Census Bureau encourages vigilance to thwart scammers
The envelope from the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington, D.C. looked real enough when it arrived last January in Arne and Elaine Kaald’s mailbox.
The Edmonds couple was asked to fill out a questionnaire on a range of personal information – including financial information, such as income and investment earnings.
It also asked for their social security numbers.
The Kaalds, both in their 80s, dutifully filled out the questionnaire, and came this close to mailing it.
But something didn’t smell right. They were hesitant, especially about sending their social security numbers.
Elaine Kaald showed it to their banker.
“He said it looked official, but he wondered why they wanted those social security numbers,” she said.
But the couple also began receiving phone calls – dozens of them, she said – some from Washington, D.C., others from Florida and California. One time, a caller even gave them a case number.
Finally, they were called by a woman who said she was a field representative for the Census Bureau, and she wanted to visit the couple for an interview.
That woman is Teresa Rohlin. An Edmonds resident herself, Rohlin does work for the Census Bureau, and she does interview people for Bureau surveys.
Elaine Kaald said Rohlin asked a variety of financial questions, such as the value of their condominium. She did not ask for their social security number.
Reached by phone, Rohlin confirmed what the Census Bureau says about its work: They would never ask for your social security number.
Census Bureau officials have long been aware of scam efforts in the Bureau’s name.
Linda Clark, a Data Dissemination Specialist for the Bureau, said the Kaalds were likely part of the American Communities Survey, although for privacy reasons, she couldn’t confirm names.
Older Americans may recall that the census, conducted every 10 years, included short and long forms. Most residents filled out short forms; some received the longer, more comprehensive forms.
But those ended with the 2000 survey. Congress decided that 10 years was too long a period for much of the information to be useful.
It established the American Communities Survey. Clark said 295,000 questionnaires are mailed each month throughout the country – about 2 percent of all households each year.
That way, the Census Bureau can provide more timely and accurate information to businesses, the media, educators, government agencies and others who use the data.
The Bureau only publishes aggregate data; it never identifies individuals or businesses, Clark said, out of concerns for privacy.
“People are nervous about providing information, and they have a right to be,” Clark said.
Besides not asking for social security numbers, neither does the Bureau ask for PIN codes, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.
If you believe you may have been the victim of a scam or attempted scam, be sure to check for a valid Census ID badge if you’re face-to-face with someone claiming to be from the Bureau.
In addition, you should call your regional office to verify you are in a survey. For information, go to www.census.gov. At the bottom of the home page, under “ABOUT US,” you’ll see a link titled “Are You in a Survey?”
That will help guide you in how to confirm that the survey and/or interviewer are legitimate.
Although Rohlin told the Kaalds she wouldn’t be bothering them anymore, the couple continues to receive phone calls, Elaine Kaald said.
That, Clark said, is a red flag. Although the Census Bureau does contact people by phone for follow-up on the survey, repeated phone calls over several months sounds suspicious.
“Dozens of phone calls is alarming,” Clark said.
Sgt. Mark Marsh of the Edmonds Police Department said there haven’t been any widespread scams hitting Edmonds that police know about.
Of the Kaalds’ predicament, Marsh said, “Somebody’s trying to take advantage of them.
“Never give your social security number,” he said.
“It sounds like a movie,” Elaine Kaald said. “It’s unfortunate, but you have to assume the worst of everybody these days.”
That questionable questionnaire? The Kaalds shredded it.