Washington, DC – Scammers follow headlines and con artists are always ready to take advantage of people’s concerns and try to profit from them by offering bogus services, especially during a natural disaster, economic downturn, or an announcement of changes in laws which will affect millions. Immigrants are particularly vulnerable to schemes that promise them help in becoming US citizens and other types of assistance.
Kathleen Daffan, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection, spoke to India America Today to caution immigrants and to arm them with resources to deal with managing money, protecting personal information, and avoiding scams.
In her answers, she also invited Indian American and other organizations to join hands with the FTC to translate the available material into different Indian languages, as the FTC has recently created a new toolkit with free educational and legal resources for those who work with immigrant communities. Topics include immigration scams, mortgages, debt collection, job and business opportunity scams, and money wiring schemes. This toolkit and other resources are available at consumer.gov (in Spanish, consumidor.gov), the FTC’s sites for consumers of varying degrees of literacy.
Q. What scams do you see that target the immigrant community?
Unfortunately, we’ve seen a wide range of scams aimed at immigrant communities, everything from immigration services fraud to the mortgage and debt collection scams that have also targeted others likely to suffer from the economic downturn. We’ve sued companies cheating immigrant communities with deceptive prepaid phone card ads and issued guidance about sending money overseas. We’ve also seen people trying to hock phony wares to immigrant communities, either over the phone or in person; these can include everything from business opportunities to health insurance to English language training products.
Q. What are the worst scams you see against immigrants?
One type of fraud that can carry enormous consequences for immigrants occurs when unauthorized immigration service providers take consumers’ money and either do nothing for them or make their immigration situation even worse. For immigrants, this type of fraud is about more than money; it can mean the difference between a legal status and the rejection or denial of benefits.
Q. What should someone do if they see a scam?
Please consider filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. While the agency cannot individually represent consumers to resolve their complaints, we use consumer complaints every day to help stop frauds. To file a complaint, just go to ftc.gov/complaint, click on the link to the “Federal Trade Commission Complaint Assistant,” and answer the questions. Or call 1-877-FTC-HELP.
Q. Aren’t people anxious about reporting immigration-related scams to the government?
The FTC is not an immigration enforcement agency, but we certainly understand some individuals’ reluctance to release certain information to any part of the federal government. To make filing a complaint easier, consumers may file complaints listing as much (or as little) information as they choose. Also, the FTC strongly encourages organizations that serve immigrant communities to file complaints on behalf of their clients. This information helps law enforcement agencies identify patterns of complaints and gives us the ability to reach out to an expert to learn more about the problem.
Q. Where can people go to learn more about scams against immigrants?
To help fight fraud in immigrant communities, we have created a toolkit with resources for advocates and individuals, alike: consumer.gov/immigranthelp. Please pass it along to anyone you know who might find it helpful.
Q. Do you have resources available in languages besides English?
Almost all of our materials are available in English and Spanish, and we have some publications also available in Chinese, Haitian Creole, Korean, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. Our publications are not copyrighted; thus, organizations are also more than welcome to translate the resources and distribute them among their own networks with their own branding. We have limited resources for translation and are therefore looking to partner with those who are interested in these materials and can help us make them available in other languages.