For years, Better Business Bureau has educated consumers about not giving out personal information over the telephone or to anyone who shows up at their front door. With the U.S. Census process beginning, BBB advises people to be cooperative, but cautious, so as not to become a victim of fraud or identity theft.
The first phase of the 2010 U.S. Census is under way as workers have begun verifying the addresses of households across the country. Eventually, more than 140,000 U.S. Census workers will count every person in the United States and will gather information about every person living at each address including name, age, gender, race and other relevant data.
The Census data will be used to allocate more than $300 billion in federal funds every year, as well as determine a State’s number of Congressional representatives. Households are actually required by law to respond to the Census Bureau’s request for information.
“You should always be cautious to avoid giving out personal information whenever an unknown person calls your home or knocks at the door, however assisting Census workers is an exception to that rule,” noted Tim Burns, Public Affairs Director for the Better Business Bureau Serving Detroit & Eastern Michigan. “Assisting with the U.S. Census is an important responsibility that people should cooperate with, but also keep your guard up.”
During the U.S. Census, households will be contacted by mail, telephone or visited by a U.S. Census worker who will inquire about the number of people living in the house. Unfortunately, people may also be contacted by scammers who are impersonating Census workers in order to gain access to sensitive financial information such as Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers. The BBB has started receiving information that scammers are already posing as Census Bureau employees and knocking on doors asking for donations and Social Security numbers.
“Scammers know that people will be more trusting about things associated with the Census and will be looking to take advantage of that,” added Burns. ”Watch out for e-mail scams involving the Census or people stopping by your house or calling you on the telephone posing as government employees attempting to solicit money or sensitive financial information.”
The big question is - how do you tell the difference between a U.S. Census worker and a con artist? BBB offers the following advice:
- If a U.S. Census worker knocks on your door, they will have a badge, a handheld device, a Census Bureau canvas bag and a confidentiality notice. Ask to see their identification and their badge before answering their questions. However, you should never invite anyone you don’t know into your home.
- Census workers are currently only knocking on doors to verify address information. Do not give your Social Security number, credit card or banking information to anyone, even if they claim they need it for the U.S. Census. While the Census Bureau might ask for basic financial information, such as a salary range, it will not ask for Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers nor will employees solicit donations.
- Eventually, Census workers may contact you by telephone, mail or in person at home. However, they will not contact you by e-mail, so be on the lookout for e-mail scams impersonating the Census. Never click on a link or open any attachments in an e-mail that are supposedly from the U.S. Census Bureau.
For more advice on avoiding identity theft and fraud, visit www.bbb.org. The Better Business Bureau is a non-profit organization with the purpose of preventing fraud and unethical business practices and promoting trust in the marketplace. In addition to its recognized dispute resolution services, the BBB maintains reliability reports on the customer service history of more than hundreds of thousands of local businesses and provides consumer education materials on numerous topics. Local BBBs provide services freely to the public and has service areas across the country.
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