February 11, 2010 | KTRK (ABC, Houston) | Original Article

Beware of 2010 Census email scams

We all have to take part in the 2010 U.S. Census, but how do you know if the census worker asking for your information is legit? The counting is about to get underway, as census workers prepare to get an official count of United States citizens.

Local law enforcement agencies say you need to watch out for scammers and you'll need to do more than just ask for a worker's ID badge. Cyber criminals will look for any opportunity to steal your money or personal information online. That includes taking advantage of the upcoming 2010 Census. Authorities believe it's only a matter of time before the complaints start pouring in.

Internet scams are so widespread, they're as a typical as the common cold. "You know you hear about it all the time and you possibly don't think it could happen to anyone and obviously it does," said Kinley Paisley. With the 2010 U.S. Census about to get underway, unsuspecting computer users are being warned to watch out for fake emails claiming to be from the census bureau, asking for their participation. "The Census Bureau does not communicate with anyone about their questionnaire via email," said Ida Love of the U.S. Census Bureau. The census is sent out only by mail and consists of ten questions.

If you think you've received a bogus email, do not reply or click on links, do not open any attachments, and never give out your social security number, credit card, or banking information. "If you give your credit card number, they can take your money. If you give them your social security number they can steal your identity. It's really very dangerous," said Leah Napoliello of the Better Business Bureau. Authorities say these scam artists may target the elderly or anyone else who may not know what to watch out for.

The FBI which investigates cyber crime has a special website for fraud victims who want to file a formal complaint. The agency receives them on a daily basis. "There's always someone refining the scam, someone making it a little better, tweaking it a little to get more people involved," said Mark Webster of the FBI. Census workers are banking on community outreach as a tool to educate the public about the right way to fill out the census and the consequences if they don't. "I just don't open emails if I don't know who sent them," said John Sears.

The Better Business Bureau said it dealt with this issue ten years ago during the 2000 Census. If you receive one of these fake emails and would like to file a complaint, you can do so with the U.S. Census Bureau. We have a link to the U.S. Census Bureau's web page here. The 2010 U.S. Census questionnaire will arrive in your mailbox about a month from now. The U.S. Census Bureau is encouraging everyone to take the time and fill it out. An accurate count is critical to securing some $400 billion in federal funding over the next ten years.

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