Thousands of census takers will be knocking on doors next spring in an effort to reach every household that does not mail back a completed questionnaire by April 9, 2010. But some who knock on doors posing as census takers may be con artists seeking personal financial information to defraud their victims—often the elderly and minorities.
Law enforcement officials in several states have issued warnings that scammers masquerading as census employees are already asking for donations and Social Security numbers. How can you spot a scam?
First, note what’s being asked.
While census takers will ask demographic information about every person living in a household—including name, age, gender, race, ethnic origin, and marital and employment status—they will never ask for Social Security numbers, bank account or credit card information, or donations.
“Most people are cautious and will not give out personal information to unsolicited phone callers or visitors, but the census is an exception to that rule,” says Tom Bartholomy, president of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Piedmont in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Scammers know the public is more willing to share personal data when taking part in the census.”
Second, note the method of contact.
Bartholomy is most concerned that a surge in new technology since the 2000 census will result in a rash of identity theft, with scammers using the Internet to rob victims who think they are providing information to census workers.
“If you receive something by e-mail, realize it’s not part of the census,” he says.
The BBB is one of a growing number of organizations and local governments that are warning against scammers. Norma Vega, executive director of the Los Angeles Office of the Census Bureau, has already begun a public outreach and education campaign.
"We try to be as proactive as possible,” she says.
But there’s already evidence of scams.
Sheriff Matt Lutz of Muskingum County, Ohio, says several seniors have already given him copies of letters they’ve received from con artists posing as census employees requesting financial information and money.
He urges local seniors to respond to the census, but to be cautious. “We want an accurate census, but we don’t want anybody to be ripped off,” Lutz says.
“Seniors are most often targeted because they have more assets, are more likely to be at home, and can sometimes be more trusting,” says Andres Castillo, AARP’s project manager for education and outreach.