The Census Bureau’s follow-up system appears to invite fraud as there is no obvious way to know if you are talking to a scammer or Census Bureau employee…
Posts Tagged ‘scam’
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 easyTuesday, May 4th, 2010
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?
H/t to KING5.com who provided us with the first glimpse of a story that we will likely encounter at many other places in coming months. For more than a year now, MyTwoCensus has been concerned that the dinky canvass tote bags and non-photo IDs of Census Bureau employees do not serve as proper identification of government employees:
by OWEN LEI / KING 5 News
Posted on April 30, 2010 at 11:15 PM
SHORELINE, Wash. — Thousand of U.S. Census workers will be hitting the streets starting May 1, and they’ll have a few identifying characteristics — a Department of Commerce badge and a Census messenger bag.
What they will not be wearing, for the most part, are U.S. Census T-shirts.
But Sue Mills and Laurie Sorenson were still concerned when they saw a bunch on sale for $1.99 at the Goodwill store in Shoreline.
“Laurie saw the shirts hanging on the rack, and we took a look and said, ‘Well, these shirts really should not be here,’” said Mills.
But there they were, red Census 2010 polo shirts, the label on the front, the multi-colored hand logo on back. The two found eight shirts, and ended up buying all of them for fear that “anyone could buy one and do with them what they wanted,” said Sorenson.
Or, more specifically, that anyone wearing those shirts could look official enough to gain your trust, maybe more.
“They could ask your name, your social security number, your phone number,” Mills said.
“Potentially, your personal information getting into the wrong hands,” added Sorenson.
A U.S. Census Bureau spokeswoman said there is no official “uniform” for census takers – rather, they are encouraged to wear comfortable clothing that will help them as they walk long distances. However, some may choose to wear Census paraphernalia.
The best way to identify an official Census worker, they said, is to look for the government-issued I.D. badge, which will have the local Census office phone number, and a messenger bag.
Any residents suspicious of the person at their door are encouraged to call the local office to verify the Census taker’s identity. A Census taker also will never ask to enter a home, nor ask any questions beyond what is on the official survey, said the bureau.
Sue and Laurie said they’re worried not everyone will know that and will take the shirts at face value.
“I don’t know where they came from, where else could they be? They could be in thrift stores all over the country,” said Mills.
KING 5 stopped by the Shoreline Goodwill and found 20 more of the printed Census shirts, as well as some Census 2010 travel bags.
But when notified, employees immediately took the items off the shelves, while a manager said she’ll send an e-mail to all the other Goodwills in the area with a picture of the shirts.
As for where the shirts came from, a Census spokesperson said they were likely promotional items shared with a local partner agency, probably left over from a marketing event, and donated with good intentions.
Just last week, we reported that the GOP has been distributing a flier with the word “census” on it that is not related to the 2010 Census but actually a political fundraising advertisement. It seems that Kansas City residents are dealing with a far more sinister form of mailer. The Kansas City Star reports the following:
By TONY RIZZO and JOE LAMBE
Law enforcement agencies Monday were warning the public — especially the deaf community and senior citizens — about two suspicious mailings seeking money and personal information.
The FBI is warning senior citizens about an official-looking survey that seeks money and personal financial information.
Although not labeling it a scam, the bureau said the mailing is not connected to the U.S. census or any other federal agency, although it looks similar to a legitimate census document.
The mailing purports to be a “2010 Census of Senior Citizens” and asks recipients to answer survey questions and says the results will be shared with the president of the United States. Questions concern health care and other senior-related issues.
It solicits donations ranging from $15 to $25 so additional surveys can be sent to other senior citizens. It also asks for credit card information if people want to donate.
“It is not the official census, and the census would never ask to send money,” said FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton. “As always, we caution providing any personal and or financial information to unverified entities.”
Patton said the FBI doesn’t know of anyone in the Kansas City area having provided money, but it wants people to be aware.
“If you did not initiate the contact, be very cautious about providing any personally identifying information or financial information,” Patton said.
Also on Monday, Johnson County prosecutors warned that thieves are focusing on deaf persons in letters or an Internet scam.