We Can All Help Prevent Immigration Fraud
We have talked about immigration fraud in previous columns, but there is new information indicating that a strong and connected community is less vulnerable to scammers.
Assistant Professor of Sociology Juan Manuel Pedroza recently published the first nationwide data analysis on immigration scams. The findings reveal that “social context—like whether local services and policies are designed to support or exclude immigrants—may affect the likelihood of scams being reported.”
Dr. Pedroza’s research has shown that people are more likely to report notario fraud complaints in communities that provide a broad social safety net and language translation in government and law enforcement. This systemic effort to include immigrants in civic life pays off in increased trust in government and law enforcement.
As Dr. Pedroza explains, “Immigration scams are a specialized type of fraud that preys upon immigrants, often by exploiting hopes of obtaining favorable legal status or fears of being deported. Fraudsters make threatening phone calls impersonating Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to demand payments. Phishing emails claim the recipient has won a Green Card but must provide personal information in order to receive it. Fake websites mimic U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. And scammers who often call themselves notarios or ‘consultants’ offer immigration legal services while misrepresenting their qualifications.”
A few things to remember:
- Real U.S. government website addresses end with .gov.
- USCIS forms are always free. If you are being asked to pay to download government
immigration forms, you’re not on a legitimate website.
- You will find real immigration information on the USCIS website. https://www.uscis.gov/
- Do not ever pay cash in advance of services.
Often the scammers are from the same ethnic community that they are scamming. That makes sense – they know the culture, the customs, the language, and the particular challenges facing those immigrating to the United States. They are taking advantage of their own community.
They will set up offices in neighborhood storefronts where they advertise “Notario Publico” or “Immigration Services,” or even “Travel Agency.” In many Latin countries, a Notario Publico provides services that are similar to what lawyers provide in this country. In the United States, they cannot provide legal immigration advice. Notarios also will ask for cash, often before any work is done. A real immigration lawyer will never ask for cash in advance of services.
(Some community nonprofits, faith-based organizations, or libraries will have a BIA accredited person who can help you with your forms and process – an accredited representative recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals [BIA].)
Dr. Pedroza summarizes his work this way - “Positive experiences with the social safety net may potentially promote the idea that there are arms of the public sector that have your best interests in mind, and making sure that immigrants trust the public sector may be really important in helping people feel that reporting immigration scam crimes to law enforcement is a safe thing for them to do. If we don't… scam artists have total impunity to innovate and take advantage, and we’ll never even know how often it’s happening unless we put in the work to make immigrants feel safe in reporting it.”
If you know anyone who is searching for immigration assistance, please guide them toward the following resources, and away from notarios or others looking to take advantage of them. Reporting fraud will not affect your immigration application or petition.
And remember to pass it on to family and friends!
To report fraud to DCP, email email@example.com or call (860) 713-6300 / toll-free (800) 842-2649.
To report fraud to USCIS, visit https://www.uscis.gov/report-fraud/uscis-tip-form.
To report fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), visit https://consumer.ftc.gov/features/scams-against-immigrants.
This article was written by Catherine Blinder, chief education, and outreach officer of the Department of Consumer Protection of the State of Connecticut. To learn more about how the Department of Consumer Protection can help, visit us online at www.ct.gov/dcp.