Did I give a ton of info to a phisher, or is this really the Census Bureau?
January 23, 2011 9:13 AM   Subscribe

Is 812-218-3144 really the Census Bureau, or did I give all sorts of personal info to a phisher?

A few weeks back I got a long survey purporting to be from the Census Bureau. Looked legit, so I filled it out with all sorts of info about myself, including my Social Security number, and basically nothing about my roommate.

This week I've gotten two messages from 812-218-3144, claiming it's the Census Bureau and they need more info.

I can't find any verification that that number is actually the Census Bureau. All I find is people complaining about their calls, some people saying it's a scam, phishing, etc. and others saying it's the Census Bureau, but no one really providing any proof one way or the other.

I've googled 812-218-3144 site:.gov and didn't find anything. I've tried reverse lookups, ReferenceUSA, a few other things--really nothing definitive turning up except that it's definitely a number in Indiana and is probably Jeffersonville.

At this Census Bureau page the Census Bureau does claim that some surveys are conducted over the phone.

I feel like I should know how to find this info for myself but I haven't been able to. Basically right now I'm just wondering if I should call my credit card company immediately, or if it needs called at all. I have checked recent transactions and those are all okay, at least so far.
posted by johnofjack to Law & Government (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Googling the phone number seems to indicate that a lot of people think it's a scam (click on pretty much any of those links). Some people are saying it is legitimate, but they are loudly shouted down.
posted by danb at 9:17 AM on January 23, 2011

Basically right now I'm just wondering if I should call my credit card company immediately, or if it needs called at all. I have checked recent transactions and those are all okay, at least so far.

Wait. You gave your credit card information to a census taker?
posted by phunniemee at 9:17 AM on January 23, 2011

Response by poster: Yes, I acknowledged that in the question. I was hoping for a definitive answer.
posted by johnofjack at 9:18 AM on January 23, 2011

Response by poster: Wait. You gave your credit card information to a census taker?

Of course I didn't, but I probably did give enough for identity theft.
posted by johnofjack at 9:19 AM on January 23, 2011

The page you link gives you information on contacting the National Processing Center for confirmation. What did they say?
posted by jacquilynne at 9:25 AM on January 23, 2011

Forget about the phone number. The Census will never ask for your social security number, unless you work for them. (I did, and they were specific about the questions being purely demographic and private.)
posted by Juicy Avenger at 9:26 AM on January 23, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Could this have been the long survey you received? There are toll-free contact numbers given on the site for help, maybe you can call one tomorrow and see if this is what you completed and if someone may have been trying to contact you about it.
posted by dilettante at 9:27 AM on January 23, 2011

I worked for the census this summer. We definitely did some surveying, in particular follow-ups and quality control, over the phone. Now that the decennial is over, there are fewer census projects going on, but there are still some.

The best way to find out for sure is to answer when they call, ask for what project it's for, the main office number and the name of their supervisor/regional manager. They should give that out - and they should be totally used to people being skeptical of them. That should give you enough info to do some real googling. (Because the census projects tend to be transitory, they had a lot of temporary offices, which is probably what's going on with that phone number. Lord knows our crappy little office wasn't exactly a government installation.)

You can find out what the answers to the above should be by looking at the Regional office map. I am a little worried that the form asked for your social security number. It shouldn't have - god knows the census doesn't want any more sensitive info that it has to protect than it already has. There's more information about identifying scams here.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:29 AM on January 23, 2011

Response by poster: They haven't told me anything because I don't have the case number with me.
posted by johnofjack at 9:30 AM on January 23, 2011

You could do an experiment and call up to report false information--i.e., call up and pretend to be John Smith, Jr. with some made up details of address, fake ssn, what have you.

If it's a phishing scam, they'll greedily accept your false information. If it's legit, the info won't line up with the SSA's system, and they'll presumably say something.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:38 AM on January 23, 2011

Response by poster: I'm hoping I'm misremembering about the Social Security number. One question I know for sure it asked was whether I had any grandchildren; another was whether I was a citizen born within the United States or a citizen born outside the United States. Those at least are on the form (thanks for the link, dilettante).

Thanks for the help so far. Definitely I'll be calling them once I'm off work (when they probably will be too--it is a Sunday) and probably again tomorrow.
posted by johnofjack at 9:39 AM on January 23, 2011

Since no one is quite sure if this is legit, I'd suggest getting a free credit report through one of the 3 free bureaus in a couple of weeks. (I'm suggesting a delay because I believe there's some amount of processing delay in having newly applied-for credit on your report, maybe as much as 30 days. Please anyone chime in with better-informed info about how long to wait. Maybe check once in 15 days, and again in 2-3 months?)
posted by dreamphone at 9:48 AM on January 23, 2011

Check this site: http://www.census.gov/survey_participants/

And contact someone in the Census Bureau if it is a scam. Did they name the specific survey that they wanted information for?
posted by stratastar at 9:56 AM on January 23, 2011

I think it is clear you were scammed. You should definitely take steps to protect your identity.
posted by Flood at 9:58 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

When you say that you've gotten two messages from 812-218-3144, does that mean you've received calls with that as the caller ID, or that they spoke that number as the place to return the call when leaving a message? If the former, then it's irrelevant whether it's the correct Census Bureau number because caller ID can be trivially spoofed to be anything and so if a scammer wanted you to see that number (or any other number) he could make that happen with ease.
posted by Rhomboid at 10:00 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I couldn't find anything in terms of a conclusive answer for you, but I did find something that hasn't been mentioned as of yet.

The main bit of information I came across is that the (812) 218-xxxx number format does match up with the main telephone number for Census Bureau's National Processing Center in Jeffersonville, IN. This obviously does not guarantee anything, but generally corporate campuses and worksites such as this will tend to have a standard telephone number, with only the last 4 digits varying from person to person.

Given that an earlier link mentions that they have a telephone center in Jeffersonville, and given that the phone number format seems to line up, I think you'd be justified in holding off on canceling your card, calling your bank, running your credit report, and similar actions.

Lots of people are quick to think that government agencies don't call individuals, and that if they ever did, they definitely wouldn't ask for personal information. As such there can be a knee-jerk reaction that any such call must be phishing. Avoid giving into this impulse until you can do a bit of detective work first.

Call the Census Bureau tomorrow at 1-800-523-3205. It's the number for their center in Jeffersonville, which is the town where the person who called you was calling from. If it's a legit call, that center ought to be able to let you know. If they say, "There's no way we would have called you," then you have your answer.
posted by texano at 10:08 AM on January 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

I am part of a 12 month census study and the calls come from a 812 area code. I get asked questions about hours worked, salary and where working, then there are specific questions about other things, tobacco use was this months topic.
posted by jennstra at 11:30 AM on January 23, 2011

The written survey you filled out could well have been honestly Census paperwork, and the (possibly phishing) phone calls be from someone else. Since it sounds like you're saying you haven't yet given out their "additional information" over the phone, I think you're still doing fine. If you do talk to the people over the phone, you can refuse to give them info until they verify to your satisfaction that they're legitimate.
posted by aimedwander at 7:03 AM on January 24, 2011

Response by poster: I called the 800 number that Texano listed, gave them the case #, got transferred a couple of times, verified my phone number, and then was asked the start of the questions that I'd left blank about my roommate. After three or four of them I guess it became clear they weren't going to get any more info; then they wanted to verify that my absurdly low amount of earned interest last year ($5) was correct. And that was it.

I think I must have misremembered giving my Social Security number. I don't remember filling out any applications at the time; maybe it was just the general invasiveness of the survey that colored my memory. In any case, I think these were actually calls from the Census Bureau.

Thanks, everyone.
posted by johnofjack at 7:50 AM on January 24, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, and I'd forgotten how trivial it is to fake Caller ID numbers. That's useful to remember.
posted by johnofjack at 7:52 AM on January 24, 2011

That number just showed up on caller ID today, and the caller left a message on the answerphone. We did Not receive a mail notice from the Census Bureau, which is supposedly done before they call.

A reasonable summary from 2010 is provided by:
posted by Nano Visitor at 3:43 PM on August 3, 2011

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