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VERIFY: Responding to real Census Bureau letters

Here's everything you need to know to make sure you fill out the 2020 Census without falling for scams.

This year, the United States Census Bureau will conduct its decennial headcount of people across the United States. The census helps determine Congressional representation, redistricting, federal funding to communities and data sent to businesses. Everyone participates in the census.

The Census Bureau will also continue sending out the American Community Survey (ACS), which asks questions left off the now shortened census questionnaires. It’s sent out every year and collects information on social, economic, housing and demographic characteristics across the United States. Not everyone participates in the ACS.

It's important to fill out both if you receive messages from the Census Bureau to do so. However, it can be hard to know what you need to do. It's often confusing to figure out what to fill out, what’s real and what’s a scam.

Here’s how to make sure you fill out the 2020 Census without falling for scams.

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RELATED: VERIFY: No, a citizenship question didn't make it on the 2020 census

THE QUESTION

How do I keep myself and my information during the census safe? What’s the difference between the census and the American Community Survey?

WHAT WE FOUND

The Census Bureau says you should begin receiving mail mid-March detailing how to respond to the 2020 Census online, by phone or by mail. If you’re being asked to fill out the 2020 Census before then, that should be a red flag.

However, the Census Bureau hasn’t published a specific date range for when it will send out the American Community Survey. If you receive a letter from the Census Bureau before March asking you to participate in the ACS, it may be real.

The Federal Trade Commission has a number of ways you can detect and stop scammers. If you haven’t responded to the census by May, census takers will come to your door up to six times to ensure everyone is counted and will leave a phone number for you to call if you are not home at the time. Census takers should have a photo ID with a U.S. Department of Commerce seal and an expiration date. The census taker should be able to give you a supervisor’s contact information and/or the census regional office phone number for you to call for verification if you ask.

Furthermore, the Census Bureau will never ask you for your full Social Security number, your full bank account or credit card numbers, money or donations, or anything on behalf of a political party. The 2020 Census will not have a question about citizenship status on it.

The ACS, however, will ask some more personal questions including questions about citizenship status. In the 2019 questionnaire, there were also questions regarding employment, income, housing and education.

Even so, the Census Bureau states the law prevents the Census Bureau from sharing your information with law enforcement. They stress the census aims to count everyone living in the United States, citizen or not.

The Census Bureau will not send you unsolicited emails that request you participate in the 2020 Census.

Even so, there are some concerned that mail they receive from the Census Bureau is actually a scam. 

Credit: VERIFY
A person thought this letter they received from the Census Bureau was a scam. They wrote on it what they thought was fishy.

The image above shows a letter containing instructions for completing the American Community Survey, which is separate from the 2020 Census. Some people may receive this letter before March, contrary to what the writing on the picture says.

If you go to the Census Bureau website, there is a button you can click to respond to the ACS. On the response page, you are asked to submit a 10-digit user ID, which is the number of digits in the ID that’s blurred ou in the image.

If a letter urges you to go to a website to respond, you should check the URL carefully. If the URL ends with a “.gov” before the first slash, it’s likely a link to the actual census website. The census website--or any other U.S. government website--will never end with “.com”, “.net”, “.org” or anything similar. It should always end with “.gov”.