By R. Mark Frey
Labor Day and the Minnesota State Fair (“The Great Minnesota Get-Together”) have now come to a close and, with that, we confront the end of summer. Classes have begun, temperatures have dipped ever so slightly, the days are running shorter, and small numbers of migratory waterfowl instinctively commence clustering together to take up their standard V-formations as they begin their treks south for warmer climes. Yes, it’s that time of the year and we’re getting just a wee glimpse of things to come as autumn approaches on the near horizon.
Recently, while reflecting on the summer and its much too short run, I was interrupted by an “official call” (robotic, at that) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) demanding I pay past due tax monies by calling a certain telephone number (not even toll-free) or else face legal action. This was not the first call over the course of the summer with, I suppose, four or five from scammers claiming IRS credentials, all the while seeking to relieve me of my money. I’ve tended to ignore these calls since the IRS itself has issued numerous warnings alerting people to these fraudulent schemes and advising them that the agency does not make telephone calls, but rather sends letters, about such matters. Unfortunately, even with these warnings, some fall prey to the swindles, believing they’ve been contacted by the IRS, and, in the process, lose hundreds, if not, thousands of their hard-earned dollars.
This isn’t a problem merely with calls from crooks claiming to represent the IRS. It also occurs with calls or emails from con artists claiming to be affiliated with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asking immigrants for a payment or private information. Don’t believe it! USCIS never asks for a payment over the telephone or by email, relying instead on letters written on official stationery to make a formal request for payment or additional information as needed. In fact, USCIS encourages individuals who have received bogus telephone calls or emails to contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) through the FTC’s website, http://1.usa.gov/1suOHSS, or by calling 877-382-4357 to file a complaint. (Additional information may be found at FTC’s website, https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0141-scams-against-immigrants.)
Immigrants should also consider contacting their state attorney general’s office to file a complaint or obtain further information about the deception. Minnesotans may contact the Minnesota Attorney General at:
Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson
445 Minnesota Street, Ste. 1400
St. Paul, MN 55101
Tel: (651) 296-3353 or (800) 657-3787
TTY: (651) 297-7206 or (800) 366-4812
But, that’s not all when it comes to immigration hustles. Consider the following and be sure to avoid them:
- Don’t rely on the services of a notario for legal advice. Notarios are not attorneys and cannot give legal advice in the United States. There are many cases of immigrants being scammed by notarios who simply take their money and give bad advice, even jeopardizing their immigration prospects in the United States.
- Never pay anyone for blank USCIS forms. The forms are available free of charge by downloading them directly off of the USCIS website located at www.uscis.gov. However, when submitting specific application forms to USCIS, filing fees (with checks made out to the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security) may be involved. Make sure to keep copies of anything submitted to USCIS.
- Never sign forms that are incomplete or contain false information. Nor, for that matter, ones you don’t understand.
- Be wary of any website insinuating it is an official U.S. government immigration website. There’s only one USCIS website and it’s located at www.uscis.gov.
Be cautious and skeptical. It’s in your best interest.
R. Mark Frey is a St. Paul, Minnesota attorney who has practiced immigration law exclusively for more than 25 years with an emphasis on asylum and other forms of humanitarian relief, family and marriage-based immigration, naturalization, removal defense, appeals, religious workers, and H-1B, L, and E-2 visas.