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.

Posts Tagged ‘scams’

Buy official 2010 Census employee gear on EBay.com

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Thanks to the reader who noted this in the comments section of a previous post. 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 paraphernalia because the Census Bureau didn’t use proper identifying information for its employees:

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

Tuesday, 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?

Census shirts for sale create a situation that makes fraud all too easy…

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

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

KING5.com

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.

MyTwoCensus Exclusive Part 3: Identity Theft, Scams, and the Census Bureau

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

3 million Americans are set to receive bonuses this year as they are being asked to turn in  a 301-question form to the Census Bureau, called the American Community Survey (click here to download this 76-page monstrosity), instead of the typical “it-takes-less-than-ten-minutes-to-complete survey” that the other 300 million Americans out there will take. The American Community Survey is a replacement for “the long form,” which, from 1930-2000 was a lengthy survey sent to one in every six households that asked questions about everything from property taxes and indoor plumbing to education, ancestry and commuting patterns. But don’t think that everyone who received this new American Community Survey in the mail isn’t suspicious of its legitimacy, especially in this era of identity theft. Here’s the report from the Treasure Coast Palm newspaper:

— Vero Beach resident Robert Di Santi got a packet in the mail from the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau.

He was a little concerned about the invasiveness of some of the 301 questions, touching on topics from marriage to income. And he wondered if the material was actually from the government because the census is normally conducted once a decade.

“I requested information from Sen. Martinez and Rep. Posey about the propriety of this request,” said Di Santi, who thought it might be a scam.

In this era of identity theft, Census officials said Di Santi, and others who have received the packet, shouldn’t worry.

The Vero Beach resident’s home was one of about 7,000 Treasure Coast residences that will receive the packet this year. The Census annually sends out 3 million of its American Community Surveys to randomly selected residential addresses nationwide this decade. About 1-in-40 homes are selected to complete the mandatory survey. Failure to complete the survey could result in a $100 to $5,000 fine.

The questionnaire is a new method of conducting the long form of the census, now called the American Community Survey, that had been part of the once-a-decade roundup of facts about Americans.

In the 2000 survey, one in six residences received a long form. In the 2010 census, conducted April 1, everyone will receive what had been called the short form.

The downside of only doing the long form once every 10 years is the data gets out of date pretty quickly, said Shelly Lowe, Census Bureau public information officer. Since various programs rely upon set formulas for allocations of money and grants, it was decided to switch the long form to the annual survey.

“As part of the census, (American Community Surveys) data help determine how over $300 billion in federal tax dollars are distributed back to state and local areas,” Lowe said. “That’s why it’s important to fill it out and send it back if you receive it.”

The survey questions are similar to what was in the long form, but by being done annually, the survey provides a moving picture of the changes across the American landscape, Lowe said. The representative sample taken by the survey is also used to determine how federal dollars are distributed.

The Census Bureau will send a letter telling residents they have been selected for the survey. If a household selected for the survey doesn’t respond, a census employee will call or visit the address to conduct the survey.

How the American Community Survey data is used

Ethic origin: Used by the Public Health Service Act to identify segments of the population that might not be getting adequate medical services.

Marital status: Used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine areas eligible for Low Income Housing Tax Credits.

Grandparents as primary caregivers: Used by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to administer the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.

English language ability: Used to assist with voting per the Voting Rights Act.

Educational attainment: Used to distribute money to school districts for adult education.

Residence one year ago: Used by federal programs concerned with employment, housing, education and the elderly.

Commute to work: Used as the basis for state and metropolitan planning transit planning.

Plumbing and kitchen facilities: Used by federal programs that distribute housing grants to state and local areas.