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Is the American Community Survey legit?

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Here at the FTC, we always tell people to use caution when someone they don’t know asks them for personal information. So it’s not surprising that people are asking questions about mailings and phone calls they’re getting about the American Community Survey (ACS).

The ACS is a legitimate survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, which is part of the Department of Commerce. Unlike the 10-year Census, this survey runs all year, every year. The survey goes to a random sample of addresses in every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Many federal, state, tribal, and local leaders use the answers to update their statistics.

If someone contacts you about the American Community Survey and you want to verify that the visit or phone call is legitimate, simply call your Census regional office.

Here’s how the ACS survey process works:

  • Census sends a letter saying that your address was selected for the ACS.
  • Most people then get instructions to complete the ACS online. If you don’t complete the survey, Census will send a paper questionnaire in about two weeks.
  • If you still haven’t submitted the survey, you may get a call. You also may get a call if you completed the survey, but Census needs to clarify information.
  • If Census can’t reach you by phone, they may send someone to your address to complete the process in person. Interviewers may visit or call after normal business hours when it’s more likely you’ll be home. The Census representative must show a photo ID with the U.S. Department of Commerce seal and an expiration date. If you ask, the interviewer will give you a supervisor’s contact information and/or the Census regional office phone number for verification.

For more information, please visit the U.S. Census Bureau’s ACS page.


I received one of these in the mail. I thought it was for the city I live in in Texas. It even had the city's logo on it. I started to fill it out then I saw the address on the return envelope. It was in New Jersey. After reading this article, I think I shred it.

Remember that Census employees are sworn for life to keep all of your information confidential and can face severe penalties for not doing do.

I did read what was written about the ACS, and it all sounds legitimate. My question is, if it is truly based on a random selection of addresses how is it possible to know if a specific address has not responded. Randomness would indicate that, for instance,a thousand surveys were sent out and 950 were returned. The rest would be statistical losses. If it is necessary to follow-up on the 50, the survay is no longer "random", but has an attribute of being "targeted".

Other than the census, which is a Constitutional necessity and therefore a part of our life in the United States, no random survey can be required of an individual. I love this country, and appreciate the necessity of a census, but every other "poll" is completely optional and I have an absolute right to not participate, if I choose so - as I tell every pollster who tries to contact me will hear from me.

In my opinion, if a decennial census is insufficient, then amend the Constitution. Otherwise, don't make any other random request for information mandatory, please!

John, "random" is different from "blind" or "anonymous." The addresses are selected at random, but the user data is not anonymous.

Started the survey and it is too intrusive. No ones business most of the questions - all are n/a - for me.

I agree that these questions are far too intrusive. Giving these details goes well beyond what we should be expected to give. Many questions, specifically with race, are asked repeatedly.

Since the inception of the American Community Survey I have thought the area to only include HALF of Puerto Rico.
Can this be clarified?
Very good information from the FTC. Especially going into the Decennial year. Thanks

My household received this survey last year. It asks the silliest yet most intrusive questions, such as mental health history, if your house has plumbing, electricity, etc. They also threaten you with legal action if you don't complete it. We did not complete it.

My elderly mother got a letter also. The questions were very intrusive. They asked about her income also. She then was not sure if this was legal and told the person taking the survey she was not going to answer any more questions, as she already did the first census.

So, what was the legal action they took against you for Not completing it?

They don’t ask for about mental health history. You can research online the questions they ask. They compile disability statistics to help make decisions for many disability programs.

I done mine. An older man and landy came by. I missed them so he came back and filled paperwork out. But I've had fraud on me for a while. I mean messed me up but trying to get it better. I dont know who would use my address. Can yall tell the name

The randomness is in thousand that were sent out not the amount that were returned. Therefore the thousand random selectors should be contact for the survey to be as accurate as possible. Our lives and futures are built on choice so if you want to be included you should choose to participate.

