Amid the fallout from the Trump administration’s controversial immigration agenda, New York’s attorney general is warning the public about a scam that targets immigrants: Scammers are posing as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to extort money.
How Scammers are Targeting Immigrants
On Wednesday, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued an urgent fraud alert to warn immigrant communities of the tactic.
“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,” said Schneiderman.
The New York attorney general’s office has received multiple reports of people being approached by ICE impersonators demanding money. In one instance, four men dressed as ICE officers reportedly approached an immigrant living in Queens and told the man he would be detained if he did not give them all of his money.
How to Know if You’re Being Scammed
Immigration scams take many forms, but they usually involve a demand for money in exchange for avoiding deportation or legal services.
Schneiderman’s alert lists several immigration fraud tactics.
Calls from Fake Officials
Among the most common immigration scams are calls and text messages from individuals claiming to be government officials. While the phone number often looks legitimate on caller ID, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and ICE will never ask for payment over the phone. Be wary of anyone who asks for personal or sensitive information, or demands payment and threatens you with deportation if you don’t comply.
Fake ICE Agents
ICE agents will never ask for money or make threats about detaining or deporting anyone who does not pay. ICE agents are also prohibited from entering a home without a warrant signed by a judge.
In many Latin American countries, a “notario” is someone who is authorized to provide legal services. Unscrupulous “notaries,” who are not authorized to provide legal counsel, exploit immigrants by charging fees for paperwork that they never submit. They may also submit the paperwork in such a way that leads to future issues or deportation.
Misrepresenting Legal Credentials
Some people falsely claim to be attorneys or that they can provide them representation before courts or immigration officials. They charge exorbitant fees for their “services,” but they often only create more of a problem by allowing people to waive their legal rights.
Other fraudsters will request payment to speed up the application process using connections at the immigration office, or they’ll provide false information about a person’s eligibility for a change of immigration status.
But You Can Fight Back
Here are three key rules to follow to avoid getting caught in an immigration scam.
- Only work with licensed attorneys. You can check a person’s credentials by contacting your state or local bar association.
- Never sign any document that you don’t fully understand, and remember that you do not have to let anyone into your home without a signed warrant from a judge.
- Do not make any payments over the phone or via email, even if the person is making threats.
If you suspect you have been the victim of immigration fraud, contact the New York Attorney General’s Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline at 866-390-2992, or email Civil.Rights@ag.NY.gov. The Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline will never ask for your immigration status or share immigration information with federal authorities.
Your Turn: Have you ever been the victim of legal fraud?
Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.