AARP: Beware of census scams


lWhile the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic dominates headlines, the 2020 census count continues, albeit with some adjustments. And while April 1st was Census Day, that doesn’t mean it’s too late to complete your questionnaire. In fact, it is required by law.

And as always, scammers are chasing headlines for their own personal financial benefit. One example — scammers hunting for personal info are calling folks just like you, claiming that completing the census is required in order to be eligible to receive coronavirus stimulus funds (the Census Bureau says stimulus fund distribution is NOT connected to completion of the census questionnaire). But census scams don’t stop there.

How It Works
• Census scammers may contact you by phone, email, regular mail or home visit, or direct you to phony websites, seeking personal and financial information.
• Like other government impostors, they adopt the mantle of officialdom in hopes of winning your trust — and they have the added advantage of pretending to represent an agency specifically tasked with asking questions.
• Census scammers may threaten you with arrest if you fail to complete their questionnaire or provide them with the information they ask for.

What You Should Know
• All census mailings will have a return address of Jeffersonville, IN, the site of the National Processing Center. If it’s from somewhere else, it’s not from the U.S. Census Bureau.
• There are some things no genuine census survey or agent will ask for, whether by phone, email or in person — for example, your Social Security, credit card or bank account number. They won’t ask for money. They won’t threaten jail time if you don’t answer their questions.
• Traditionally, those who do not complete their survey questionnaire could receive an in-person visit from a census representative. However, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau has temporarily suspended in-person interviews.
• While taking part in the census is required by law, you CANNOT be imprisoned for failing to complete it.

What You Should Do
• Contact the Census Bureau’s National Processing Center or the regional office for your state to verify that census communications you receive are genuine.
• Don’t trust caller ID — scammers can use “spoofing” tools to make it appear they’re calling from a real Census Bureau number. Call the National Processing Center at 800 523 3205, 800 642 0469 or 800 877 8339 (TDD/TTY) to verify that a phone survey is legitimate.

• You can report suspected scams to the regional Census Bureau office serving your state and to the Federal Trade Commission (online or at 877 382 4357). And, as always, you can call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline to report a scam or for help at 877 908 3360.

When it comes to fraud, vigilance is our number one weapon. You have the power to protect yourself and your loved ones from scams. Please share this alert with friends and family and visit the Fraud Watch Network.

Kathy Stokes
AARP Fraud Watch Network