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Dialing in On Immigration Scams

Every so often, I receive an e-mail in my inbox from a supposed prospective overseas client requesting local legal counsel to assist with resolving a contract dispute. The e-mail's author usually claims to be a representative of a company and provides specific instructions and contact information which seem real. But unless the attorney who receives such an e-mail has been living under a rock for the past 15 years, he or she would instantly recognize one of these e-mails as a scam targeting lawyers. The author is a fraudster, not a legitimate businessperson, and neither the contract nor the dispute is ever real.

The scammer's modus operandi, as it has been explained to me, is to have the deceived attorney negotiate a settlement of the contract dispute, place a bogus settlement check into the attorney's trust account, and forward the "settlement proceeds" to the presumed client. However, by the time the attorney has been notified by his or her financial institution that the settlement check did not clear, the thief has run off with the loot and left the attorney holding the bag. This is how the stratagem works in theory. I doubt many attorneys fall for it anymore, much less reply to these shameless e-mail scams.

Of course, attorneys are not the only targets of scams these days. Recently, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) warned the public of a telephone scam aimed at customers of USCIS. Customers have been receiving telephone calls from individuals posing as employees or representatives of USCIS. The scammer informs the customer that there is an issue with his or her immigration records, requests the customer's personal information, and demands payment to fix the supposed problem.

The calls seem legitimate. The customer's Caller ID displays a number which appears to identify USCIS as the caller. But the call is bogus. The call never originated from USCIS. In fact, USCIS advises that it never calls its customers to request their personal or financial information. The ruse is the latest scam orchestrated by unscrupulous individuals who employ technological trickery, in this case "Caller ID spoofing," to exploit a vulnerable immigrant population.

USCIS urges customers receiving such telephone calls to say "No, thank you" and hang up immediately. USCIS further reminds that nobody should ever give out their personal or financial information over the telephone to anyone claiming to be a USCIS official. Reports of these telephone scams can be made to the Federal Trade Commission at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/, or to the victim's state law enforcement agency.

Timothy D. Widman is a San Jose Immigration Attorney and the owner of the Law Office of Timothy D. Widman.

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