With the 2020 U.S. census approaching, consumers should guard their identity against fraudulent requests for personal information by phone, by email or in person while complying with official government requests for information.

Census forms have begun printing and will hit consumers’ mailboxes in spring 2020. In areas where mail delivery is difficult or nonexistent, census workers will go door-to-door.

Census forms are short and easy to fill out, and they’re safe — by law, the Census Bureau cannot share your answers with anyone, not even another government agency. The data gathered in the census is used to determine how the federal government shares its budget and how many seats your state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Better Business Bureau has received reports via BBB Scam Tracker of unsolicited callers contacting consumers, claiming to be conducting a survey or census on behalf of the BBB. A Massachusetts consumer told the BBB that a caller claiming to be from the BBB asked repeatedly if the consumer had moved or was planning to move, then hung up when the consumer said no.

Consumers also should be wary of other phishing attempts involving the Census Bureau. A Texas consumer reported receiving an unsolicited robocall from a group claiming to be the Census Bureau and offering a free knee brace.

Census workers will never ask you for your Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers. They do not solicit donations, promise gifts or ask you to pay money to complete the census. The Census Bureau will not contact you by email or phone.

Unfortunately, while the census itself is safe and a necessary tool to make sure your community is fairly represented to the federal government, scammers may pose as government employees and solicit sensitive financial information. Before giving personal information to unsolicited phone callers or visitors, verify that the person works for the U.S. Census Bureau.

The BBB offers the following tips to avoid government phishing scams:

• If something sounds suspicious, confirm it by calling the government agency directly or checking the government agency’s website. Don’t click on links in an unexpected email — type the official URL into your browser or do a web search to find the right website. Call a trusted phone number other than one provided by the caller to verify the caller’s identity. The official website of the Census Bureau is census.gov; the homepage for the 2020 census is 2020census.gov.

• Don’t click, download or open anything that comes from an anonymous sender. This is likely an attempt to gain access to your personal information or install malware on your computer.

• Be cautious of generic emails. Scammers try to cast a wide net by including little or no specific information in their fake emails. Always be wary of unsolicited messages that don't contain your name, last digits of your account number or other personalizing information.

Report a scam to BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker.

Stephanie Garland is the regional director for the Better Business Bureau office in Springfield, 2754 S. Campbell Ave. Among those counties served by BBB Springfield are Jasper, Newton, McDonald, Lawrence and Barton counties. Emails may be sent to sgarland@springfieldbbb.org. You can find a retailer’s BBB rating or read a BBB Business Profile by going online to www.bbb.org or by calling 888-996-3887.

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