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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.

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.

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.

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