As we step back and take stock of our lives in preparation for the new decade, our government is preparing to take stock of us. That's right, it's been 10 years and the decennial U.S. Census is back. Armies of workers will knock on every door in the nation to count, tally, and otherwise enumerate the peoples of our great land. But beware of con artists who may try to gather valuable personal information by impersonating government workers.
The first phase of the 2010 U.S. Census requires workers to verify 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 gather information about every person living at each address including name, age, gender, race, and other relevant data. Susan Johnson of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises people to be cooperative, but cautious, so as not to become a victim of fraud or identity theft.
So 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 or credit card or banking information to anyone, even if they claim they need it for the U.S. Census.
- Remember, no matter what they ask, you really only need to tell them how many people live at your address. While the Census Bureau might ask for basic financial information, such as a salary range, you don't have to answer anything at all about your financial situation.
- The Census Bureau will not ask for Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers, nor will employees solicit donations. Any one asking for that information is NOT with the Census Bureau.
- Remember, the Census Bureau has decided not to work with ACORN on gathering this information. No ACORN worker should approach you saying he/she is with the Census Bureau.
- Eventually, census workers may contact you by telephone, mail, or in person at home. However, the Census Bureau 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 supposedly sent from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The census is mandated by Article I of the U.S. Constitution, which states that an "Enumeration" must be made within every "Term of ten Years, in such Manner as [Congress] shall by Law direct." The first count was taken in 1790, setting us up for centuries of even-numbered enumerations. Failure to respond to the original questionnaire carried a $20 fine. Today, the same infraction goes for $100.