Dear ABC News Fixer: I'm being harassed by the U.S. Census Bureau. They insist I fill out a form. Supposedly I was selected at random, but this is not a census year.
They sent the form, then two postcards, then three phone calls, then they're at the door.
They threaten five years in jail for noncompliance.
I fear someone will have more than enough to steal my identity or this info will be sold to the highest bidder.
- Jerane McKinstry, Corpus Christi, Texas
Dear Jerane: First off, we wanted to make sure you weren't being scammed by someone posing as the Census Bureau, because that has happened to other consumers. We made some calls, and the good news is this is the real Census Bureau.
You were queried as part of the American Community Survey, which is an ongoing statistical look at a small percentage of the population each year. The stats are used by local communities to help plan investments and services – everything from school lunch programs to hospitals. It was begun in 2005 when it was decided that more up-to-date info was needed.
About 3.5 million people are randomly chosen for the survey each year.
Survey participants are asked about their age, sex, race, family and relationships, income and benefits, health insurance, education, veteran status, disabilities, where they work and about their commute, and when they live and how much they spend on certain essentials.
The survey does not ask for full Social Security numbers or for identifying info related to credit card or bank accounts.
People who are selected are legally obligated to participate, just as everyone must comply with the decennial census, which is called for in the U.S. Constitution.
By law, the Census Bureau can't share your individual information with anyone – not even other agencies like the IRS, FBI or CIA.
The Census Bureau told us that 97 percent of people fill out the survey. Don't worry about jail -- there's no jail time for people who don't comply (though you could be fined $5,000). Census employees who disclose people's private info can face five years in prison or $250,000 in fines, or both.
Not sure if you may be the target of a scam? CLICK HERE to learn how to protect yourself from fraudulent activity and scams.
- The ABC News Fixer
Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.