Since 2006, the Federal Trade Commission has received over 5000 complaints of deception and fraud by those claiming to offer guidance and knowledge of the arduous United States immigration process. While some are companies offering dubious quick fixes, the worst are scammers impersonating the US government, threatening jail time and deportation unless victims cough up cash quick.
Consumers from all fifty states and many locations abroad comprise a collection of such grievances recently released by the FTC. These Code 47 submissions — ”Complaints about products and services offered by companies purportedly to help non-U.S. consumers obtain a benefit from the government, such as to enter, remain, or work in the U.S.” — detail instance-upon-instance of deceitful individuals and fraudulent companies exploiting the enthusiasm and anxiety of those attempting to maneuver the path to America.
Only six appear to have been withheld under a statute exempting FTC investigation material.
“Received a call stating that there is an error in DS160 form and federal police were coming to arrest me,” one complaint read. “They assured to provide me temporary visa and resubmit the DS160 form. The numbers they called from were: 8883514024, 8663472423. After checking we found that both the numbers belonged to USCIS and hence we obeyed their instructions.”
For those unfamiliar with either the American bureaucratic machine or its penchant for turning confusion into cash, such dishonest phishing attempts come as a surprise. Armed with a collection of personal information and the ability to spoof caller ids, these con artists claim to be police officers and immigration officials. Under threat of arrest and deportation, many individuals frantically obey their scammers, who in many instances insist on speedy transfers.
Common, too, are those who provide additional processing and submission fees to websites that appear to be acting on behalf of the U.S. government. Though these sites are required to make clear that they are not lawyers and are not affiliated with the official operations of the U.S. government, nonetheless they otherwise mimic .gov sites to great effect, catching many a confused soul in their net.
So common are these scams that the FTC publishes Spanish-language “fotonovelas” warning of Goverment impostors and estafas de notario.
The problem of exploitation of minority and immigrant groups is nothing new. Still, it remains a constant parasite on vulnerable migrant communities, and it was not the subject of much prosecution until recently. The complaint data provided, for example, doesn’t begin until 2006. New York State, a hot seat of immigration for a century now, didn’t see its first charges of immigrant assistance services fraud until this year; the defendant had been operating for decades. In Washington, the Attorney General announced this week that one company providing illegal immigration services had been ordered to pay restitution to over 400 victims. Not one of the 96 FTC complaints from Washington mentioned the convicted company.
Containing the accused companies’ names, locations, the reporting person’s description of events, and the incident numbers, these FTC complaints offer a number of starting points for inquiry into the exploitation of a vulnerable American population. Find what issues have been reported near you and file a FOIA to followup.
The complaint info is embedded below, and the full spreadsheet can be downloaded on the request page.
Image via USCIS.gov