March 18, 2010 -- If you haven't received one yet you will soon -- a 2010 Census form.
The U.S. Census Bureau is mailing more than 100 million of these questionnaires to households across the country this week. It is an important factor in determining how federal funding is spent as well as how many seats your state will have in the House of Representatives.
But with these legitimate letters will also be fake ones sent by thieves in hopes of stealing your identity. "Good Morning America" financial contributor Mellody Hobson explained how to differentiate the real from the fraud.
2010 Census Questionnaire
If you don't know what it looks like go to the Census Bureau's Web site to familiarize yourself with the 10-question form, Hobson suggested.
The form does not ask for personally sensitive information such as your social security number or financial information such as bank account numbers.
Should you receive a form that does not have the same exact 10 questions, report it immediately to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Hobson said.
Email scams are another potential fraud to watch out for.
The Census Bureau will never send you an email inviting you to complete a census form online, Hobson said. This type of email scam is referred to as phishing, and is unfortunately very common.
Usually in this type of scam the email will ask you to go to a Web site to enter census data in the hopes of getting sensitive information, Hobson said.
But the Census Bureau does not conduct the census over the Internet for this exact reason and no communication from the Census Bureau will ask for your personal financial information, Hobson said.
If you think you received a phony email, Hobson warned to not reply, click on any of the links or open any attachments because it could cause a virus to infect your computer and help the scammers steal information.
There is a question on the census form that asks for a phone number, but a representative from the Census Bureau will only call if he or she cannot determine one of the answers on the questionnaire.
Should you receive a call asking for more information than was originally on the questionnaire, that should be a warning sign, Hobson said. Additionally, scammers could also have a device that makes "U.S. Census" appear on your caller ID.
To determine whether a call is legitimate, contact the National Processing Center. The phone number can be found on the Census Bureau's Web site.
In-Person Visits From the Census Bureau
Around May 1 nearly 800,000 part-time, temporary workers will begin knocking on doors to follow up with households that have not mailed back their census forms. (See below for more information on part-time, temporary jobs at the Census Bureau.)
Should you get a visit, do not let your guard down. It is possible that a con-artist could pose as a census taker, so always ask for a valid ID Census badge and second form of ID to ensure the badge is not stolen, Hobson suggested. The badge should have an expiration date and the Department of Commerce watermark.
Census workers usually carry a bag with the U.S. Census Bureau logo on it and will never ask for a cash payment or donation or for any information that was not on the questionnaire.
The worker is also required to give you the contact information for their supervisor if you ask for it, Hobson said. But if you are suspicious, contact your regional census office to verify the survey.
And never let anyone into your house, Hobson said. Census takers are trained to conduct the census outside of your home.
Looking for a Census Job?
The Census Bureau will hire thousands of temporary, part-time employees nation-wide. If you are looking for extra money or a temporary job CLICK HERE to go to the bureau's Web site for more employment information.
It is important to mail your form in on time so a census taker does not have to come to your home. If everyone mailed in their form it would save the government approximately $1.5 billion in follow-up visits, according to Hobson.
It is against the law for the government to publish private information such as your name and address. Federal law also prohibits the Census Bureau from sharing your data with government agencies.
Census forms are kept in a locked vault for 72 years, according to Hobson. Additionally census employees are required to take a lifetime oath of non-disclosure. Should an employee share any information he or she would be subject to five years in prison and a $25,000 fine.