The NCSL Blog

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By Christi Zamarripa

Have you received a recent mailing that looks like a census form or questionnaire? If it arrived before this week, it’s likely not from the Census Bureau.

padlock illustrationIn fact, several census-like mailings have recently popped up in states and raised people’s eyebrows.

The majority of U.S. households will receive their official 2020 census questionnaires between March 12-20. The census form will ask how many people live at a residence and if that residence is owned, rented or other. Also, the census form will inquire into each resident’s name, gender, date of birth, race and ethnicity. Here is a sample copy of the 2020 census.

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution mandates a census count of every resident in the United States. Every 10 years, the bureau conducts the largest mobilization and peacetime operation in the states and territories.

Under federal law, the bureau is required to protect and keep your information confidential. The information is never shared with anyone, and the data is used only for statistical purposes. The bureau and its employees will never ask for:

  • Your full Social Security number.
  • Money or donations.
  • Anything on behalf of a political party.
  • Bank or credit card account numbers.
  • Your mother’s maiden name.

If you are ever asked any of these questions, regardless if it’s by mail, phone or in person, report it to rumors@census.gov.

Since 1990, Congress has passed two federal laws to help prohibit deceptive mailers: the Deceptive Mailings Prevention Act of 1990 and The Prevent Deceptive Census Look-Alike Mailings Act (2010). Under 39 U.S.C. Section 3001(h) and (i), statutory law prohibits "government look-alike" mailings and makes them "unmailable"—which means the United States Postal Service (USPS) will not deliver them.

The USPS, rather than the Census Bureau, is authorized to investigate and enforce these violations. If there is mail that you suspect is fraudulent or a scam, there are two ways to check. You can look at the return address on the enclosed envelope. All 2020 paper questionnaires will go either to Jeffersonville, Ind., or Phoenix, Ariz. Or you can call the bureau’s regional office for your state to verify the mailing.

In addition, some states are trying to help spread the message of possible deceptive mailings through their complete count committees or other agencies. For example, Montana’s Census and Economic Information Center at the Department of Commerce issued a warning to its citizens about imitation census surveys. 

If you suspect any suspicious activity, please contact the Census Bureau. And if you have any questions about the census, contact me.

Christi Zamarripa is a policy associate with NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.

Email Christi

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.