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Is the American Community Survey real?

Posted by Mitch Lipka  November 29, 2011 12:00 AM

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Several readers over the past month or so have raised questions about receiving a document from the US Census Bureau called the “American Community Survey,” which seeks a lot of personal and financial information. They’ve asked whether it’s a legitimate request from the government and if they need to answer the questions.

The US Census is a great pretext for con artists to extract detailed personal information from you, so the government has set up ways for recipients to verify that you’ve got the real deal. The “American Community Survey” is, in fact, a long-form follow-up sent to certain households.

If you’ve got the real one, yes, you have to answer the questions. You are actually compelled by law.

To determine if you’ve got a real survey, call the Census at 800-354-7271. Have the code number from the form handy so you can verify its authenticity. These are not questions you want to share with anyone pretending to be the government.

The Census Bureau’s website has answers to questions about the survey – concerns are common – and a sample of the actual questionnaire so you can see if you’ve got the real one.

A couple of those who asked about the surveys said they thought the language about mandatory participation was heavy handed. The Census disagreed with that characterization.

“While we do note that responsibility, the Census Bureau prefers to gain cooperation by convincing respondents of the importance of participation,” spokeswoman Stacy Gimbel Vidal said. “A household’s answers are important because as part of a sample, a household represents many other people.”

Questions about the survey come up fairly regularly since this detailed form is sent out annually to selected households, unlike the Census forms sent to every household in the country every 10 years.

It’s reasonable to be skeptical whenever you’re asked for personal and financial information. Be sure you’ve got the real document before filling it out. It’s easy to verify and will help you avoid having personal information fall into the hands of a scam artist.

If you have issues with questions themselves, you should contact your member of Congress or either or both of your US senators.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at


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