Police issue warning on census scams

CENTRAL POINT — With the 2010 U.S. Census just around the corner, law enforcement officials are warning that some people may try to pass themselves off as census takers in an attempt to steal personal information.

The Better Business Bureau says people posing as census workers are one of the top five scams used on senior citizens. Real census takers ask for information of a general nature, such as the number of persons in a household and their names, but legitimate workers will not ask for bank account information or Social Security numbers.

The public should be helpful but cautious, said Deni Luna, a media specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau.

"Basically we don't ask for information like Social Security numbers or bank account information, so that would be a red flag right there," Luna said.

Census workers will begin visiting neighborhoods around mid to late March with a list of 10 basic questions that should take about 10 minutes to answer. None require any personal or financial details.

Luna said the door-to-door visits would focus on addresses where people have not returned the census forms they received earlier in the mail.

"If they don't mail them in, we'll start to go to people's doors, but we try to do it by mail where we can," she said. "Most Americans will get it in the mail and not even get a knock at the door."

Legitimate census workers should be carrying personal identification, a black canvas logo tote bag, and there should be signs on their cars. Police in Medford and Central Point encourage people to ask for identification from census workers and contact police if they're suspicious.

"People are already leery of giving out information because of all the (identity theft) going on," said Lt. Chuck Newell of the Central Point police.

"If someone shows up at the front door, the best thing members of the public can do is be sure these people are properly credentialed, and if they do have problems or concerns about suspicious activity, contact their local law enforcement."

Newell said local police had not heard of any census scams, "but people have to be cautious."

Lt. Bob Hansen of the Medford police said people can determine whether a census visitor is legitimate by asking for a supervisor's phone number, calling the number and then verifying the number.

"Never assume it's a good number," Hansen said. "Look it up because they could have someone sitting at a house.

"Identity theft is getting worse and worse all the time," he said, "so people need to be a little more skeptical nowadays. It's not the same world it was 50 years ago."

For more information about the census, visit the Web site at www.census.gov.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

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