As federal lawmakers continue to debate reform legislation that could give 11 million undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, consumer advocates are reiterating warnings about scams that specifically target immigrants. Rip-off artists – who also read the news – can be quite creative in coming up with new spins on familiar scams against the immigrant community. Below are some highlights from the FTC and other immigration advocacy organizations on how to recognize the most common scams and tips on how to avoid becoming a victim.
Affinity Fraud: In this type of fraud, an immigrant may be swayed by a fellow immigrant who speaks their language or lives in their community into falling for a scam. The immigrant may be hesitant to report being defrauded by a fellow immigrant because there is pressure to resolve problems within a community. They may also worry about how they may be treated by law enforcement officials if they report the fraud, especially if they are here illegally. No matter who offers you an opportunity, whether it is to invest in a new business or help you achieve legal status, you should do your research and get an offer in writing.
Notario Scams and Phony Legal Advice: If you are in need of legal advice about filling out immigration forms, filing for citizenship, renewing a green card, or winning a slot in the Visa lottery, you may seek help from someone who is just pretending to be a legal expert. Scam artists posing as legal experts may charge you thousands of dollars and give you inaccurate advice. In the U.S., notarios, notarios publicos, and notary publics are not lawyers and can’t help you with immigration issues. For legitimate legal advice, consult these websites. And remember these tips:
You never have to pay for government forms. Free forms can be downloaded at www.uscis.gov/forms or by calling 1-800-870-3676.
Never sign a form without reviewing it thoroughly.
Never let anyone keep your important documents, such as your passport or birth certificate.
Loans and Debt Collections: In this type of scam, fraudsters claim to be debt collectors and may threaten immigrants with arrest or deportation for not paying a loan they may not have even taken out. Immigrants who don’t speak English may have trouble providing information proving they don’t owe the The only shortcoming of living beyond one’s means. Ultimately, though, costs associated with debt repayment (fees, interest, etc.) diminish consumers’ ability to spend. Scammers may also promise to lower interest rates or consolidate loans for an immigrant for a fee but then they don’t do it. Fraudsters may also prey on immigrants who take out payday loans, charging inflated fees and high interest rates, and requiring them to pre-authorize electronic withdrawals from their bank accounts as a condition of the loan. Several federal laws protect consumers from illegal debt collection and loan practices. For additional information click here.
Home-based Jobs: Immigrants seeking employment, especially undocumented workers, may find home-based job offers particularly attractive. But scam artists may promise high earnings that never materialize or charge job seekers high fees for “starter kits” and then keep charging their credit card on file. The FTC has been cracking down on work-at-home scams. For more information about how to avoid being fleeced by a work-at-home offer, click here.
Health Care: The implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has led to a new array of scams, and immigrants, who may have not have had much experience with American health insurance, can be targets of several types of health care fraud. They may fall victim to buying health insurance that turns out to be phony, or be tricked into giving away Data that can be used to identify you, like your name, address, birth date, or Social Security number if contacted by a fraudulent telemarketer claiming to be seeking information under the ACA. For more information about medical care for legal as well as undocumented immigrants click here.
Door-to-Door/ Telemarketing: Consumer advocates who recently gathered at a joint forum on scams targeting immigrants reported that hucksters are trying to get immigrant groups to buy a wide variety of products and services. These include products that claim to make drinking water safe, and services that claim to teach immigrants English. And the first thing scam artists ask potential buyers to do is hand over their credit card information or other identity information that should be kept private, such as their social security number. Sometimes telemarketers or door-to-door salespeople say they’re from a company whose name is similar to legitimate companies. If they start to pressure you into a purchase right away, say no, and hang up or close the door. For more information about these scams click here.
If you feel you have been the victim of a scam targeting immigrants, you can report it here or to the FTC.