Well, here we are in what could very well be called Identity Theft season. Not coincidentally, it coincides with the Census Bureau’s decennial people count. In addition to these thieves being on the prowl, the scammers are frothing at the mouth.
I mean, what better time to steal information than when people are all over the place asking for information in the name of Uncle Sam? These folks are pros, people. They will come at you by phone, snail mail, e-mail, text, and/or in person! Trust me, most of us might think we’re too savvy to be taken advantage of, but trust me, they’ve fooled people a lot smarter than me and you.
Beware The Message
There’s an old Gospel adage which proclaims that it’s all about the message, not the messenger. During the Census count, although this is an absolutely critical admonition, it’s really all about the message and the messenger! First, let’s focus on the message:
It is very important to know exactly what questions are on the Census Bureau response form. That nice, young, well-dressed lady standing on the porch with the tablet that has the U.S. Census Bureau logo emblazoned on the front? She’s out to take every nickel you got. That personable young man on the telephone? Him too. That very official and legitimate – looking e-mail… You see where I’m going with this?
The point is: these people are so good at what they do that even the most astute of us can fall victim. Our best defense is, again, knowing exactly what questions will be asked of you by the Census Bureau. That way, when anything comes out of their mouth or appears in an e-mail that you know for a fact is not a legitimate question, you can dismiss them tactfully, or you can cuss ’em out, depending on how you’re feeling at the time. Just as important as what they will ask you, is what they won’t ask you. The Census Bureau will never ask you:
- if you are a citizen (It doesn’t matter, everybody is counted!)
- your Social Security number
- for money or donations
- your bank or credit card numbers
Right Message, Wrong Messenger
Okay, now the messenger: Every question asked by that field worker, in that phone call and/or in that e-mail could be legit, and you could still be a victim of identity theft! These guys can get enough information from the legitimate questions asked by the Census Bureau to steal your identity. Therefore, you gotta know who you’re talking to, and what you’re reading! The Census Bureau has gone to great lengths to help you protect your identity. Here’s what to look for when you are contacted by someone who claims to be from the Census Bureau:
If you have any doubt about the call being legit, enter the name of the caller into the Census Bureau Staff Search or your Regional Census Center for verification. If asked, the caller should give you the phone number of your regional office. Make sure you know what that number is. Just mentioning making the call will probably be enough to scare off a would-be identity thief.
- “U.S. Census Bureau” or “U.S. Department of Commerce” in the return address
- Jeffersonville, IN in the return address
- The enclosed envelope to mail back a completed questionnaire will be addressed to Jeffersonville, IN or Phoenix, AZ
- Check for original letterhead and date
They should present an ID badge that shows:
- their name
- their photograph
- a Department of Commerce watermark
- an expiration date
- a Census Bureau-issued laptop or smartphone with the Census Bureau logo on it
If all of this checks out, and you still have questions about their identity, call 844/330-2020 to speak to a Census Bureau representative. A Field Representative will never knock on your door before 9am or after 9pm local time.
If you should get an e-mail directing you to a Census Bureau website, here’s all you need to know: all (as in every single dat blame one) legitimate Census Bureau websites end in .gov. Period.
It’s The Law
Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution requires that everybody in the United States be counted every ten years. Not just citizens, everybody! It is a federal crime not to answer the Census questions or to give false information. That sounds a lot worse than it really is, though. The only way you’ll get prosecuted is if they really want you for something else. However, they won’t have a problem slapping a fine on you; up to $100 for not answering the questions, and up to $500 for giving false information.
Data Determines Who Gets What
When Uncle Sam counts the number of people running around the country, he’s not just being nosy. The data collected is used to determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives, and to adjust or redraw electoral districts, based on where populations have increased or decreased. Additionally, over the next ten years, lawmakers, business owners, and many others will use the information to make some pretty important decisions, such as where communities need new schools, hospitals, fire departments, new roads, and more services for families, older adults, and children.
This information will also determine where Uncle Sam spends hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding for more than 100 programs, including Medicaid, Head Start, block grants for community mental health services, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, but known to most of us as Food Stamps.
Be Counted For The Greater Good
How this information is used should make it pretty obvious that it is very important that we all stand up and be counted. The impact on our communities will be felt for years to come. Sure, there’s a lot of scammers out there looking to take us for a ride, but we can’t ignore this civic responsibility. So, whether by mail, by phone, or with a Field Representative, be on guard, but please, be counted.