NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — In these days of scams and ripoffs, we all need to have our guard up. But a survey asking for sensitive financial data that goes out to thousands of local homes is actually legitimate.
The American Community Survey (ACS) is part of the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s a little under the radar because instead of going to every household, the ACS goes to only about one in every 38 households each year.
Sam and Frances Kimble of Newport News got one in the mail a few weeks ago. When they saw questions about their income, they thought it was a scam.
“I didn’t think it was legitimate,” Frances said from the couple’s home in Denbigh. The Kimbles got suspicious when they saw some pretty sensitive questions that they didn’t want to answer.
“Social security, interest, dividends, they don’t need that,” Sam said.
But despite their concerns, the survey is legit. About 15,000 households in Hampton Roads get the ACS each year from the Census Bureau. Congress, emergency services and other agencies use it for planning and other purposes, but they don’t get your specific information from the survey.
“Nobody sees your personal information,” said Thomas Edwards, a Respondent Advocate for the bureau. “The only thing we publish are statistics.”
The survey comes with a pretty strong message, and technically, refusing to respond to it can get you a fine of up to $5,000.
“That’s the scary part,” Sam said.
But the Census Bureau says it doesn’t want to discourage people from participating, so those fines are kind of like jaywalking tickets. “We’re not a law enforcement agency, we’re not in the business of levying fines,” said Edwards.
The bureau says its response rate for the survey is about 94 percent. Nonetheless, people like the Kimbles are wary about taking it.
“Every time you turn on your TV, you got somebody being hacked, scammed, what have you. It’s frightening,” Sam said.
The bureau gets lots of inquiries from people like the Kimbles. “That’s probably the number one call we get,” Edwards says.
The ACS is very similar to what used to be known as the “long form” of the decennial census. Recipients are chosen randomly, and once you get it, you won’t get it again for at least five years.