Facebook posts claiming that people are posing as census takers in order to “rob” homes are part of a long-running viral hoax.
The posts, which have been appearing in community group pages in England in recent weeks, typically state: “Beware, the latest way to rob a house is a group going door-to-door pretending to be home affairs officers. They have documents and letterheads from the Department of Home Affairs and claim to confirm that everyone has a valid identity card for the upcoming census. They are looting houses.”
The posts urge readers to share the message in their group chats, as well as alerting family and friends. Many of the posts have been shared hundreds of times.
The warnings have also appeared on Twitter and WhatsApp.
There are multiple clues that the warnings are not genuine. The UK does not have a “Department of Home Affairs” or ID cards. In addition, the last census in England and Wales took place in 2021 and there will not be another until 2031, though it is possible this may not take place.
Some versions of the post include claims that the bogus census takers cite the “Ayushman Bharat” scheme as the reason they need to take a photograph or fingerprint.
This name refers to a public health initiative launched in India in September 2018 which aims to provide low-cost healthcare to poor and vulnerable families. The scheme does not operate in the UK.
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Similar posts have been circulating online for many years. The earliest examples Full Fact has found date back to 2016 and originate from Facebook users and a community organisation in Kenya. The wording of these posts is almost identical except that they reference an “upcoming election” rather than census.
In October 2017, the Department of Home Affairs in South Africa published a warning that criminals were using the same technique to rob homes.
In the years that followed similar posts have appeared in a variety of locations including England, (switching the name of the government department to the Home Office) Ireland, the US, the US Virgin Islands, India and Fiji.
However, in September 2019, the Department of Home Affairs in South Africa published a follow-up statement saying that, despite many warnings appearing on social media, it had “not received any complaint of this nature from members of the public”.
Full Fact cannot find any reports of robberies of this kind taking place. Journalists in India, Bermuda and the US, as well as police and state officials in Malaysia and Singapore have all debunked the claims.
Some of the posts we have seen on Facebook have been shared in community groups in Northamptonshire, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.
A spokesperson for Northamptonshire Police said that, while the force had not received any reports relating to the claims, one of its officers had investigated one such post and “after completing some initial enquiries found it to be groundless, no burglaries in relation to it at all”.
The spokesperson added: “Our general advice around cold callers is not to answer the door unless you know who it is, don’t buy any goods or services at the door and never give anyone your personal information – in particular bank details – in person or on the phone.”
We have also contacted Greater Manchester Police and West Midlands Police.
Image courtesy of Scott Graham