Q: I have received several phone calls stating that I needed to call the Census Bureau about a case number. I filled out the questionnaire online back in February. Is this a hoax?

B.G.

Answer: “Census workers will occasionally follow up with households over the phone to ask questions about their responses to the 2020 Census or other household surveys,” according to the Census Bureau. “The Census Bureau’s goal is to ensure that no person is left out of the census or counted in more than one place. We review your responses in order to ensure that we have a complete and accurate count.”

By law, all responses to the 2020 Census are kept confidential, and the caller will only review responses you had previously provided. They will not ask about financial information or ask for your Social Security number; if that happens, don’t provide any such information and report the call to the Census Bureau.

To report suspected fraud — or, if you think you received a call from the Census Bureau but want to confirm the legitimacy of it — call 844-809-7717 (English) or 844-809-7718 (Spanish) to speak with a local Census Bureau representative.

Q: I have been solicited by a mystery shopper program. How can I tell if it is legitimate or a scam?

S.G.

Answer: Here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission on spotting whether a mystery shopper program is legitimate or not:

  • Look up the company on a variety of search engines adding words such as “review,” “complaint” or “scam” to see what kind of reputation they have.
  • Do not pay anything upfront. “Honest companies pay you to work for them, not charge you,” according to the FTC. “If the company asks you to pay upfront to get the opportunity, walk away. No real job opportunity, including mystery shopping, involves paying for the job.”
  • Also, the FTC says, “Don’t pay companies for ‘certifications,’ directories or job ‘guarantees,’ all of which are usually worthless. Companies asking you to pay for such things are likely scammers.”
  • “If you’re asked to deposit checks into your bank account and send money back to pay for courses, fees or anything else, stop. This is a fake check scam. When the check bounces, you’ll be out of the money you sent and may have to pay more to the bank.”
  • Never wire money or buy gift cards for a mystery shopping assignment or any job opportunity, which are sure signs of a scam, according to the FTC.

If you spot a scam, report it at ftc.gov/complaint and also file a complaint with your state attorney general’s office. In North Carolina, you can go to ncdoj.gov/protecting-consumers/ for assistance or you can call 877-566-7226.

You can also find a list of the latest mystery shopping scam alerts from the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, an industry group, at mspa-americas.org/scam. “Scams are common in our industry and new twists on the classic check scam are developed every day,” according to a statement from MSPA. “Scammers often operate by pretending to be MSPA Americas or our member companies and contact the general public by email, telephone, job boards or social media sites.”

Email: AskSAM@wsjournal.com

Online: journalnow.com/asksam

Write: Ask SAM, 418 N. Marshall St., Winston-Salem, NC 27101 

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