Scam Alert! Don’t Fall Victim
“I am new to the U.S. I got a call today and I thought it was some verification call from USCIS. I gave my Passport no, Visa no, DOB to that guy…” “I received a call from a person. He introduced himself as a USCIS official Later, I found out I was cheated by this blood sucking fraud. I lost… my hard earned money.” As these recent comments on a USCIS blog attest, a new scam is defrauding foreign nationals living in the U.S. of their money, and deceiving them into surrendering sensitive personal information. The reader feels sympathy for the victim of the scam. But reading some of them, one might wonder why the individual ever believed the person calling was from USCIS. A little investigation reveals the answer. First, those perpetrating the fraud can use something called “Caller ID spoofing” to make an actual USCIS telephone number appear on the victim’s caller ID screen. This arrangement is in fact legal unless “used for an unlawful purpose,” and there are services that provide it. The fact that the service itself has not been outlawed opens a loophole for immigration (and other) fraud. In addition some scammers have managed to secure in advance victims’ passport and I-94 numbers, foreign addresses and other personal details that make them seem credible.
Second, and maybe more important, scammers know how to use fear to manipulate their victims. As anyone familiar with the immigration system knows, there are many ways in which a foreign national can make a mistake: miss a deadline, inadvertently break a rule, forget to file a change of address, etc. Since the immigration consequences of a mistake can indeed be severe, the news that one has made an error and is under threat of some dire result may not seem all that unlikely. However, the real problem is that once the threat has grabbed the victim’s attention, he or she is not thinking clearly enough to recognize signs of fraud.
A sure sign that the call is fraudulent is a request for any form of payment or personal information. USCIS will never call to ask for either over the telephone. While many immigration benefits have associated fees, USCIS will never call to ask for payment. Scammers try to distract their victims from thinking about this by threatening them with deportation, case denial, imprisonment or other frightening consequences. Given that foreign nationals in the U.S. can legitimately feel anxiety about the outcomes of their immigration cases, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that a call from a USCIS number asking for money cannot possibly be genuine.
There are other twists on this scam: sometimes callers announce a new fee has been instituted and is due immediately; sometimes calling back a number the scammer has given you can make you think you’ve reached USCIS. The key is the demand for money or personal information over the phone: if you hear it, you know the call is fraudulent.
The “caller ID spoofing” scam is a recent development, but fraudsters targeting the immigration system have been around for a long time. They send demands for payment by email also, so it’s important to note that all official U.S. government communications come from an address ending in “.gov.” A popular method of cheating hopeful immigrants is to charge them for U.S. immigration forms and instructions available for free on the USCIS web site. This scam may operate through a web site that mimics the look and feel of the genuine U.S. Immigration Service site: again, the key is to check whether or not the web site address ends in .gov.
Another popular scam is often run out of community businesses who claim they can guarantee certain results, for example Green Card approval. They may also claim their process is faster, and so charge customers a higher filing fee than the Immigration Service charges. Be aware that no one can guarantee a result or preferentially speed the process. Anyone claiming a special connection or special influence with the Immigration Service is simply trying to defraud his or her customers.
Using these types of services can result in more than a financial loss. The people in charge may not be qualified, and make mistakes filling out the forms that can cause their customers serious problems. A genuinely qualified practitioner will have either a law license or an accreditation letter from the Board of Immigration Appeals.
More information may be found by searching for “USCIS Avoid Scams.”