Chances are a person you know — an employee, someone who works in your building, a neighbor perhaps — is navigating the process of getting a green card or work visa. Do them a favor and warn them about outfits that falsely claim an affiliation with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
In a case recently filed by the FTC, one operation allegedly posed as the U.S. government and then duped people into paying fees by claiming the money would cover processing by the USCIS for green card renewal, work visas, and applications for asylum. According to the FTC, the defendants set up websites replete with American flags, eagles, the Statute of Liberty and legit-sounding URLs, but then steered immigrants to a deceptive telemarketing operation. The companies allegedly paid to make sure their sites appeared at the top of immigration-related internet searches like "USCIS."
When people dialed the advertised toll-free number, an automated voice answered "Immigration Center." Callers were then transferred to employees who answered "USCIS or "U.S. Immigration Center," and identified themselves as "agents," "immigration officers," or "caseworkers."
And the deception didn’t stop there, says the FTC. Although the relevant forms are free, applicants have to pay processing fees to the legitimate USCIS office. What the defendants allegedly did in this case was sell people the free forms for the exact cost that USCIS charges for processing. Thus, according to the FTC, customers were left with the misimpression that the money they paid the defendants would cover the USCIS fee. Customers ended up paying for applications that were never processed because the official fee wasn’t paid. In other instances, customers were charged twice: once by the defendants and once by the government after the defendants forwarded their bank account information to the USCIS.
The FTC charged the defendants with misrepresenting that they were affiliated with the government, that they were authorized to provide immigration services, and that their fees would cover all costs associated with submitting documents to the USCIS. In addition, two of the defendants were charged with providing the others with the means and instrumentalities to further the illegal scheme.
Last week a federal judge in Nevada entered a temporary restraining order and asset freeze in the case.
The FTC's announcement of this case is also available in Spanish.