Q. Is that really the census person at your door (or mailbox, or email)? There appears to be a high level of consumer concern regarding the National Census. What advice is BBB providing on this activity?
A. The United States census happens once every decade, and April 1, 2020 is National Census Day. This year, census takers will be going door to door to retrieve information and BBB is anticipating that scammers may be out in full force, in an attempt to take advantage of those responding to the census.
The Census Bureau, like BBB and many other organizations, has its fair share of imposters, and they can be hard to spot. The Census Bureau already asks for such personal information, how are consumers (or businesses) to know how much is too much?
There are only three ways to reply to the census; phone, mail or online. The official website of the Census Bureau is census.gov; the homepage for the 2020 Census is 2020census.gov.
The Census Bureau may request information through almost all communication outlets, including phone, email, mail, fax and in-person. And yes, some of the information they ask for can get pretty personal. But the Census Bureau states that they 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. Knowing how the Census operates can help you be better prepared when you're asked to participate.
BBB has the following tips to help you avoid Census Bureau Imposters:
* Never give out your social security number. Census takers will never ask for your 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 Census.gov, the official website they provide. Your regional Census Bureau may also be able to help.
* If something sounds suspicious, confirm it by calling the government agency directly or checking the government agency's website. Don't click on any links in an unexpected email – type the official URL 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 sender. This is likely an attempt to gain access to your personal information or install malware on your computer.
Be cautious of generic emails. Scammers try to cast a wide net by including little or no specific information in their fake emails. Always be wary of unsolicited messages that don't contain your name, last digits of your account number or other personalizing information. Do not click on any links. See our tips on avoiding phishing email scams; www.bbb.org/tips .
Check BBB ScamTracker for local reports of imposters in your area.
There will be census takers going door-to-door in some neighborhoods to help get all of the information they need.
If a census taker comes to your door, there are several things you can do to verify their identity:
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.
To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker and check BBB.org for more information on how to avoid scams.
For more information on the 2020 Census, visit the official website, census.gov.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.