By Bill Parry
In light of increased fear and anxiety in immigrant communities as a result of the current political climate, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a fraud alert last week warning immigrants to be aware of potential scammers offering immigration services.
Immigration fraud affects large segments of communities with foreign-born populations and involves individuals or companies that target vulnerable members 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.
“New York has zero tolerance for anyone who would prey on that fear to defraud immigrants and their families,” Schneiderman said. “We will use all the tools at our disposal to bring to justice those who commit fraud against our immigrant families.”
One of the most common scams right now is an unsolicited call from fake immigrant officials. For example, one immigrant living in New York received a call saying he was in the country illegally and must immediately pay $1,550.
Schneiderman said federal authorities will never demand payment, request sensitive personal information or threaten you over the phone. He said if you receive a call like this, hang up immediately and report the possible fraud to the attorney general’s office.
“Queens County is the most ethnically and culturally diverse area in the United States with more than 2.3 million residents,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said. “With over 120 countries represented in our neighborhoods and over 160 languages spoken, we take crimes committed against members of our immigrant communities seriously. Our Office of Immigrant Affairs, along with several other bureaus, investigates and prosecutes crimes that target immigrants. In addition, our OIA Office conducts extensive outreach initiatives in order to keep our communities informed on identifying and protecting against common immigrant scams.”
The common forms of immigrant fraud include unsolicited calls from fake officials threatening deportation, misrepresenting legal credentials and unauthorized practice of the law. Schneiderman warns immigrants to only work with a licensed lawyer or authorized provider, never sign blank applications or documents you do not understand and never make payments over the phone or via email.
“Now more than ever it is critical that our fellow New Yorkers are kept safe from those who seek to take advantage of them,” New York Immigration Coalition Executive Director Steve Choi said. “In a time when immigrant communities are terrified of what’s to come, unscrupulous individuals may take advantage of immigrant fears by promising relief, permanent residency, or citizenship that they cannot actually provide. We must do everything in our power to ensure that immigrant communities are safe from this kind of harm.”
Complaints can be reported to the attorney general’s Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline at (866) 390-2992 or by emailing Civil.Right
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr