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Commonpoint Queens Educates Community on Census Fraud

2020 census information safety

Originally published by Victoria Merlino for the Queens Daily Eagle at https://queenseagle.com/all/queens-fights-census-scammers 

After at least one immigrant household in Corona was harassed by fraudsters claiming to be census takers, local organizations and census officials are reminding Queens residents to remain vigilant and seek trusted community resources as they get counted.

The Corona residents were approached by fake “census takers” who sought to obtain information about their residency statuses and use it to blackmail them during this census cycle, multiple community-based organizations, including an official from NYC Census 2020, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s census initiative, confirmed. A person from the household first alerted a Queens Public Library librarian to the scam.

The census is protected under Title XIII of the U.S. Code, which means that the Census Bureau cannot share identifying information it collects with anyone, including governmental agencies. There are no questions about citizenship status on the census.

When NYC Census 2020 officials found out about the blackmail scheme, they quickly alerted the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, the Office of the Queens District Attorney, and two NYC Census 2020 partners, the New York Immigration Coalition and Make the Road New York.

To the best of NYC Census’ knowledge, the organization has not seen widespread incidents of census fraud in the city, an official told the Eagle. 

“Any malicious attempt to manipulate the census as a tool to harm us instead of count us will not be tolerated, which is why we have been and will be referring any reports of census-related scams to the appropriate law enforcement authorities immediately, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and Catholic Charities, which operates the Office of New Americans (ONA) Hotline,” said NYC Census 2020 Deputy Director Amit Bagga in a statement.

Bagga urged New Yorkers who want to report census-related scams to call the ONA Hotline at 1-800-566-7636.

“Together, we’re fighting fear with the facts: the census is for everyone, no matter their immigration status, and is easy and safe – just 10 questions that you can answer online or by phone – and is critical to the future of our communities and our city,” Bagga continued.

Make the Road New York Census Coordinator Tony Alarcon confirmed with the Eagle that the census impostors were harassing a family over the past month in the Corona area. He urged other families who may be experiencing similar fraud to “speak up” and ask local nonprofits like Make the Road if they have any concerns.

Commonpoint Queens Census Director Fadia Mohama cautioned residents about several red flags that would indicate a phony census. Questions about bank account information, citizenship status, Social Security number and anything having to do with donations will not be part of the official census, Mohama said.

“No one should be asking about citizenship status, no one should be asking about social security numbers,” she added.

Commonpoint Queens, a community service organization, visited Corona Library on March 2 to make a presentation in Spanish to educate residents on potential fraud during the census.

Mohama said filling out the census is safe, and encouraged residents to complete their form despite the few reports of fraud.

Recent efforts to educate residents on the census and to conduct community outreach have been especially strong in Queens, where responses fell well below the city average in many neighborhoods in 2010. Some census tracts, particularly in Southeast Queens, had response rates below 50 percent.

Population data gleaned from the decennial census determines federal funding and congressional representation, which means an undercount could lead to an inadequate amount of capital and the loss of up to two House seats for New York.

Outreach has been complicated by the Trump administration’s failed attempt to put a citizenship question on the census. Though the question was ultimately excluded from the census, the notion sparked fear and confusion among Queens’ immigrant communities, which make up almost half the population of the borough.

“There is a lot of fear, so that’s why we’re trying really, really, really hard,” Mohama said.

The Queens Public Library, the Queens Borough President’s Office Census Resource Assistance Center and local organizations like Commonpoint Queens are some of the safest resources for residents to ask about the census, Mohama said.

Census takers won’t be knocking on doors in force until May, according to Mohama. She encouraged all residents to take the census before that so they will not have to interact with census-takers if they do not want to or are afraid of sharing information.

Residents can fill out the census at my2020census.gov, or call 1-844-330-2020 for English and 1-844-486-2020 for Spanish to complete it.

Official census-takers can be identified by their ID badge, which includes their name, a photograph, an expiration date and a Department of Commerce watermark, an official bag and a Census Bureau-issued electronic device. Residents can call the U.S. Census Regional Office at 1-800-991-2520 if they have any concerns about a person at their door who claims to be a census taker.