Census scams can cost you, here's how to spot them

Beware of Census scamsFilling out a Census form is a once-in-a-decade chore for most -- and it's also an opportunity for crooks to take advantage of those who are only trying to do their civic duty. That doesn't mean you should avoid filling out a Census form. It just means you need to understand how these scams work.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the Census Bureau will never ask you for money. If there is any talk of paying them, steer clear.

Perhaps the most common Census scam involves phishing. Phishing scams involve duping victims into releasing personal and financial information through a phony email that says it's from a legitimate organization or government agency, such as the Census Bureau.

"If you think it is a bogus email, do not reply or click on any links within the email," the Census Bureau warns. To avoid pesky viruses, don't download any email attachments. If you suspect an e-mail to be fraudulent, forward it to the Census Bureau's fraud reporting email address. After sending the e-mail, delete the message from your inbox and trash folders.

Scammers can also come knocking on your front door, posing as Census Bureau workers. An 88-year-old Georgia woman was recently robbed of $1,000 by two men posing as Census takers. She was saving the money to buy her sister a gravestone.

"Regardless of whether someone coming to your door is from the Census or not, do not let them inside your home. Often fraudsters or others will attempt to gain entry to a home to scope out its contents or plan a burglary," the Colorado Attorney General told AllBusiness.com. If Census workers arrive at your home, ask to see a Census Bureau ID badge before answering any of their questions.

Here's what you can expect from the real Census: By now you should have already received a Census form in the mail. The initial Census questionnaire has 10 questions (there are some more detailed forms that are mailed to fewer people) that ask basic questions about the residents of the home receiving the form, including your phone number in case information needs to be clarified. You see a real form here.

The Census requires the forms be sent back by April 1. If you don't submit the form you'll either get a replacement form mailed to you or a personal visit from a Census taker. A Census taker must have an official ID and will never ask to enter your home for the routine decennial Census. The Census does not collect any information from citizens via the Web and each time the Census is going to either send you a form or have someone come to your door, a letter will be sent notifying you.

You can verify a Census taker's authenticity or raise questions about whether any communications you receive via phone or mail came from the Census Bureau by calling 1-866-226-2864. If you received a suspicious letter in the mail you can report it to the to U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Data accumulated by the Census determines representation in Congress and how federal funds are apportioned over the next decade. So, with so much at stake, communities typically take an active role in promoting participation. You can track the response rate to the Census here and see how your community is doing.
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