7 On Your Side

Bay Area woman wary of shorter 2010 census form

Monday, April 12, 2010

By now you've probably received a census form and mailed it back. But there were some folks who were doubtful about the form they received.

There were plenty of warnings to watch out for census lookalikes that may be scams. So, it didn't help when the Census Bureau sent out one form that didn't look quite like the one you were supposed to get.

Judy Shol was ready to do her civic duty when she received her census form. Then, a friend noticed that her envelope seemed bigger than the one he'd received.

"I said maybe you got the fake one and he said maybe you got the fake one. We were laughing and then I got to thinking, what does a fake one look like?" she said.

Judy had heard reports warning scammers might send out bogus census forms to try to get your personal information. So she called the Census Bureau and asked if the form she received was legit. What she found out caused even more concern.

"My form had eight questions. He said 'no it has to have 10,'" she said.

The Census Bureau keeps telling us the form has 10 questions, but Judy's census form only had eight. Not only that, her form had an identifying number on it when the real form has a completely different number.

The census worker simply told Judy she could ignore it.

"Once he said you're not obligated to fill it out, I got a creepy feeling and I just felt it wasn't real and it wasn't theirs," she said.

Judy didn't know if it was a fraud or a misprint, she wasn't sure if she'd be counted or if she had been the target of a scam.

"My friend said, 'Judy call 7 On Your Side. They need to know about this,'" she said.

So she did and we checked in with the Census Bureau in Washington. It turns out Judy's form is a real census questionnaire.

The bureau is testing this shorter questionnaire for possible use in the 2020 census. Judy is one of only 30,000 people in America to receive the test form.

But three other Bay Area residents who also received it, contacted 7 On Your Side also wondering if it was fake.

"We miscommunicated on that one, we did," Census Bureau worker Sonny Le said. "We have been telling them it's 10, 10, 10."

Le acknowledged the short form may be creating confusion and doubt in a world already jittery about scams. He said Census Bureau publicity focused on the millions who get the regular form, not on the few who received the test.

"It's not big enough to mount a PR campaign because our concern is more the 135 million housing units," he said.

Le says this kind of confusion is the last thing the bureau needs.

A complete count is crucial to all kinds of planning for the next 10 years like where to put new schools, firefighting services -- even new freeway off ramps.

"How do we know how many people live in those places so we can accommodate needs? Census data," Le said.

Judy never filled out the short form. She got the Census Bureau to mail her the longer version and gave a little advice to boot.

"Don't make confusion. This is confusing enough for a lot of people," she said.

The real form will never ask for money, bank information, Social Security number or PIN numbers. It will ask your name, date of birth and a phone number.

These are the addresses of the three official U.S. Census processing centers. You should ONLY send your Census forms to one of the following addresses:

Phoenix Data Capture Center
4417 West Buckeye Road
Phoenix, AZ 85097-1111

Baltimore Data Capture Center
8411 Kelso Road
Essex, MD 21221

2010 Census National Processing Center
PO Box 5500
Jeffersonville, IN 47190-1111

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census, 7 on your side, michael finney
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