This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Census takers will not be able to visit neighborhoods door-to-door to request survey responses as they did during previous counts. Instead, Census responses are now being requested online through 2020Census.gov and by telephone. This situation has opened up a world of opportunity for scammers posing as government Census officials and taking advantage of the current crisis to trick people into giving up personally identifying information.
“We encourage every citizen to fill out the 2020 Census, but to be extremely wary of Census-related fraud,” says Claire Rosenzweig, President and CEO of Better Business Bureau (BBB) Serving Metropolitan New York. “The safest ways to respond are to contact the Census directly through their website at 2020Census.gov; by phone at a number posted on the Census website; by mail in response to an official printed Census Bureau survey; or through the web address provided in an official Census mailing you may have received at home.”
Knowing how the Census Bureau operates can help you distinguish between legitimate invitations to participate and ones that are probably fraudulent.
The Census Bureau might request information through almost all communication outlets, including phone, email, mail, or fax. However, the Census Bureau states that they will not send unsolicited emails requesting participation in the 2020 Census. Emails claiming to be from the Census Bureau may be ‘phishing’ attempts to obtain personal information, and should be viewed with great caution.
Additionally, since in-person visits by Census Bureau field representatives were suspended effective March 18 through April 15 and likely beyond, anyone going door-to-door requesting personal information during that time frame is almost certainly an impostor.
There are three ways to reply to the Census: by phone, by mail, or online. The official website of the Census Bureau is Census.gov, while the homepage for the 2020 Census specifically is 2020Census.gov. Responding to the Census is as easy as visiting the official Census Bureau web page and answering the prompts. The survey is very short and can be completed in just a few minutes.
While some of the information the Census requests is personal, the Census Bureau will never ask for your full Social Security number, money, donations, anything on behalf of a political party, your full bank or credit account numbers, or your mother’s maiden name. The Census Bureau also does not ask about citizenship status in their survey.
Better Business Bureau Serving Metropolitan New York offers these tips to help you get counted while avoiding scammers:
Be on the lookout for Census Bureau impostors. All Census Bureau field work is suspended until at least April 15 due to COVID-19, and possibly longer; if someone comes to your door requesting information for the Census, that person is probably an impostor. Once it is announced that field work has resumed, check these tips from the Census Bureau to identify legitimate census takers:
Ask to see their ID Badge. Census takers must present a field badge that includes a photograph of themselves, a Department of Commerce watermark, and an expiration date.
Census workers will be carrying a Census Bureau laptop or cellphone, as well as a bag with a Census Bureau logo.
If you still have questions, call 800-923-8282 to speak with a local Census Bureau representative. If it is determined that the visitor who came to your door does not work for the Census Bureau, contact your local police department.
Never give out your Social Security number or financial information. Census takers will never ask for your full Social Security number, bank account number, credit card number, money, or donations.
Census takers will never contact you on behalf of a political party. If someone calls on behalf of a political party that claims to be from the Census, hang up.
Make sure you respond to the Census through 2020Census.gov, the official website. Your regional Census Bureau may also be able to help.
Census.gov and 2020census.gov are the only websites you should be using to fill out the 2020 Census. Be wary of any small variations in the website address, such as tiny misspellings or improper extensions like .com or .net.
If something sounds suspicious, check on it by calling the government agency directly, or by checking the government agency’s website. Don’t click on any links in an unsolicited email. Instead, type the official web address into your browser, or do a web search to find the right website. Call a trusted phone number other than one provided by the caller to verify the caller’s identity.
Don’t click, download, or open anything that comes from an anonymous or suspicious-looking sender. That goes for emails, text messages, or links on social media. Such communications are likely to be an attempt to gain access to your personal information or install malware on your computer. Always be wary of generic emails that don’t include your name, the last digits of your account number, or other personalizing information, as these could be phishing attempts.
Check the Census.gov page about this year’s count for the ways in which the Census Bureau will contact you, and check here to investigate any rumors that may be circling around.
Check BBB Scam Tracker for local reports of impostors in your area.
For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico. Visit BBB.org for more information, or to reach your local bureau office.