Couple panics after census scam scare

April 27, 2010 6:58:48 PM PDT
There have been plenty of warnings about the potential for census scams and one of those warnings threw one couple's lives into chaos.

7 On Your Side has received reports from about a dozen viewers who are worried they filled out and mailed a form that was a fake. This couple was so concerned, they put their lives on hold -- until we stepped in to help.

Filling out your census form is supposed to be easy and quick. It's not supposed to lead you into a tailspin. But that's what happened to Jim and Becky MacDougall of San Leandro.

"I opened it up, filled it out, it asked for my Social Security number and I said in my head, that's interesting," Becky said.

Becky says she thought it was odd that the form asked for their Social Security numbers. But the envelope looked official, so she filled it out and mailed it off. The very next day, she got a big scare.

"Good Morning America had an expose on possible scams and I realized that I was one of them," she said.

"Becky called me at work and said I think we have a problem," Jim said.

The problem is this: the real census form never, ever asks for your Social Security number. Yet, Becky is positive hers did and she clearly recalls filling it in.

"I just remember questioning whether I should put my Social Security number down so I'm sure I did, I know I did because I filled the form out," she said.

As a result she believes the form wasn't real, but it was too late. She'd mailed it off -- possibly to a scammer.

"I called the post office, is there any way I can retrieve it? they said no, it's in, it's in," Becky said.

"Not knowing is the worst part and also the worst part is we might have handed somebody our identity," Jim said.

Becky and Jim assumed the worst. They put a freeze on all their credit and they added security alerts to every bank account. They filed identity theft reports with the postal service and they even alerted the Federal Trade Commission.

"I spent the whole day working with the credit bureaus making sure all our accounts were frozen," Becky said.

"We can have our accounts wiped out and lose everything we've ever built," Jim said.

The couple called the Census Bureau hoping to find out that the form was safely in its hands and not with a con artist, but they couldn't get any help and that's when they called 7 On Your Side.

"If people have suspicions that it's some scam, hoax or fake, don't fill it out, we'll come to your house and knock on your door," Sonny Le from the Census Bureau said.

The Census Bureau says some residents may have filled in Social Security numbers by mistake, but so far no actual scams have been reported.

That was little comfort to Jim and Becky, so at our request, the Census Bureau scanned its database to see if the form landed there and not with a scammer. A couple of weeks later, an official called Becky with great news.

"He said they received my form and I didn't put my Social Security number on it," she said.

"From now on whenever we fill out forms we're filling out forms together," Jim said.

"Oh my gosh, I'm so grateful because I know I could not have done this on my own. I would still be stressing. So thank you so much," Becky said.

The next big phase of the 2010 census is begins this Saturday and brings a whole new wave of warnings. If you have not mailed in your form, a census taker will knock on your door.

Two words of caution: census takers all wear an official ID badge and they will never ask to enter your home.


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