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How to spot a genuine US Census worker

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With the recent release of a report by the Better Business Bureau advising the public of possible identity thieves posing as Census workers, e-mail alerts are going viral across Indian country.

According to the BBB, if a U.S. Census worker knocks on your door, he or she will have a badge, a handheld device, a Census Bureau canvas bag and a confidentiality notice. Always ask to see an I.D. and badge before answering any questions, and never invite anyone you don’t know into your home.

In addition, census workers should only be asking questions about your address and number of members in your household, as well as general information about your salary range. Do not give them your social security number, credit card or banking information, and do not give out donations – even if asked to do so. Census workers may also contact you by phone but be aware that they do not contact you via e-mail – so if you get an e-mail inquiry, don’t answer it.

With that in mind, American Indian individuals can expect up to two short visits, calls or forms from Census workers this year. Unlike past Census years, there are two Census operations happening in 2010 that are relevant to American Indian communities: the traditional decennial count of the entire population living in the U.S., which by law occurs every 10 years, and the American Community Survey, designed to collect information the decennial count will miss about a sampling of the American Indian population. While the 2010 Census is a count of the entire U.S. population, the ACS aims to tell “what the population looks like and how it lives.”

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The information captured, which is protected by federal law (see Title 13, U.S. Code, Sections 141, 193, and 221), gives us an extensive look at how our country is made up. The ACS will ensure that tribal leaders and government officials can use more up-to-date census data – instead of the 10-year-old data they used to use – when making funding decisions and requests for their communities.

In Indian country, this means that reservations and rancherias will have a small group of tribal members selected to complete the ACS. It is important for those who are selected to participate to give a more accurate representation of their entire tribal community. If only one tribal member answers the ACS, that person will be the census data representative for their entire community until the next time the surveys are collected.

Workers collecting ACS information may knock on your door through April 1, 2010 – the official deadline for mailing in Census survey forms. Workers doing the decennial count typically visit after the mail-in deadline to collect information from people who haven’t sent their forms back. Expect to spend about 10 minutes answering, as this year’s forms only contain 10 questions versus the old Census 2000 “long form questionnaire,” which included 40-plus detailed questions. If you participate in the ACS, you must still answer the Census 2010 questionnaire.