In the United Kingdom, scammers tried to profit from the census

Posted on 13. October 2021 11:19

The population census is the biggest data collection and consolidation project everywhere in Europe over this and the following year. This time, let’s take a look at England where some clever scammers tried to take advantage of the census. There is a valuable lesson to learn from this.

The Census Day in England and Wales was 21 March 2021. The completion of the census questionnaire is obligatory for everyone, and non-completion may eventually result in a fine. The fine imposed with a court ruling may be up to 1,000 pounds and the convicted persons also get a criminal record. There were several fraudsters who tried to exploit this.

All households in England and Wales were mailed information materials explaining how to fill in the census questionnaire. The questionnaire was available online, but it was also possible to request a paper questionnaire, to be completed and returned by post. 

As a rule, enumerators did not make home visits. They mostly contacted respondents by email and by phone – contact was made only if the respondent had some questions and had requested help from a census field officer, or if none of the household members had participated in the census and the enumerator made a visit to help with the submission of census data if needed.

Unfortunately, the census also attracted fraudsters, meaning that Action Fraud (the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime) had to issue warnings about potential census-related scams. The biggest concerns were fake letters and calls demanding that a fine be paid. There were also attempts to solicit various types of information by claiming that some details in the questionnaire were missing or incomplete and that refusal to comply would lead to imprisonment or a fine. 

The fake websites were taken down as quickly as possible, and there were regular warnings on the media. For example, the alerts reminded people that only a court can impose a fine for census non-completion and that such a fine would never be issued via social media channels or by email or a text message. Also, an enumerator would never come to someone’s door to ask for money or to count their valuables and assets.

What is the moral of the story? People in Estonia should be careful as well, as there could also be fraudsters here who see the census as a scamming opportunity. Therefore, we want to stress once more that the same is true in both England and Estonia – an enumerator will never ask for your passwords, credit or debit card details or salary information, and will never request compensation for interviewing or send you a link for paying a fine. If you have any doubts, you should call Statistics Estonia’s customer service at +372 625 9300 or contact the police.

We will soon explain in detail how to recognise genuine enumerators and census webpages in Estonia.