Q: I didn't send in my census form on time and now hear all sorts of stories about census takers coming to my home. What's the real story on what to expect? -- Warren Worried
A: Dear Mr. Worried: The e-mail scare stories are making the circuit and appear so realistic I'm not surprised you're a tad apprehensive. After checking with the U.S. government (www.census.gov), I found a number of tips, not only for door-to-door protection but also to make us aware of frauds and scams related to censustaking. First of all, about those folks who come knockin':
* Legitimate staff always wear an official U.S. Census ID badge marked with their name.
* They'll never ask to enter your home.
* The only questions they should solicit are the same 10 on the form itself.
* Mr. or Ms. Taker won't ask for your Social Security number or, for that matter, any financial information.
* No one should ask or even suggest you go online to submit the information. No valid website exists for this purpose.
* As a precautionary aside, census takers will visit some addresses even though you mailed your form on time. These visits' only purpose is for quality control checks through a survey.)
As for scams and other fraudulent activity, be alert to the following:
* No Internet census taking/participation is allowed. Don't open the e-mail, click any links, or open an attachment. Forward the e-mail or website URL to the Census Bureau at ITSO.Fraud.Reporting@census.gov and then delete the message from your computer. The bureau will notify you of its findings.
* No requests for money, personal or financial info for any purpose whatsoever is permitted.
* Always call your regional office to verify you're part of a survey, even after you check the person for a genuine Census ID badge.
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.