Probably the comments I read under the comment by Colleen Tressler, Consumer Education Specialist, FTC, are not official comments of the FTC and should be taken as such. This is not to say that the comments are incorrect. I perceive them to be personal opinions. This is not a criticism so much as be sure of the sources of the comments.

After receiving and ignoring this survey request we subsequently received threatening letters from this agency saying they would take legal action if we didn't complete it.

The US Census Bureau has questions and answers about the American Community Survey. They say that if your address was selected for the American Community Survey, you are legally obligated to answer all the questions, as accurately as you can. The relevant laws are Title 18 U.S.C Section 3571 and Section 3559, which amends Title 13 U.S.C. Section 221.

Question 8 on the ACS survey asks if the person and if each person in the household is a U.S. Citizen.

Survey came to a business address - do businesses need to fill it out?

The US Census Bureau has questions and answers about the American Community Survey. They say that if you have questions about the survey or you prefer to complete the survey by phone, call 1-800-354-7271 at your convenience. 

Why is this "required by law" as stated on the envelope? There should be no reason it is required and it feels intrusive. It feels like a scam.

The US Census Bureua has questions and answers about the American Community Survey. They say that if your address was selected for the American Community Survey, you are legally obligated to answer all the questions, as accurately as you can. The relevant laws are Title 18 U.S.C Section 3571 and Section 3559, which amends Title 13 U.S.C. Section 221.

So what about sections 141 and 193? Also could you please just tell us what these Codes actually mean or say ?

My parents are elderly and have severe health problems which causes them physical pain to fill in the census. They are now super stressed because they called to ask for relief from answering the census and were told they'd be fined if they did not do the census. This is abusive!!!

Are Cences persons allowed to enter home with out a search warrant?

If you get a letter about the ACS, it will tell you how to answer the survey online. If you don't answer the survey online, the Census Bureau will send you a letter and a paper questionnaire that you can fill out and mail back.

If you answer the survey online or on paper, the Census worker doesn't need to come to your house.

I received my first ACS request recently and understood if I didn't respond to it, a paper questionnaire would be sent. I've just received a second notice with a notation, "We are unable to send out a paper questionnaire at this time. We apologize for the inconvenience."
Not being able to send paper questionnaires and then stating that my response to the survey is required by law, makes it very difficult to trust taking the survey in light of all the scamming going on all over these days. I'm not sure what to do.

I started receiving the survey a few months ago. I tossed them because I had never heard of ACS and I knew it was not census time. I kept getting mail asking me to reply and as before I tossed the letters. Then I got a business card on my door—I tossed it. Then I received a letter with the comment highlighted that stated it was Federal law that I reply. I called and arranged a meeting with the person leaving the notices. I was stunned and appalled at the level of personal questions that were ask. If this is not a personal survey, but a survey about an address then the questions are no good. I feel very suspicious and extremely unhappy that the Federal Gov plays hardball with this survey.

Very intrusive..very threatening ..told mandatory or fine. Assured the data entered is kept safe ..yeah right in our world of data leaks. Called Census Bureau prior and told anonymous survey and no names asked, BDs, income data, job data asked in survey ..yet they all were as well as other protected personal health data . Submitted but left non-anonymous questions blank.


My question is, how long does the American Community Survey go on?? I got calls for like 4 months, and I thought he said there would be 1 follow-up, but yesterday I got another call and he said he was calling again next month!

I got one with Dillingham signing the letter except he is no longer the director as of January. They ask very personal questions! Did not answer them!

I feel this survey way too intrusive! They do not need every detail about your life! Enough of government over reach, the survey I fill out will have LIMITED answers BARELY

The Census people have been hounding me with letters and calls almost daily. I went along with this survey for about a year, and now I'm tired of it. This is harassment. Any other organization could be prosecuted for this type of abuse. The questions are personal and intrusive. It's hard to believe in America we can't be free of government prying into out personal lives.

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