Every ten years it comes around again like clockwork – the United States Census. There’s always a huge amount riding on the outcome of this mammoth national head count, from Congressional representation to tax distribution to Medicaid allocation and much more. But before the Census begins in earnest in less than two months, here’s a big warning from your friends at AgingOptions: The Census scammers are already working on sneaky ways to separate you from your personal information during Census season – yet another form of identity theft, with the Census as the smokescreen.
Census Scams Have Already Begun, Although the Real Census Start Date is April 1st
As background for this report, we looked up some basic information about the Census on the government’s official website. “In mid-March, households [in the U.S. and territories] will begin receiving official Census Bureau mail with detailed information on how to respond to the 2020 Census,” the site explains. The count officially begins on April 1, 2020, when every home will be asked to provide some basic Census information. This year marks the first time when Census responses can be provided online, but people can also respond by mail or by phone.
The Census questions are, as we said, basic. (You can find a sample copy of the questionnaire here.) The government will want to know the age, gender, race and relationships, among other things, of everyone living in your home as of April 1, 2020. What’s most important for respondents to know is what the Census Bureau will never ask you for, including your Social Security number, your bank account information, or anything about your credit cards. No one from the Census will ever ask for money or donations of any kind. They also won’t ask or offer any information or solicitation relating to any political party or campaign.
“If someone claiming to be from the Census Bureau contacts you via email or phone and asks you for one of these things, it’s a scam, and you should not cooperate,” the website warns. If you need more information on how to recognize illicit schemes relating to the Census, there’s a link on the website called Avoiding Fraud and Scams. As we discovered in the article cited below, the scammers have already started their underhanded work.
Census Scams: A Fraudulent Survey that “Seemed So Authentic”
As proof that the danger is real, we suggest you take a look at this recent article from the Dallas Morning News, written by reporter Obed Manuel. “The questionnaire 92-year-old Robert Cooper received in the mail in late December seemed so authentic,” Manuel writes. “The sender appeared to be the U.S. Census Bureau and the package ‘looked so official and was so nicely printed that it was clearly a big effort’ someone made to get him to respond.” Cooper went ahead and completed the survey, answering questions about his age, education level, and who else lived in his home.
“But about 10 questions in, the questionnaire asked for his and his wife’s Medicare card numbers,” says the article. “He said he thought the question was strange then, but still, he mailed it back. Cooper said he now believes the questionnaire may have been a ploy disguised as a Census Bureau survey to get his Medicare number. He worries others may fall victim to this potential scam if they aren’t aware of it.”
Cooper was right to worry. A respondent’s Medicare number is one of those things the Census will never ask for, Census Bureau official Tom Edwards told the Dallas Morning News. As the news article explained, “While the bureau does ask in some surveys what kind of health care coverage a person has, it will never ask respondents to provide a Medicare account number or numbers for any other kind of health benefit.” Edwards reminded readers to contact the bureau if they want to confirm whether a survey or a caller is legitimate. “If you’ve seen something that looks like a fraud, we will investigate it and any and all rumors,” he said.
How to Verify if a Census Bureau Survey is Valid, or If It’s a Census Scam
The Dallas Morning News article says that the Census Bureau actually conducts several national and regional surveys each year, and there are a number of ways to contact the bureau to confirm the validity of a survey. As the article advises, to verify that bureau materials received in the mail are legitimate, people should look for a few key details in the return address. The mailer should have been sent by either the U.S. Department of Commerce or the U.S. Census Bureau. Also, it should have a return address that’s located in Jeffersonville, Indiana.
If you’re still not sure about validity, you can call the bureau’s National Processing Center directly at 1-800-523-3205. There’s also a Census Bureau email people can use to report anything suspicious: contact them at [email protected].
Be Prepared with the Right Information and the Right Retirement Plan
Finding yourself victim of an identity-theft scam can cost you thousands of dollars and countless hours sorting everything out. Make certain you and those closest to you are armed with basic information before Census data-gathering begins. We’re especially concerned about vulnerable seniors living on their own: hopefully the army of AgingOptions blog readers and radio listeners can help spread the word and nip the danger of Census scams in the bud.
Being armed with the right information – and acting on it – is also the key to preparation for a fruitful and secure retirement. Comprehensive retirement planning includes a solid financial plan, but it doesn’t stop there. You’ll also need to make certain y0ur estate is protected legally, and that your family will honor and support your wishes as you age. You’ll definitely want to take your health coverage into account, both for the immediate and the long term, and you’ll want to plan ahead for the type of living arrangement that bests suits your needs, preferences and budget. Finance, legal, family, health, and housing are the five essential elements of a LifePlan from AgingOptions, and it’s the most comprehensive and robust retirement plan we know of.
We invite you to join Rajiv Nagaich and find out more about LifePlanning at a free information session called a LifePlanning Seminar. These highly popular events take place in locations throughout the Puget Sound region, and you’ll find a calendar of currently-scheduled seminars here on the AgingOptions Live Events page. Once you’ve selected the seminar date that works for y0u, you can register online or give us a call. We’ll look forward to meeting you in person. Until then, “Age on!”
(originally reported at www.dallasnews.com)