Don't accept imitations. The Census Bureau wants you to deal with authentic census takers. The bureau has a warning for Suncoast residents: Make sure you see an identification card for anyone who claims to be a Census employee. If in doubt, call your local Census office.
There have been no serious problems with impersonators in recent memory, but some bureau officials are concerned that the Suncoast's large elderly population might be a target for scam artists claiming to be census takers.
"I worry about the person who wants to take advantage of the situation," said Bill Arnold, manager of the bureau's Clearwater office.
So Arnold and other Census Bureau officials are meeting with police and telling the public what to look for when census takers begin their rounds in April.
"When you get a big metropolitan area like this, scam artists use every angle they can," said Jack Espinosa, a spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
Census Day is April 1, but most census takers won't be knocking on doors until mid-April, when they know which households have not mailed back their forms.
When they do start knocking, here's what to look for: All census takers will wear identification cards. Most cards will be red, white and blue. Some will be three shades of blue and say "Crew Leader." Most census takers will carry red, white and blue folders with "U.S. CENSUS _ 1990" on one side.
They will not ask for money.
In most cases, census takers will not ask to come inside.
"We are encouraging every respondent to ask for that identification," said Ken Baldowski, a spokesman for the bureau's Southeast regional office. "If there is any doubt whatsoever, call the local office."
Census officials are making the alert because of the region's chronic problems with scam artists.
"The vulnerability is the fact that we have an elderly population," said Bob Christie, manager of the bureau's St. Petersburg office. "The era that they grew up in is a little bit different, where you took people for their word."
Census officials said there are legitimate companies with employees who walk through neighborhoods to compile information for directories and marketing research.
"There's a whole bunch of folks out there who make their living gathering statistics," said Phillip Clark, manager of the bureau's office for Pasco, Hernando and northern Pinellas counties. "Sometimes they use the word "census.' It can create a problem."
Regardless of the surveyor's employer, police and Census Bureau officials urge residents to ask for identification.
"When in doubt," Christie said, "just shut the door and call us."