- By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City — Speaking in her native tongue Spanish, Nina Solis told members of the ethnic press yesterday how she and her family were scammed by an immigration lawyer whom they hired for their documentation requirements. For ten years, she said through English interpreter Francisca Montana, that they have been paying the lawyer for his services only to be told after spending thousands of dollars that their status can only be remedied by an immigration law which they will have to wait for indefinitely.
Today, Solis and her family’s immigration status is in limbo after spending more than $15,000 of hard-earned money for a fraudulent service. “He just kept asking for money and promised that we have hope when there was none,” she said sadly.
Unfortunately, according to Camille Mackler of the Legal Initiatives of the New York Immigration Coalition, there is no law in the city that would hasten the documentation of immigrants who have been victims of fraud. The best way she said, was really to be informed and tap services that are free. “One has to file a complaint in order to protect and educate the community about fraud,” she explained.
Nina is not alone in her predicament of a Green Card scam. Thousands of immigrants in the communities are scammed at one time or another but are constrained by fear or lack of time to go through the process of filing a complaint. More than $1 billion were lost to scams nationwide in 2015 alone. In response to this alarming trend, government agencies here have stepped up the drive to curb scammers in the city by tapping ethnic groups to participate in the information and education of their communities.
People are defrauded of hundreds of millions of dollars by buying fake and worthless products and services such as immigration, housing, health, debt collection, jobs and education.
Terrrell McSweeney, commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission, said that regardless of immigration status, one can file a complaint of fraud. “Everything will be held in confidence as we enforce the law. You just need to come out so that government can begin to do something about it,” she assured.
New America Media (NAM) executive director Sandy Close underscored the need to tap ethnic media in educating and informing people in the community. “Although we are drowning in information, but the gap is wide in terms of the traditional role of media as critical bridge between government and the community. We would like to tap in the ethnic media because of that gap,” she rationalized.
NAM news director Anthony Advincula said that media who advertise fraudulent services and products are also liable and have the responsibility to check on their advertisers.
Because victims of fraud have to deal with shame and fear, William Efron, director of FTC Northeast Regional Office, emphasized education and information as the most important tools in curbing fraud. Last year, the FTC was able to crack down on scammers of debt collection in Buffalo because of the magnitude of complaints filed.
The FTC said that in New York, the top two scams were on debt collection and work-at-home scams. “They ask you to pay up from $99 to $399 but usually do not receive any money at all as payment for what you do,” Efron said.
The community conversation was organized by NAM and participated by the Federal Trade Commission, the NY Attorney General’s Office, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs and New York Immigration Coalition at the US Custom House on June 7. The NAM is the country’s largest network of ethnic news organizations founded by the Pacific News Service in 1996.
Jane Azia, chief of the Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection, said that although government is not as successful as getting your money back, education is important. “Government will not call you to tell you to pay your debt. You will get a letter from government and are given time to respond,” she stressed, citing for instance an impostor scam of the IRS. (Top photo is FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeney)