Most common scams targeting immigrant communities bared
SCAMMERS defraud members of the ethnic communities across the United States every day by selling worthless products and fake services for everything from immigration, housing and health, debt collection, jobs and education.
During the recent tax season, scams involving impostor IRS and US Department of Treasury officials experienced a spike. Consumers and potential victims are told that they owe back taxes, and are then threatened with the prospect of being arrested or being charged with a felony unless they pay-up immediately.
A lot of these scams now happen online and through mobile phones via calls from weird and unknown area codes to unsolicited text messages. From a legitimate looking but fake email from your primary bank asking you to change your password to yet another email sent by the company you use to send money to relatives back in the Philippines. A quick and cursory click later and you have given these con artists your bank account number and passwords.
New America Media (NAM) and The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) arranged a briefing with members of the community media and invited law enforcement officials, community advocates and consumers to discuss the types of fraud that are on the rise, what people can do to protect themselves and the importance of reporting these scams to the authorities.
“It is an epidemic and the perpetrators are targeting the most vulnerable in our communities,” said NAM executive director Sandy Close. “Information is the best defense for people not to be victimized. We’re all vulnerable to being scammed.”
Terrell McSweeny, FTC commissioner, said that a lot of scams and fraudulent activities are underreported, sometimes undetected. These scams range from impostor scams, debt collection, debt relief, mortgage modifications and student loans.
Due to a variety of reasons – ranging from fear or shame, or even their immigration status, people are reluctant to report these scams when they get victimized.
McSweeny encourages people who have been victimized by scammers to come out.
“You should tell your story, come out and report it. It is very challenging and very hard to talk about being defrauded but your story might help other people to avoid being defrauded and victimized as well,” she said.
Jane Azia, chief of the Bureau of Consumer Fraud and Protection under the New York Attorney General’s office, echoed this sentiment.
“People should not be embarrassed about being victimized as we’re all vulnerable. File a complaint if you believe you have been victimized,” she said.
She also warned people to be wary and always be on the lookout.
“Do not trust someone just because they are part of your community or they speak the same language,” Azia said. “Do not blindly trust, learn how to say no and don’t sign any contract easily.”
And for people who owe the Internal Revenue Service?
“If you owe the government money, they will send you a letter but they will not call you or threaten you with deportation,” she said.
The US Department of Treasury and IRS have posted warnings on their websites about phone sams by operators using their agencies’ names. Neither of them will contact consumers by phone to demand money or threaten legal action.
Next time you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from one of these agencies, demanding money or threatening legal action, do not engage in a conversation with the caller and hang up the phone.
According to the FTC, 10.8% of US adults are victimized by scams.
William Efron, FTC’s director for its Northeast Regional office, explained that FTC maintains a national database which includes all these fraud complaints.
In 2015, FTC received 1.2 million complaints about fraud and where victims lost an estimated $765 million.
For scams in New York region, top on the list is debt collection, with more than 25,000 New Yorkers filing complaints, which has led to the cracking down on these unlawful debt collectors who use abusive tactics.
Among the other scams New Yorkers reported are impostor scams, telephone and mobile services, banks and lenders, shop-at-home and catalog sales.
Camille Mackler, director of legal initiatives at New York Immigration Coalition, cited numerous reasons why members of the immigrant communities do not report their cases.
“For some, there is shame and fear in coming forward and for others, even if they want to, they don’t know where to go and they don’t see a benefit in reporting,” Mackler said. “One’s immigration status is not relevant in these cases, we just want to catch the perpetrators.”
For those who are harassed by debt collection agencies, Nancy Schindler, associate commissioner of Legal and Regulatory Compliance Division at the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, offers the following tip.
“Check (through DCA) if they are licensed. Debt collection agencies should be licensed by the DCA, along with second-hand auto dealers, employment agencies, immigration service providers, tax preparers,” Schindler said.
If they are not listed as licensed, you can report it directly to the DCA. And even if they are listed and you feel that they have gone out of bounds in harassing you, then report the case to the FTC.
Claire Rosenzweig, President and CEO, Better Business Bureau Serving Metropolitan New York, issued a warning to job-seekers to be wary of employment scams, where scam artist attempts to convince the victim that he must pay money as a requirement of employment.
“So far in 2016, nearly 10 percent of submissions to BBB’s online Scam Tracker tool filed by metro New Yorkers, claim t have been targeted by fake offers of employment,” said Rosenzweig. “Never pay money to an “employer” to get a job. Legitimate offers of employment do not require that you pay money for training classes, or anything else.”