Time and time again, Washingtonians are taken advantage of by scammers who continually develop new, complex ways to con people. One scam that is particularly difficult to identify is the United States Census Scam.
You receive a document in the mail, supposedly from a government agency, that states you are required to fill out a survey which asks for a great deal of personal information. With the advanced methods and tools scammers have today, you may want to take a second look before giving out all that personal information.
The Consumer Resource Center has gotten several calls recently regarding alleged U.S. Census Surveys that people have received in the mail. The Census Bureau does send out a variety of surveys that are mandatory to complete (about 130 different surveys a year), so it is important to be able to tell the difference between a legitimate survey and a scam.
The nation’s largest, and the one you should expect to receive, is the American Community Survey (ACS). This survey is vital to fill out because it provides data for public officials constructing plans for the future with regard to jobs, education, veterans and home ownership.
How do you know if what you received is legitimate? The Census Bureau has posted guidelines to help people recognize fake surveys and limit potential identity theft.
Information the US Census Bureau will never ask for:
- Your full Social Security number
- Money or donations
- Anything on behalf of a political party
- Your full bank or credit card account numbers
- Your mother’s maiden name
Seeing any of these questions on a “mandatory survey” is an immediate a red flag.
In many other contexts, seeing a mailer addressed to “current resident” should also trigger a red flag. However, because the ACS is mailed out to millions of randomly selected addresses each year, this is normal and not cause for alarm. It is not necessary for the U.S. Census Bureau to know who specifically is in that unit when the surveys are mailed out.
To verify that mail, phone calls or visits are legitimate, call ACS toll free at 1-800-354-7271. If you suspect you have received a fake survey, you may report it to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service online or by calling 1-800-275-8777, and to the Consumer Resource Center at 1-800-551-4636.
If you have given out personal information and later realize it might have been a scam, here are some steps you can take in order to protect yourself:
- Carefully check credit card and bank statements for unauthorized charges each month
- Place a fraud alert on your credit report by contacting one of the credit bureaus
- Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission by calling toll-free 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or at https://www.identitytheft.gov
- File a police report
More information on identity theft, how to protect yourself, and how to recover if it happens to you is available on the Washington State Attorney General’s website at atg.wa.gov/identity-theftprivacy.
For more information on what the U.S. Census Bureau does, visit http://www.census.gov/about/what.html.
If you have questions about this or another consumer protection issue, you can reach the Attorney General’s Consumer Resource Center at 1-800-551-4636 (in-state only), or 1-800-833-6388 (Washington State Relay Service for the hearing impaired), Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Click here for information on how to file a consumer complaint.