MERIDIAN -- A viewer brought KTVB questions and concerns about a lengthy government survey that goes to millions of Americans every year. The survey is by the U.S. Census Bureau and is called the American Community Survey (ACS) and must be filled out if you're picked.
The ACS is different from the short version of the census everyone gets every 10 years, but is similar to a long-form some may recall receiving in 2000 or earlier.
The American Community Survey is almost 30 pages long and asks about finances, your home's value, and what time you leave for work. It's those types of questions that make some uncomfortable and question whether the survey is in fact authentic.
Meridian survey recipient: 'It's very, very invasive'
Andee Stockton was one of roughly 3.5 million Americans picked this year for the American Community Survey, which was fully implemented in 2005.
"When I opened it up, I just thought it was going to be the normal census that you tell how many people live in your house, or their ages, that kind of thing. But when I started reading through it, it was not what I expected. It was a lot more invasive," Stockton said.
There were dozens of questions about her family, their income and their house.
"How much we paid in mortgage, electricity, gas, phone, if we had WiFi. But the biggest one for me was they wanted us to tell when we left our house, where we worked, the physical address, how long it took to get to work as well as how long we were there every day," Stockton said. "So that's giving somebody information that you're gone and when you're gone."
Those detailed questions left her suspicious and she quickly began looking for information and advice.
"I had Bunco the next evening, and I actually asked all my friends at Bunco about it, and they all laughed and said it was a complete scam," Stockton said.
Better Business Bureau takes many calls about survey
Stockton, like many people in Idaho who get the survey in the mail, called the Better Business Bureau.
"Better Business Bureau hears from people on a regular basis about the survey, and the question is: 'Is it legitimate? What should I do with it?'" said Dale Dixon with the Better Business Bureau. "The answer to the question is it depends what you really have in your hand. We're really encouraging people to be careful and don't just take something at face value."
Dixon advises doing a lot of checking before filling out a survey and sending it to anyone.
"Do your research, make the phone calls, look through this, and we encourage people to call the Census Bureau and ask for themselves to make sure what they have in their hands is the real deal. Because the scam artists are really good at taking this kind of material, or just taking logos, affixing it, and directing you in a slightly different place to get your personal information," Dixon said.
Meridian woman sent survey back, answered with 'confidential'
Stockton's survey was the real deal, and because she legally had to send it back, she did with some of the answers filled out, but most not.
"I'm fined if I don't fill it out and return it, so what I did was after filling out several pages of it, I went back and crossed it all out and just wrote 'confidential' over and over again," Stockton said.
U.S. Census Bureau explains why they ask specific questions
The U.S. Census Bureau tells KTVB the survey's detailed questions are all specifically designed to get information to determine how to distribute more than $400 billion in federal and state funds. Click here to see a breakdown of why the bureau asks each question. Here is a specific answer to why the Bureau says it wants information on work schedules.
As for safety, Census workers take an oath guaranteeing confidentiality, under penalty of up to five years of prison and $250,000 in fines.
Additionally, the Bureau says: "We can assure you that American Community Survey (ACS) respondents' confidentiality is protected. Title 13, United States Code (U.S.C.), requires the Census Bureau to keep all information about all respondents strictly confidential. We will publish only statistics from this survey, not any information that could identify you or anyone else personally."
The fine for refusing to complete the survey is $100 to $5,000; however, the Census Bureau says since 2005, 97-98% of people return the survey, and the Department of Justice (the enforcing agency) has never fined someone for not turning this survey in.
How to check if your survey is really from the government
Stockton still feels the survey is too intrusive and plans to contact her legislators and state officials to voice her concerns over the more detailed survey questions.
"I understand that they want to see how much of the United States may be living below poverty, people that do not have phones," Stockton said. "But why they need to know how many rooms I have in my house, that doesn't make sense. Or especially the work part, when we leave for work.
To view the most recent version of the survey, click here.
If you get one of the ACS surveys and want to know if it's real, call the local Better Business Bureau (208-342-4649) or the regional Census office in California (1-800-992-3530).