Thursday, November 24, 2016

A.G. Schneiderman Issues Fraud Alert On Immigration Scams

Attorney General's Office, Immigration Groups Have Received An Increased Number Of Reported Scams In Recent Weeks
With Increased Anxiety In Immigrant Communities Due To Political Climate, Immigrants Should Be Aware Of Potential Scammers Offering Immigration Service
   In light of increased fear and anxiety in immigrant communities as a result of the current political climate, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today issued a fraud alert warning immigrants to be aware of potential scammers offering immigration services. Immigration fraud affects large segments of communities and involves individuals or companies who target vulnerable immigrants by providing unauthorized and fraudulent immigration services. In recent weeks, the Attorney General’s office and many legal aid organizations that work with immigrant communities have received an increased number of calls and reported scams.
“In the past two weeks, we’ve seen intense fear and anxiety in immigrant communities. New York has zero tolerance for anyone who would prey on that fear to defraud immigrants and their families,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “We will use all the tools at our disposal to bring to justice those who commit fraud against our immigrant communities.”
There has been a significant increase in the number of calls to immigration organizations, including regarding potential fraud. For example, since the election, the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights has received an 266% increase in number of daily calls and 250% increase in number of daily walk-ins; on November 10th alone, the organization received over 100 calls.
One of the most common scams right now is unsolicited calls from fake immigration officials. For example, one immigrant living in New York recently received a call that is the same as an official government immigration agency. The fraudster told him he was in the country illegally and must immediately pay $1,550. Federal authorities will never demand immediate payment, request personal sensitive information, or threaten you over the phone. If you receive a call like this, hang up immediately and report the possible fraud to our office.
To report complaints regarding immigration services, contact the Attorney General’s Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline at (866) 390-2992 or email Attorney General’s office will never ask for your immigration status or share immigration information with federal authorities if you contact the Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline.
Attorney General Schneiderman also highlighted key resources for New York’s immigrant communities to seek immigration and naturalization-related support.  Managed by Catholic Charities Community Services, the New Americans hotline is a toll-free, multi-lingual hotline that provides live assistance in receiving immigration and naturalization information and referrals, regardless of citizenship or documented status. All calls to the hotline are confidential and anonymous. Call 1-800-566-7636 (toll-free) anytime between 9:00am to 8:00pm Monday through Friday.
Attorney General Schneiderman also reminded all New Yorkers of commons forms of immigration fraud to protect them from becoming potential victims:
Unsolicited Calls From Fake Officials: One of the most common immigration services scams are unsolicited calls from someone claiming to be a government official or law enforcement officer that make threats such as deportation. Often times the number on caller ID may look like a legitimate government number. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will never request payment over the phone, so immigrants should be wary of scammers that ask for any sensitive or personal information, demand payment and threaten deportation if you do not comply.
Notario Fraud: In many Latin American countries a “notario” refers to someone who has the authority to render legal services. Unscrupulous “notaries” who are not attorneys often rely on this misunderstanding to exploit immigrants. They charge immigrants excessive application fees without ever submitting applications to the immigration authorities or may induce deportation by submitting applications for relief for which the immigrant is not eligible for or did not request.
Misrepresenting Legal Credentials: Individuals may falsely claim to be attorneys or wrongly suggest that they are able to appear before the immigration agencies or court. They take advantage of immigrants who will unknowingly pay exorbitant fees for their services. By misrepresenting their qualifications, these individuals can have a detrimental impact on the immigrants with whom they work. For example, immigrants who take advice from and work with these individuals may waive their right to obtain legal residency, be unnecessarily deported, or become subject to civil and/or criminal liability for the filing of false claims.
Fraudulent Promises to Expedite Process: This type of fraud concerns individuals who contend that they know employees at immigration offices who can expedite the processing of their clients applications. Accordingly, they request high fees for this special service, but fail to provide it.
Misinformation Fraud: Under this type of fraud, a provider will typically provide inaccurate or false information to the immigrant concerning his or her eligibility for an adjustment of status under a particular law. In these cases, the immigrant is usually not aware that they have been a victim of fraud until they receive a letter of ineligibility from immigration authorities. The provider knows the immigrant is not entitled to relief, or ineligible, but will file the application with immigration authorities regardless.
Immigration Affinity Fraud: Some providers target immigrants belonging to their same ethnic or racial group. Accordingly, they seek to gain advantage over other providers by claiming to identify with the ethnic, racial, national origin or community-based affiliations of the immigrant group.
Unauthorized Practice of the Law: Individuals may not be licensed to practice law but present themselves as attorneys or immigration law experts capable of providing legal advice and services.
Attorney General Schneiderman provided these key tips to avoid getting scammed:
  • Only work with a licensed lawyer or an authorized provider.
  • Never sign blank applications or documents you do not understand.
  • Do not make payments over the phone or via email.
Additional resources can be found on the Attorney General’s website, including Know Your Rights: Immigration Services Fraud and Don’t Be a Victim of Immigration Fraud brochure. All authorized attorneys will be registered with the New York State Court. To verify an attorney, see here.  
“New York City is committed to protecting immigrant New Yorkers from fraudulent and unscrupulous immigration services providers.  At a time when the uncertainty following the election can create fertile ground for fraudulent providers and fear among immigrant communities, we thank Attorney General Schneiderman for his vigilance.  I look forward to continuing our collaboration with his office, the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs, and our community partners to raise awareness about immigration services fraud and connect New Yorkers to safe, free immigration legal services,” said Commissioner Nisha Agarwal, Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs.
"DCA is deeply committed to working with partners to educate communities about how to avoid predatory immigration service providers and to identifying targets for enforcement,” said Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “I urge anyone who has paid their hard earned money to an immigration service provider or notario público to provide advice on or prepare immigration documents, to file a complaint—either anonymously or knowing their information is safe with the City—to file a complaint with us by calling 311.”
Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark said, “The Bronx is home to more than 300,000 immigrants, and we are here to protect them from those who use language barriers or citizenship status to exploit their fears and defraud them in the areas of employment, housing and immigration documentation services. We will vigorously prosecute anyone who preys on immigrants, and we encourage all victims—no matter their status—to seek help from our Immigrant Affairs Unit.”
Attorney General Schneiderman’s Civil Rights Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Lourdes Rosado and the Social Justice Division is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Alvin Bragg.

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