Protecting Yourself From Common Immigration Scams

In Upton Sinclair’s turn-of-the-century novel The Jungle, the Lithuanian family at the center of the tragic story falls victim to a housing grift targeted at recently-arrived immigrants to the U.S. Unable to speak English, unfamiliar with American law, and seduced by the promise of a better life in a new country, the family sinks what little money they’ve saved into the down payment on a ramshackle house in the Chicago slums. The loan on the house is a scam, and the family is soon evicted and forced deeper into poverty.

For as long as there have been vulnerable people, there have been scammers who are only too happy to prey upon them. Immigrants, many of whom share the same unfamiliarity with the English language and U.S. law and legal procedure as the family in The Jungle, are frequent targets. Fraudulent notarios promise Central and South American immigrants that they can help with obtaining visas, only to produce inadequate applications — that is, if they bother to fill out the forms after taking their victims’ money. Others are taken in by websites that charge money for visa application materials that are available for free on the USCIS site. Still others fall for emails informing them that they have won a visa via a lottery, or for websites touting promises of guaranteed approval if they just pay a fee.

Recently, a panicked client called our offices, saying that he kept getting phone calls from someone claiming to be an IRS agent. The “agent” told our client, who is not in the U.S. legally, that he owed nearly $10,000 to the IRS because he’d been working under the table, and threatened to have the client arrested if he didn’t make an immediate payment. When the client said he would need a few days to get the money together, the caller said that the client would be arrested if he didn’t make a payment there and then.

Our client was understandably terrified, and told us that if he’d had the money, he would have paid the caller immediately. This is a common tactic: By either threatening immediate consequences or promising an immediate reward, scammers use fear and confusion to force their target into a split-second decision. Luckily, our client called us before he gave his money to the fraudsters, and we let him know that he was the target of a tried-and-true swindle.

Neither the IRS nor law enforcement will ever call you about an unpaid tax bill without first sending a notice by mail, and you should be wary of anyone who says that you’ll be arrested if you don’t pay immediately. To learn more about how to protect yourself from this and other types of cons, check out this IRS bulletin and USCIS’s page on how to avoid scams. If you believe you have been the target of a con, you can contact your local law enforcement agency and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Disclaimer: The content in this blog is intended to be used for informational purposes only. Nothing herein should be construed as legal advice or opinion. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact us.


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