The wrong help can hurt | avoid immigration scams

FRESNO, California

Hundreds come through these offices each week with hopes of obtaining legal residency. Even while they are standing in line here, many undocumented immigrants are approached by people who claim they can help them get through the process. But too often, these immigrants fall victim to scammers.

For the first time, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Attorney and the Federal Trade Commission are teaming up to crack down on scammers who seek out vulnerable immigrants to prey upon.

"This is a consumer fraud issue which affects needy and desperate families."

Isabel Machado is a local immigration attorney. Every day she sees immigrants fall into scams that take what little money they earn and offer promises they'll never be able to deliver.

Machado said, "So they go ahead and innocently pay not knowing that they're going to file an application on their behalf that they don't qualify to file and ultimately end up in deportation proceedings as a result of that."

The local U.S. attorney says although some immigrants may be hesitant to come forward, they will not be targeted for tips they provide about agencies or individuals who are scammers. He says many immigrants are skeptical about coming forward because of their legal status and concerns that information they provide may lead to deportation.

U.S. Attorney, Ben Wagner said, "We have an interest in defeating the bad guy and that is our biggest issue interest here, not deporting the people who are going to be our victims and our witnesses, in the course of the prosecution."

Department of homeland security representatives say the central valley is an ideal place to roll out the pilot program because of the large farm labor population. Ice representatives say issues will be investigated as clusters of complaints come in.

Susan Curda with the Department of Homeland Security said, "Not every complaint we get will be investigated in and of itself. What we will look at however is when we get those complaints, going in and looking at is their other complaints about the same organization."

These law enforcement agencies plan to prosecute scammers both criminally and civilly. Right now the federal agencies are working to educate immigrants about the new enforcement. The federal trade commission has also developed a number to report scams.

To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). Like the FTC on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

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