My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

UPDATE: MyTwoCensus Investigation: Census Bureau’s lack of photo IDs for employees and use of cheap black canvas bags as “uniforms” aid scammers because impersonating a Census Bureau enumerator is all too easy

UPDATE: FOR THOSE WHO READ AN EARLIER VERSION OF THIS PIECE, SEE THE UPDATE  PRESENTED NEAR THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE.

On Sunday, I discovered an alarming piece of news from Washington state: Census Bureau polo shirts and black canvass bags were on sale at a local Goodwill store. As Steve Jost, the Census Bureau’s Associate Director of Communications wrote in a blog post yesterday, “Census workers will be easily identifiable: Each will have an official government badge (identifiable by the seal of the Census Bureau) and a black canvas census bags.” This should raise red flags, because by giving out these materials (that were subsequently donated) the Census Bureau is actually enabling fraud to take place. The other way that the Census Bureau has enabled fraud to take place is by failing to give its 600,000 door-to-door workers photo IDs. In a day and age where photos can be printed instantly on an office computer, this is ridiculous. The Census Bureau’s ID cards used by these employees are flimsy and extremely easy to replicate.  Yesterday, I questioned the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office about this, and received the following DENIALS from the Census Bureau:

E-mail from Stephen Robert Morse of MyTwoCensus.com: It came to my attention that  polo shirts with 2010 Census logos and black 2010 Census canvas bags have appeared in thrift shops and on Ebay – presumably these were leftover partnership materials. As you said, there are two ways to identify Census workers – by their black bag and their name badge. I am concerned that people, particularly the elderly, may be duped by scammers.  I have two questions: 1. Why, knowing that black canvas bags are used by enumerators, did the Census Bureau distribute black canvass bags with 2010 Census logos as partnership materials?  2. Why did the Census Bureau choose not to use photo identification for official Census workers? I worry about this because it is extremely easy for criminals to replicate the ID badges.

E-mail back from Michael C. Cook,  a Senior Marketing Specialist at the Census Bureau: A search of Ebay by Census staff found only Census 2000 shirts.  There are no 2010 enumerator bags or back packs currently on Ebay.  The child’s drawstring backpack for 2010 and the enumerator shoulder bag share nothing in common, not size, not logos, not shape, not dimensions, other than the color black.   If a member of the public is not certain of the identity of a census employee, they may ask for a photo ID, such as a driver’s license, or a phone number for the local census office to call and confirm the individual’s employment.

Now, this is truly a great way to dodge the questions I asked. Fortunately, I was also able to get Mr. Cook on the telephone and he said that the Census Bureau couldn’t make the photo IDs because “it had to do with the volume and the fact that there is a short amount of time between the time we identify the workers, to the time we hit the street — it wasn’t cost effective to take photos.” So the Census Bureau has no problem spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on ads, but has no budget to authenticate its workers’ identities in picture form to protect people from scammers…

*Note: My one mistake in this investigation was not taking a screen capture of the black canvas 2010 Census bag that was being sold on EBay. For all I know, the Census Bureau Public Information Office could have purchased it in the time before they responded to my query. Nonetheless, most Americans wouldn’t know that Census Bureau employees only use black bags. And despite this, there is still a 2010 Census tote bag on EBay that the Census Bureau PR team scouring the internet failed to notice. This time, I took a screenshot:

I’m not saying that scammers even need Ebay or thrift stores to obtain these materials. In fact, the Census Bureau’s partnership specialists have handed millions of them out for free! Did you get any Census Bureau swag? If so, let us know in the comments section!

Here is a photo of the all-too-easy-to-replicate canvas bags and non-photo IDs used by actual 2010 Census enumerators:

UPDATE: A READER JUST SUBMITTED US A PHOTO OF A BLACK CENSUS BAG THAT WAS FOUND ON EBAY…IT LOOKS AMAZINGLY SIMILAR TO THE 2010 CENSUS BAG. IN FACT, I AM 99.99% CERTAIN THAT THE PERSON WHO LISTED IT ON EBAY PUT IT UP AS A CENSUS 2000 BAG IN ERROR. TO ME, IT APPEARS TO BE A 2010 CENSUS BAG…ANY RESPONSE TO THAT PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE?

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19 Responses to “UPDATE: MyTwoCensus Investigation: Census Bureau’s lack of photo IDs for employees and use of cheap black canvas bags as “uniforms” aid scammers because impersonating a Census Bureau enumerator is all too easy”

  1. Census CL Says:

    There are hundreds if not thousands of the 2010 census bags out in circulation. At the local census office level an effort is made to retrieve badges of employees who quite or come to the end of their term (last paycheck is held) but minimal effort is made to get all the supplies (i.e. shoulder bag, pencils, forms). The level of attention made to retrieving these materials really varies widely based on the tenacity of the local census managers. It may be the policy of the census to have all these returned, but the reality is very different.
    Also various pieces of promotional material were handed out that look just as official as what the actual enumerators carry around was handed out by the partnership team. Pins of various sizes, t-shirts, tote bags, not to mention what local city, town, and village officials made with the census blessing to promote the 2010 census. The “uniform” of the enumerators here is “business casual” , tie required, no jeans. Get a few accessories and anyone can impersonate a census employee.

