Feature Article
Mark Pribish
Merchants Warns of 2010 Census and Small Business ID Theft Scams
By Mark Pribish
Vice President and ID Theft Practice Leader

In the almost three years I have written a monthly newsletter article on the topics of ID Theft, Consumer Risk Management and Data Breach events, I have never mentioned my company (Merchants Information Solutions, Inc.) which is a leading ID Theft Management Services and Background Screening company in the United States or the leadership of our company in any way - as this newsletter is designed to support ID Theft education and consumer risk management.

However, based on some recent information and research conducted by Merchants, I feel compelled to take this opportunity to issue a warning on how ID Theft criminals are using the 2010 Census and Small Business ID Theft Scams to steal your identity.

According to Russ Johnson, President & CEO of Merchants, a number of census-specific scams are taking place with the intention of misleading individuals into giving out personal information. These scams range from e-mails that reference the U.S. Census Bureau, to phishing scams on the Internet, to in-person attempts by criminals posing as a Census Bureau worker(s) asking for your personal information at your front door or in your home.

Johnson stated that the U.S. Census Bureau will never ask for sensitive or confidential information like your social security number, bank account numbers (e.g. credit card, debit card /PIN, checking, savings, or loan account numbers), tax information, and/or other information that may put you or your family members at risk of ID theft. The information requested will be that of age, gender, race and other information relevant to the census (e.g. salary range).

The census bureau has confirmed that it will not send any email correspondence for the upcoming 2010 census. In addition, to properly identify a census worker the census bureau has stated that each census worker will have a badge, a handheld device, a census bureau canvas bag and a confidentiality notice.

Click the following U.S. Census Bureau link for more information about email scams, cyber and non-cyber questions.

Another emerging ID Theft scam affecting individual consumers is Small Business ID Theft. In a July 9, 2009 BusinessWeek Magazine article - where BusinessWeek writes about Taking On Small-Business Identity Theft - small and midsize companies are tempting targets for criminals looking to exploit extensive credit lines, cash reserves, and business relationships. For more information click the BusinessWeek link to read the complete article.

Small Business ID Theft affects individual consumers in two ways. First every business has an employee, customer and/or member base - and depending on the strength of a particular small businesses information security standards, antivirus software, and physical plant (office) security - said employee, customer and/or member information may not be as safe as we would like.

A second and emerging way Small Business ID Theft is impacting individual consumers is due to the fact that owner(s) and partner(s) personal financial information is often directly tied to a small businesses credit line. This is one of the points of the BusinessWeek article referenced above in which credit lines, cash reserves, and business relationships can be at risk if an identity criminal has access, hacks into and/or steals personal information related to the small business. That said, both the small business and individual owner/partner (consumer) can be adversely affected if information is not properly safeguarded.

Unfortunately, by its nature, the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau will inherently attract fraudsters and scam artists. Also and unfortunately, Small Businesses are another source for ID Theft criminals to identify an easy target by stealing and fraudulently using sensitive and confidential data to access the bank accounts and credit lines of unsuspecting victims including the Small Business itself.

In the end, every individual consumer should be responsible and take caution in safeguarding their Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and be selective in who they share their information with. As the same time, Small Business owners need to be aware of Small Business ID Theft criminals and be proactive in protecting their personal information - especially if it is tied to their small business - as well as the PII of their employees and customers.