Q: I hear that there are a number of scams being practiced on immigrants in the US. How can they protect themselves?

A: There are indeed many immigration scams, with new ones appearing all the time. One that came to our attention involves a telephone call to an immigrant from someone claiming to be from US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The caller claims that there is some discrepancy in the agency’s information on the immigrant, and that there is a penalty that must be paid to clear it up. Next – you guessed it – the caller instructs the immigrant to wire money to an address provided. Real US immigration officers will never ask for money over the telephone, nor will they seek personal financial information such as bank account or Social Security numbers, which can be used in identity theft.

The general principle to remember with regard to telephone scams is that one never should give out sensitive information or send money to anyone. This applies, by the way, to all unsolicited telephone calls, emails, and other communications, whether they relate to immigration, sales offers, investment opportunities, claims that relatives need money in an emergency, and so on.
It also is important for those seeking immigration benefits to be very careful in dealing with anyone offering application support online. Aside from outright fraud, there also is a large risk that web sites will contain outdated or incorrect advice. And beware in particular those web sites that are dressed up to look like official government sites, using symbols such as the seal of the United States, the US flag, photos of President Obama, etc. But it is easy to recognize authentic official web sites: they always end in the suffix .gov, never .com, .net, etc.

Note also that all government application forms are free. USCIS forms can be downloaded from www.uscis.gov. Never pay anyone for copies of blank forms. And never pay application fees to third parties; these fees are always paid directly to the government in accordance with instructions on the application forms.

The safest course for prospective applicants is to visit one of our weekly legal clinics for a free, confidential consultation with an immigration lawyer concerning any applications that you are planning to file.

Disclaimer: These articles are published to inform generally, not to advise in individual cases. Immigration law is always subject to change. US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the US Department of State frequently amend regulations and alter processing and filing procedures. For legal advice seek the assistance of IIIC immigration legal staff.