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State attorney general warns of ICE immigration scams

Leave it to criminals to prey on people’s fears.

The media coverage of the recent national crackdown on illegal immigration has given rise to a fraudulent immigration scam, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said Wednesday.

The scam involves fake Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents demanding money from immigrants to avoid deportation, the attorney general said.

“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,” Schneiderman said in a statement, urging people to contact his office if they suspect such illegal activities.

One recent incident involved four men dressed as ICE agents approaching an immigrant in Queens, demanding cash from the victim in order to avoid deportation, Schneiderman said.

The incident reportedly took place in Woodside, and the victim paid the men $250.

The attorney general’s office said immigrants — whether in the country legally or not — should be aware such requests are scams and illegal under U.S. law.

To that end, Schneiderman said there are common types of immigration fraud to be aware of:

* Fake ICE agents. Immigration agents will never ask for money or threaten deportation if you don’t pay, he said, adding that agents cannot enter your residence without a warrant.

* Unsolicited calls from fake officials. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and ICE will never request payment via a phone call, Schneiderman said, adding that immigrants should be “wary of scammers” who ask for personal information, demand payment or threaten deportation.

* Notario Fraud. Schneiderman said this involves unscrupulous notaries who pray on Latin immigrants, the term “notario” often referring to someone in a Latin community with the authority to render legal services — unlike the U.S. definition of notaries, who often are not attorneys. In such cases, Schneiderman said, immigrants have been charged “excessive” fees for legal advice and applications that often are never even submitted.

* Misrepresentation of legal credentials. This involves scammers who claim to be attorneys, causing immigrants to pay sometimes exorbitant fees for services they never receive — such as representation in court. Such instances can actually lead to immigrants forfeiting their right to obtain legal residency.

Other frauds involve promises to expedite legal processes; misinformation fraud where scammers provide inaccurate information to an immigrant concerning their eligibilities to become citizens; immigration affinity fraud where scammers target specific groups based on ethnicity, religion or national origin; and unauthorized practice of law — where scammers claim to be legal counsel, but in fact, are not licensed to practice law.

In each case, Schneiderman said, the reason for the scam is the same — to dupe unsuspecting immigrants out of money.

As a result, the attorney general’s office is advising immigrants to deal solely with a licensed lawyer or authorized provider, to never sign bank applications or documents without a full understanding of what they are, and to never make payments to someone soliciting them via phone or email.

For more information, call the confidential assistance hotline at 1-800-566-7636 between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Or, visit the state attorney general’s website to read about immigrant services or to verify the credentials of an attorney.

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