  2. Senseless Says:

    Partnership brought in a lot of things to give away at the open house. They had tote bags, travel mugs, mouse pads and several other things. The open house was poorly attended and the boy scouts who came to do the flag ceremony took off with most of the stuff. I have a shirt, travel mug and mouse pad all given to me by partnership.

  3. Minchoww Says:

    I know for a fact that census materials are not collected by some crew leaders at the end of a person’s time, while there are others who will attempt to collect what materials they can. I was a crew leader.

  4. Minchoww Says:

    That photo of the census bag on EBAY is the exact same bag we use when we go door to door. Mr. Cook better look again. There are no special features on the bag that say 2010. I brought that up to a supervisor at the office.

  5. ACL Dave Says:

    Ain’t no doubt about it, that’s a picture of a 2010 bag in the ebay listing. If they showed the other side, you could see the little pouch designed to fit the universally despised Harris HHC.

    I notice nobody bid on it. LOL

  6. My Two Census » Blog Archive » Denver Colorado sees THOUSANDS of dollars worth of 2010 Census swag unused — including canvas bags Says:

    [...] suspicions about waste and leftover swag enabling scammers to do their jobs more easily is proven true yet again. Thanks to Colorado NBC affiliate 9News.com, and specifically [...]

  7. NRFUNewbie Says:

    The best is the look that people give you when you show them your “Official Census ID Badge.” It’s the look that says, “Really? –no, seriously? You know door-to-door magazine subscription salesmen have more credible ID’s, right?”

  8. counter intuitive Says:

    I think it’s weird that credentials and supplies are distributed on the first day of enumerator training, before we have fingerprinted the new hires.

  9. My Two Census » Blog Archive » On SNL, Betty White and Tina Fey recreate Christopher Walken’s classic census sketch Says:

    [...] If you look closely, you will see that Tina Fey managed to obtain what appears to be a genuine 2010 Census enumerator bag for this performance. I wonder how she got it if it’s only for [...]

  10. Maiasaura Says:

    2000 bags have no back pockets and are slightly taller than the 2010 bags. The font logo design is the same.

  11. Maiasaura Says:

    I got a call the other day from the FCO office asking if I, as an early, early enumerator was (a) still working (b) still had my bag and (c) still had my badge. Yes, yes, yes.

    Sorry the poor woman had to make so many phone calls, but happy she was, at least, getting a paycheck.

  12. LCO-AM Says:

    I was told the census bags were going to be used for other census operations, that is why there is no date on them.

    Yeah, sure……

    Also, “damaged” bags were to be cut into 4 pieces and disposed of locally.

    Cut with what? The “Made in China” scissors we were given to use? I’m 97.25% sure they will not be up to the task of cutting the damaged bags up, and there is a risk of hurting ones self trying!

    Oh well….

  13. LCO-AM Says:

    Oh, in one of the manuals, it said to write your name on your bag –

    Seriously, think about it, why would they want them back for a future operation with someones name on them?

    Doh!

  14. My Two Census » Blog Archive » Some tips for identifying a Census worker Says:

    [...] about identifying Census enumerators aren’t new on MyTwoCensus, and we’ve even posted news of a tragic incident that might have been [...]

  15. KDS Says:

    I was so humiliated by the Census “Enumerator” credential that I was recently issued for NRFU that I am pretty sure I broke several laws by making my own Census PHOTO ID credential with an actual photograph OF ME that looks MUCH more believable and that I feel much more secure displaying on a lanyard around my neck. And if anyone ever actually decides to try to call me on it and demand that I produce an official “crappy” credential, well, I have that tucked right behind it just in case. So far, no one has asked to see the crappy one nor has anyone questioned my authenticity… Some of my fellow crew members, though, who are all still using their original credentials, well… Some of them have gotten called frauds and trespassers and have been threatened with police action for impersonating federal employees. One guy even got an egg thrown at his car. I am sticking with my own credential.

  16. My Two Census » Blog Archive » Mom knows best Says:

    [...] impersonated a Census taker using a badge and bag — MyTwoCensus has written extensively on how easy it’d be to do this — but luckily an informed mother recognized him from an internet database. Unfortunately, [...]

  17. My Two Census » Blog Archive » Buy official 2010 Census employee gear on EBay.com Says:

    [...] to the reader who noted this in the comments. I have railed on the Census Bureau for a while now about how easy it is for scammers or other individuals to find 2010 Census parapheralia because the [...]

  18. Ryda Says:

    When I was first hired in May, they had already run out of the little enamel Census 2010 pins for enumerators. My trainer said the people first hired had been taking 5 or 10 at a time instead of one. I’ve seen children with more Census giveaways than I’ve ever been issued. The main reason (in the field) for returning the bags seems to be to look inside and see if there are any unfinished EQs or other pending materials. It’s amazing that the bags aren’t branded with the year – this is just bad security.

    We have to remember in all this that running a census every 10 years means starting up a new government agency each time. There will be waste, there will be fraud, employee turnover is extremely high and there is no existing structure within to reduce it by checks & controls. Those of us who have worked through several operations have grown to distrust data collected by certain enumerators because the error rate is too high. I’ve met people who worked in the 1960 or 1970 census and bragged that they created data rather than obtain it firsthand. This is why all the data needs to be cross checked by several independent processes and external agencies.

  19. leah Says:

    I did the 2000 census Ive got the bag looks just like the picture. It doesn’t have a back pocket.