Catch up with the latest survey scam tricks: Internet Scambusters #655
With an estimated 130 surveys a year, it's no wonder the name of the U.S. Census Bureau is frequently used by scammers.
It's a way for them to pose as officials demanding information that you have to provide by law, as we explain in this week's issue.
We've also got news about other current survey tricks and an alert about an unusual twist in the well-known lottery scam.
Now, here we go...
3 Ways to Spot a Fake Census Survey
Seems like every day we're bombarded with opportunities to provide feedback on our experiences or complete surveys about our preferences and intentions.
It's enough to drive us nuts.
In fact, there are so many now, the survey field provides rich pickings for scammers, spammers, and smooth-talking sales reps.
We've already reported on survey scams several times previously.
But new tactics have emerged recently, including a bogus census survey.
So, you thought censuses only took place every 10 years?
Wrong. The U.S. Census Bureau conducts all sorts of surveys every year -- 130 of them -- including the American Community Survey (ACS) which goes out to about three million different households annually.
It also conducts numerous other studies including, this year, what the Bureau calls a Census Test to find ways of getting better citizen responses without requiring in-person visits.
We've seen reports this year of people receiving emails, with links to bogus online ACS forms, which ask for confidential information that could be used for identity theft.
The problem is that completing the ACS is mandatory for those who receive the form, so it's critical for recipients of this or any other information request seeming to come from the Census Bureau to check that they're legitimate.
Fortunately, this is quite easy.
For a start, the Bureau does not send out initial requests by email. It sends an official letter with a printed copy of the form -- not least because some people actually don't use computers!
So, if you just receive an email with a link, it's a scam.
Second, although the ACS might ask for some seemingly personal information, it never requests your Social Security number, your mother's maiden name, or your bank or credit card account numbers.
So even if you get a letter and a form, if it asks for these, again it's a scam.
Third, if you're in any doubt about the legitimacy of the survey, check with the Census Bureau.
You can go online and check the current list of household surveys.
If you're still unsure, contact the Bureau's regional office for your state.
You can also telephone a toll-free helpline at 800-354-7271.
Here are more contact details for the National Processing Center.
More Phony Surveys
Meanwhile, several other new scams disguised as surveys have emerged this year:
— Telephone calls asking questions about health and surgery. Callers identify themselves as being from your state's Department of Health.
It's likely the callers are gathering information that will be passed to medical and surgical product suppliers for follow-up sales calls, but they could also be used for medical identity theft.
Action: Simply don't give personal health information over the phone unless you initiate the call. Health departments don't conduct this type of survey by phone.
— Bogus IRS surveys that may come by phone, email or even text messages.
This year has been one of the worst ever for IRS scams but just because the tax filing season has passed doesn't mean the scammers are taking a break.
The crooks are after your Social Security number and details of your filing -- for instance, whether you've applied for an extension, so they can get their hands on your refund.
Action: The IRS doesn't undertake this type of survey; nor should you.
— Employee business phishing trick. Scammers call small businesses with only a few employees and ask a series of questions that enable them to identify key people, roles, and responsibilities.
They'll also ask questions about office equipment such as telephone systems, copiers, and computers.
They use the information to create bogus orders and invoices that use this information to make it seem genuine.
Action: If you get a call like this, take the details and pass them to the boss.
— Phony customer satisfaction survey. This is another phishing trick.
Emails are fired off at random using the names of well-known companies, supposedly following up on a recent complaint or problem you had with the firm.
By the laws of chance, some of them land in the inboxes of people who really did have a problem, so it seems perfectly normal to click on the link provided.
Victims are then asked to provide their account details for completing the survey.
Action: This is a tough one because many firms do genuinely use this technique to solicit customer feedback.
But in the main, you shouldn't have to provide sign-on or account details when you respond as these are usually contained in an encrypted form in the link.
If the survey is being carried out by a third party specialist, they definitely won't ask for your personal information.
If you are asked to sign on for your survey, beware! Check that you're on a secure page of the correct website -- the address line should begin with "https".
Alert of the Week
You didn't win the lottery but someone who did wants to share his good fortune.
That's the basic message in a scam email currently doing the rounds illegally using the name of genuine lottery winner Harold Diamond.
The message appears to come from an attorney and provides a verification code to make it seem real.
All you have to do, he tells you, is send some money to cover taxes and fees.
And that, friends, will be the last you hear of him -- and your money.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!