers will knock on doors. However, they will not request Social Security numbers, bank or credit card numbers or any other payment information. They will also not ask for payments for their time or for the postage on your forms, no matter what the person claims.
The police are not coming to your house
Regardless of what the person on the phone says, the police are not being sent to your house for failure to fill out the census. Yes, it is required under the law and it is vitally important for a variety of reasons, but the police are very busy. The caller who claims you can simply pay some kind of fine over the phone, especially with prepaid debit cards or iTunes gift cards, is lying to you. It is a census scam.
For more information on the 2020 census and survey process, click here.
Updated March 13, 2020
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