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Last-minute census push is ripe for scams, consumer advocates warn

Here are some ways to make sure any census-taker you talk to is legit

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The deadline for concluding the 2020 U.S. Census is coming up, which means the U.S. Census Bureau is intensifying efforts to collect the necessary data. However, consumer advocates worry that scammers are seeking to exploit that situation.

Steve McFarland, President of the Los Angeles Better Business Bureau, says his office is receiving reports that scammers are posing as census workers and are going door-to-door and looking for an opportunity to steal personal information, and even money.

"They want your personal information and they want money. That's what they want," McFarland recently told KNBC-TV in Los Angeles.

Because of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the deadline for wrapping up the census has been extended to September 30. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody says that just gives scammers more time to operate their schemes.

“With more census workers heading door-to-door it could mean more opportunity for imposters and scams,” Moody said. 

Ideal cover

The census offers ideal cover for scammers who want to obtain sensitive information about people to either steal money or identities. Earlier this year, AARP warned consumers to be on the lookout for criminals posing as census-takers. 

"We've learned that scammers are very shrewd and adept at capitalizing on current events," said Kathy Stokes, director, fraud prevention programs, at AARP.  "The Census has been in the news, so most people are expecting to hear soon from the Census Bureau. Scammers will use that to their advantage as they aim to deceive people into sharing sensitive information or handing over money."

Unless the deadline is extended again, there will be a flurry of census activity in the next couple of weeks. Moody says that means people should be very careful when they interact with census personnel, to make sure they are who they say they are.

What to do

To avoid falling victim to census scams, consumer should do the following:

  • Check the ID badge of a census worker doing home visits by looking for the worker’s photograph, U.S. Department of Commerce watermark, and expiration date;

  • Call 1 (800) 923-8282 if questions remain about a census worker’s identity and ask to speak with a local Census Bureau representative. If it is determined that the visitor does not work for the Census Bureau, contact local law enforcement;

  • Know that the Census Bureau will not send unsolicited emails or ask for Social Security numbers, bank account or credit card information, or money; and

  • Confirm that the return address on the mail from the Census Bureau is Jeffersonville, Indiana.

The Census Bureau usually contacts people by mail or sends a representative to the home, but the best way to tell a real census-taker from an imposter is by the questions that are asked.

A real census questionnaire is simple, asking mostly about who was living in the home on April 1, 2020, what type of dwelling it is, and a telephone number. You can check out the actual census survey here.

There has been a move in Congress over the last week to extend the census deadline until October 31. An extension appears to have backing from both Republicans and Democrats and may be approved before the deadline.

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