NEW YORK (WABC) --In light of increased fear and anxiety in immigrant communities as a result of the current political climate, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Tuesday issued a fraud alert warning immigrants to be aware of potential scammers offering immigration services.
Immigration fraud affects large segments of communities and involves individuals or companies who target vulnerable immigrants by providing unauthorized and fraudulent immigration service, and in recent weeks, agencies that work with immigrant communities have received an increased number of calls and reported scams.
"In the past two weeks, we've seen intense fear and anxiety in immigrant communities," Schneiderman said. "New York has zero tolerance for anyone who would prey on that fear to defraud immigrants and their families. We will use all the tools at our disposal to bring to justice those who commit fraud against our immigrant communities."
There has been a significant increase in the number of calls to immigration organizations, including regarding potential fraud. Since the election, officials with the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights say they have received an 266 percent increase in number of daily calls and a 250 percent increase in number of daily walk-ins.
Authorities say one of the most common scams is unsolicited calls from fake immigration officials. One immigrant living in New York reportedly received a call in which the alleged scammer told claimed the recipient was in the country illegally and must immediately pay $1,550. Experts remind potential victims that federal authorities will never demand immediate payment, request personal sensitive information or issue threats over the phone.
Anyone who receives such a call is urged to hang up immediately and report the incident. To report complaints regarding immigration services, contact the Attorney General's Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline at (866) 390-2992 or email Civil.Rights@ag.ny.gov. The Attorney General's office will never ask for immigration status or share immigration information with federal authorities.
Attorney General Schneiderman also highlighted key resources for New York's immigrant communities to seek immigration and naturalization-related support.
Managed by Catholic Charities Community Services, the New Americans hotline is a toll-free, multi-lingual hotline that provides live assistance in receiving immigration and naturalization information and referrals, regardless of citizenship or documented status. The hotline is available at 1-800-566-7636 (toll-free) anytime between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and all calls are confidential and anonymous.
Other scams include:
--Notario fraud, in which unscrupulous "notaries: who are not attorneys charge immigrants excessive application fees without ever submitting applications to the immigration authorities. They may also induce deportation by submitting applications for relief for which the immigrant is not eligible for or did not request.
--Misrepresenting legal credentials, in which individuals may falsely claim to be attorneys or wrongly suggest that they are able to appear before the immigration agencies or court.
--Fraudulent promises to expedite process, which concerns individuals who contend that they know employees at immigration offices who can expedite the processing of their clients applications. Accordingly, they request high fees for this special service, but fail to provide it.
--Misinformation fraud, in which a provider will typically provide inaccurate or false information to the immigrant concerning his or her eligibility for an adjustment of status under a particular law. In these cases, the immigrant is usually not aware that they have been a victim of fraud until they receive a letter of ineligibility from immigration authorities.
--Immigration affinity fraud, in which providers target immigrants belonging to their same ethnic or racial group. Accordingly, they seek to gain advantage over other providers by claiming to identify with the ethnic, racial, national origin or community-based affiliations of the immigrant group.
--Unauthorized practice of the law, in which individuals may not be licensed to practice law but present themselves as attorneys or immigration law experts capable of providing legal advice and services.