Con Artists Counting on Census

Written by Sarah Fitzpatrick, CBS News Investigative Unit.


Before you fill out your 2010 Census form, make sure it's the real thing.

Regional U.S. Census offices around the country are receiving reports of fraudulent forms asking for Social Security numbers, banking details, and in some cases asking for checks or cash to be included in the return envelope.

The Greater Los Angeles Regional Census office told CBS News that they had received "around 100" reports of fraudulent forms being received in the region. The Kansas City Regional office estimated they had received about 50 reports in the last month, including one that asked for a $5 bill to be stapled to the questionnaire. The Chicago regional office reported that they had received intermittent reports throughout the year of people claiming to be Census workers knocking on doors and asking for personal information.

"Because the Census goes to every single person in the United States, it could present an opportunity for people to use it as a model for illegitimate purposes" said Stephen Buckner, a spokesman for the U.S. Census.

"It was very realistic," said Jim Blankenship, 58, of the form that appeared in his mailbox in early March. "I filled it out and got to the part where it asked for your Social Security number, I thought it was a little strange but I went ahead and filled it in anyway," he told CBS News. After hearing on the local news that the Census did not ask for personal information such as Social Security numbers, he realized he had filled out a fraudulent form.

"It makes you think, oh my goodness, there are people out there will take advantage any opportunity for a scam," he said.

President Obama signed legislation yesterday which aims to crack down on solicitations that imitate official census forms.

The "Prevent Deceptive Census Look Alike Mailings Act" prohibits the U.S. Postal Service from delivering non-governmental mail bearing the word "census" on the envelope.

The legislation was prompted in part by a mailing from the Republican National Committee seeking donations, that some believed could be confused with the official 2010 Census.

The Census Bureau urges citizens to familiarize themselves with the 10-question form on the Census Bureau website, and report fraudulent forms to their regional Census office and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (1-877-876-2455).