Four months after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and a number of immigration advocates warned of a potential increase in immigration scams following the November election and the uncertain status of many consumers, the office says it has seen an uptick in fraudsters preying on immigrants uncertain about their status.
In a fraud alert issued Wednesday, the AG’s office announced it has received an increase in reports of fraudsters impersonating Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and demanding money from immigrants.
Specifically, the office has received a number of reports of unsolicited calls or in-person inquiries from fake immigration officials.
In one case, an immigrant living in Queens was approached by four men dressed as ICE agents. The purported ICE “agents” told the man that he was going to be detained unless he gave them all of his money.
The increase in ICE impersonation scams comes on the heels of ICE deportation raids that have taken place over the last few days, the AG’s office notes.
“It is unconscionable for scam artists to prey on heightened fear in our immigrant communities by pretending to be ICE officers and demanding that families pay up in order to avoid deportation,” Attorney General Schneiderman said in a statement, urging consumers to learn of potential scams and report any suspected fraud to the AG’s office.
“We will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal and bring to justice those who commit fraud against our immigrant communities,” Schneiderman added.
The AG’s office reminded consumers of a number of common immigration-based scams to be aware of including those from individuals impersonating federal officials.
In the case of fake ICE agents, the AG’s office reminds immigrants that official ICE agents will never ask for money or threaten detainment or deportation if they are not paid. Additionally, ICE agents also do not have the authority to enter homes without a warrant signed by a judge.
Another common immigration scam involves unsolicited calls or text messages from someone claiming to be a government official or law enforcement office making threats of deportation.
In many cases, the number on the caller ID may look like a legitimate government number; however, the AG’s office notes that States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and 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.
The AG’s alert also provided information on other immigration scams perpetrated by fraudsters, including the notario scheme.
As we’ve covered before, scammers within many Spanish-speaking immigrant communities take advantage of the confusion between the Spanish term “notario público” – meaning a highly trained legal professional – and the English “notary public” – meaning a licensed official with witnessing duties. Fraudsters, some of whom aren’t even notary publics, will pose as notarios, charging money for legal services and immigration advice they aren’t qualified or allowed to provide.
For example, a notario who may be doing some kind of document preparation or tax services could tell an individual that they could handle immigration authorization.
Other schemes targeting immigrants currently include individuals misrepresenting legal credentials, and fraudulently promising to expedite immigration credentials.
The AG’s office provided consumers with three 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.
Those who believe they have been approached by a fraudster or have fallen victim to a scheme are urged to contact the Attorney General’s Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline at (866) 390-2992 or email Civil.Rights@ag.ny.gov.