How to spot and avoid US Census Bureau scams

If you’re an American resident, you will surely receive texts or emails supposedly from the Census Bureau. But with spam texts and emails getting more prevalent, it’s hard to tell which ones are legit or not.

Participating in census surveys is required, but identity thieves are everywhere, so you must be careful when sharing your information.

It’s crucial to know the latest scams, so you can avoid overlooking any warning signs and getting tricked into giving out sensitive information that could ruin your finances and life in general.

We looked into official Census Bureau sources to know current news on legit census surveys and how they differ from census scams. Below, we provide you with the top tip for staying safe against census scams without missing out on the legit census surveys.

What are the latest census scams, and how do they work?

First, we want to tell you why the census is mandatory. Article I, Section 2 of the US Constitution authorizes Congress to conduct a census, so since 1790, the U.S. has had a compulsory survey every 10 years. 

According to the US Census Bureau, it helps the state determine proportional representation in Congress. 

Aside from the mandatory survey, the Bureau also conducts more than 100 surveys yearly.

Unfortunately, the decennial and annual census has been the target of scammers in recent years. We’ll provide you with a list of the latest census scams to help you become aware of them.

1. Phone spoofing

Is it normal for the census Bureau to call you? The answer’s yes because they do some surveys over the phone.

However, scammers may spoof their phone numbers to disguise their identities and pretend to be an employee of the Bureau. 

Due to this tactic, it’s difficult to know whether the caller is legitimate. As a result, they can extract personal and financial information from you.

Fortunately, you can verify US Census Bureau calls by contacting the Bureau’s Regional Offices or looking them up through the Staff Search page.

2. Delinquency scams

Title 13 of the US Code lays out the fine of up to $5,000 for failure to report, and scammers use this information to deceive their victims.

Here’s how the delinquency scams work: 

  • Fraudsters will contact you and claim they’re from the US Census Bureau.
  • They’ll tell you that you must pay a fine because of failure to report or intentionally providing false information.
  • Finally, they’ll ask for money to help you avoid jail time.

The Bureau reminds U.S. residents that their employees will never ask for money, so if someone asks for cash on behalf of the agency, it’s definitely a scam.

3. Direct-mail census scams

Scammers may also contact you through physical mail because the Bureau sends mails to respondents. However, the fake surveys will ask for sensitive information, such as:

The Census Bureau clearly stated that it would not request such confidential details. If you received mail that asks for extra information, don’t respond because it’s from fraudsters.

Also, the legitimate survey from the Bureau contains complete return address information or a census ID. The ID includes 12 characters with numbers and letters. 

You can view the sample 2020 census here, where there’s a census ID.

4. Phishing emails and links

Phishing happens when hackers send you an email that includes a link, and this link redirects you to an official-looking website.

Once you go to the website, the scammers will ask you to log in or provide information such as:

  • SSN
  • Username and password
  • Bank account and credit card details

In the latter part of the article, we’ll give tips on avoiding this online scam.

5. Postcards with QR codes

Quick response (QR) codes are becoming prevalent in recent years. The Insider Intelligence predicted that the number of users scanning a QR code will increase to 99.5 million in 2025.

That’s why scammers started using QR codes to deceive their victims. Here’s how it works:

  • Fraudsters will send a postcard with a QR code.
  • It will instruct you to scan the code to access the survey.
  • Your device will be exposed to malware once you scan it.

Currently, the Census Bureau doesn’t provide QR codes for respondents to access the surveys. 

If you receive a postcard with a code, don’t scan it because it’s from scammers looking to hack your gadgets.

6. Malware scams

These are similar to phishing scams. But in malware scams, you don’t need to give your information to those who impersonate Census Bureau employees.

The hackers will lure you into clicking the link provided in the email address to install malicious programs which they will use to spy on your device. They

As a result, all your files and online transactions will be compromised. Scammers will be able to access your personal and financial information.

7. Census job scams

Scammers may post fake census jobs to collect personal and financial information from applicants. They may even ask for application fees to steal money.

Here are some of their tactics:

  • Post to major job boards to target more job seekers
  • Offer high salaries for easy positions

If you want to apply at the Bureau, you can visit their Careers page to look for legitimate opportunities. The official page categorizes job postings by location and type of position.

By applying through this link, you’ll be assured that you’re dealing with the official US Census Bureau and not scammers.

8. Social media scams

Fraudsters may also impersonate the Census Bureau on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. They may post links, attachments, or documents that may infect your device once you click on them.

It works like a phishing scam, but with social media sites.

9. In-person scams

Are census workers still going house to house this 2022?

According to the Census Bureau, they have resumed in-person visits when they’re unable to reach you by phone.

Scammers often impersonate field representatives to collect information from respondents. Take note that a legitimate Census Bureau employee has an ID badge that includes:

  • their name and picture
  • Department of Commerce watermark
  • expiration date

They also conduct surveys between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., so if a “field representative” visits you outside of these hours, it’s likely a scam.

Is the Census COVID-19 survey legit?

Yes, the Census Bureau is conducting a household pulse survey to measure the social and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, it has been the target of census scams this 2022 and the past three years.

A victim spoke to KSL News to tell her story. Patricia Worthington said she received a text that said it was from the Census Bureau. But according to her, she had already answered the survey.

So how can you tell if a census is real?

According to the Bureau, a participant will receive an email from [email protected] or a text from 39242. You have the option to stop receiving messages. Unlike the decennial survey, this one isn’t required.

Now that you already know the indications of an official survey, you can better protect yourself from scams.

How to avoid census scams?

Scammers have different tactics to deceive you into giving personal information, but we’ll help you avoid them with these tips.

1. Check the field representative’s ID badge

Official field representatives have IDs that show an expiration date and a Department of Commerce watermark. They also carry a briefcase and device with the Census logo.

If you don’t see any of these or if they don’t want to show their ID, the so-called representatives are likely scammers who wish to collect your information.

2. Know the Census Bureau survey questions

The queries may include:

  • What is your telephone number?
  • How many people live in this house?
  • What is person 1’s age and date of birth?
  • Is this person of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?

You may view the sample questions here for the 2020 Census Informational Questionnaire.

3. Avoid questions regarding sensitive information

As you may notice, there’s no mention of your SSN, bank account, or credit card details on the official questionnaire.

Never respond to Census scams asking for such information because the Bureau doesn’t need your financial information to determine representation in Congress.

4. Verify with the US Census Bureau

By verifying surveys and field representatives, you can stay safe against scams without missing out on the legit census.

You can verify a survey by contacting your Regional Office or using the Staff Search page.

Another option is to call the Census Bureau at 1-800-923-8282 or 301-763-4636.

5. Don’t believe in jail time threats

As we’ve discovered in delinquency scams, fraudsters may ask for money to help you avoid jail time.

But did you know that Title 13 of the U.S. Code only imposes fines, not jail time? 

So when someone threatens arrest due to your failure to answer the survey, contact the Regional Office or report the incident to the National Processing Center by calling 1-800-923-8282.

Wrapping up

You can recognize census scams as long as you know scammers’ latest techniques. But if you’re having difficulty, you can always verify surveys with the Census Bureau.

We also recommend not giving away sensitive information, even to people who claim they’re from the Bureau. The U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t need your financial information, but a scammer does.

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