By Maria-Jose Subiria
Consumer and senior-citizen advocates are warning residents to be on the lookout, over the next few months, for fraudsters posing as U.S. Census Bureau workers.
Dena Smith, press secretary for the Georgia Department of Human Services, said the census period may be a convenient time for scammers to prey on the senior population and steal their personal identity information.
"We want to just make sure that seniors are aware, and on guard, whenever there is a possibility that criminals might think they have their guard down, since this is a time that people will open their doors," she said.
Smith said that to verify that a census worker is a legitimate U.S. Census Bureau employee, individuals should look for a badge with a Department of Commerce watermark and expiration date. The taker must also be carrying a letter, on official letterhead, from the director of the U.S. Census Bureau, and a handheld device or laptop, she added.
From April to July, census takers will visit the homes of residents who did not mail their 2010 census forms back to the bureau by April 1, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's web site. Census takers will not ask individuals for personal information, such as a Social Security number, or bank account and credit card details, Smith said.
If individuals become suspicious, they can call the Regional Census Center at 1-800-923-8282 to confirm the taker's employment with the bureau.
"They can ask them to hold on and call the number, if they have reason to feel that worker is not legitimate," said Smith.
According to Smith, the Census Bureau will ask for an individual's basic financial information, such as a salary range, but will not enter an individual's home or ask for money or donations.
According to the Census Bureau, individuals will receive notification from the Census Bureau director before they receive a form in the mail, or are contacted by telephone or in person. Residents will not be contacted by e-mail.
Smith said if individuals do receive an e-mail that purports to be from the Census Bureau, or come across an illegitimate web site that purports to be bureau-related, it is advised not click on any attachments or links. The individuals should forward the web site address, or e-mail, to ITSO.Fraud.Reporting@census.gov.
Smith said that if a taker becomes aggressive, intimidating or coaxing, "End the conversation immediately and call law enforcement."
Mike Boynton, vice president of marketing and sales for the Better Business Bureau, said an e-mail was circulated to various consumers purporting to be from the Better Business Bureau and the U.S. Census Bureau in late January.
The e-mail instructed recipients to provide confidential, personal information, such as bank accounts, credit card information and Social Security numbers, said Boynton.
"Information like that, the Better Business Bureau will not ask for that, nor the Census Bureau," he said.
Boynton said that to his knowledge, those e-mails have ceased.
He said he believes the scammers decided to use the names of both bureaus, because they are trusted by the public.
"We [Better Business Bureau] always advocate to protect your identity," said Boynton.
The Federal Trade Commission recently released its "Report of 2009 Consumer Complaints," which ranked identity theft as the most reported complaint among 15 categories, with a total of 278,078 complaints nationwide.
Though identity theft remains the top complaint in the report, complaints decreased by 5 percentage points from 2008.