FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Department of Consumer Affairs
Consumer Affairs Releases New Tips for Immigrants to Protect Themselves from Fraud and Other Types of Scams
Consumer Affairs also Releases New Consumer Protection Tips for Older Adults and Women to Protect Themselves in the Marketplace and Workplace
NEW YORK, NY—The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), and Make the Road New York, as well as elected officials, advocacy groups, and legal service providers today took to the streets in Queens, the country’s most diverse county, during the morning commute to educate New Yorkers about immigration services fraud and to “PROTECT yourself, REPORT fraud, and SEEK help.” Teams at subway stations along the 7 line in Corona and Jackson Heights warned immigrant New Yorkers about the increase in immigration services scams, directed them to free, trusted resources for immigration assistance through City-supported legal services programs such as ActionNYC, the Immigrant Opportunity Initiative, Key to the City, NYCitizenship and the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, and armed them with DCA’s new consumer protection tips for immigrants. Illegal and predatory immigration assistance providers, who often brand themselves in Spanish-speaking communities as notarios públicos,prey on vulnerable New Yorkers’ fear by luring them with false promises of work authorization, green cards, or citizenship, in exchange for hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of their hard-earned dollars. In addition to new tips for immigrants, DCA also released new consumer protection tips for older adults and women, all of which are available in multiple languages.
“As many Americans face anxiety about our country’s future stance on immigration, there are unfortunately those who will look to prey on that fear,” said DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “Here in New York, one in three of us were born in another country and the City is committed to protecting all of us through education, enforcement, and free, trustworthy services. I urge anyone who has paid their hard earned money to an immigration service provider or notario público to provide advice on or prepare immigration documents, to file a complaint—either anonymously or knowing their information is safe with the City—by calling 311.”
“At this time when the uncertainty following the election can create fertile ground for fear and confusion among immigrant communities, it is ever more crucial for our communities to be working together to share clear information about immigration services. MOIA is proud to be part of this collaboration with our community and government partners and look forward to continuing this work to protect immigrant New Yorkers from fraudulent and unscrupulous immigration service providers,” said MOIA Commissioner Nisha Agarwal.
“In this difficult moment for immigrants in this country, we take action today to ensure that our community has the information it needs to protect itself,” said Make the Road New York Deputy Director Theo Oshiro. “All too often immigrants are taken advantage of by fraudsters as they seek a better life for their families. New York City has taken the lead to confront this problem and offer free, comprehensive legal screenings for immigrants. We are excited to help spread the message with DCA and MOIA about these services and ensure that our community is protected.”
“In recent weeks, immigrant communities have experienced intense fear and anxiety. New York has zero tolerance for anyone who would prey on that fear to defraud immigrants and their families,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. “We will use all the tools at our disposal to bring to justice those who commit fraud against our immigrant communities.”
“Immigration service fraud is an issue that we take very seriously, and the New York City Council is dedicated to protecting all New Yorkers—especially members of our immigrant community—who often struggle to receive the help they need. In the coming months, we will specifically offer workshops across the five boroughs to make sure that communities are educated and aware of the legitimate resources available to them,” said New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “I want to thank the Department of Consumer Affairs and the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs for creating the City’s ActionNYC Program and for always working to advocate for our city’s 3 million immigrants every day.”
“Immigration services fraud is a nefarious crime that preys upon people who are striving to establish themselves in a new country and who often don’t have a full understanding of their rights as residents of New York City,” said Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. “Initiatives like the day of action held today help to combat such fraud and protect Queens residents, nearly half of whom were born in a country other than the United States. All of those participating in today’s events deserve to be commended for looking out for the welfare of their fellow New Yorkers.”
“No New Yorker should be defrauded by immigration service providers, or any entity looking to take advantage of vulnerable individuals,” said Council Member Rafael Espinal, Chair of the City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs. “As the son of two Dominican immigrants, I am proud to join DCA, Make the Road, my colleagues in government, and fellow advocates in this educational campaign, which coincides with legislative action we are taking in the City Council, to raise awareness of these scams and protect New Yorkers. Given the great uncertainty and fear mongering we have been experiencing, we must do all we can to reject intolerance and abuse wherever we see it. New York will not accept the targeting of individuals or the operation of fraudulent enterprises that seek to exploit our families.”
“Immigration servicesfraud is far too common and harms vulnerable New Yorkers seeking immigration assistance. My constituents encounter fake lawyers, “10 year visa” scams, inflated fees, and predatory notarios publicos daily,” said Council Member Carlos Menchaca, Chair of the City Council Committee on Immigration. “Often, serious harm is done to their legitimate immigration cases in addition to the loss of money and time. Direct community outreach is an effective way to show immigrant communities how safe it is to report fraud and where to find legitimate services. DCA, MOIA and Make the Road are doing good work in communities and demonstrating New York City’s commitment to protecting immigrants.”
“Our city remains committed to help all New Yorkers continue to feel welcomed in their neighborhoods,” said Council Member Costa Constantinides. “Now more than ever, many are concerned about immigration status. Any harassment or predatory behavior will not be tolerated. We will continue to connect New Yorkers with trustworthy resources. I thank the Department of Consumer Affairs and the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs for leading the way on this important issue.”
“I caution all New Yorkers to be aware of and immediately report immigration services fraud,” said Council Member Daniel Dromm, sponsor of Intro. 746, a bill to update New York City’s local law governing immigration service providers. “Fraudulent service providers jeopardize their clients’ immigration cases and financial well-being. Many of these so-called service providers will demand hundreds or thousands of dollars to fill out the most basic paperwork. I urge all in need of quality immigration services to avail themselves of ActionNYC, which provides immigrant New Yorkers with the sound legal advice and access to City services they need in order to live happy and healthy lives.”
“New York is a city founded on the hard work of our immigrant communities,” said Council Member Mathieu Eugene. “We will not tolerate illegal immigration assistance providers who prey on our poorest residents. I applaud the work of Make the Road New York and our City agencies that is helping immigrants become better educated regarding their rights under the law. It is imperative that our city continues to serve as a safe haven and protect our immigrant communities when they feel threatened. The steps we are taking today help to solidify that purpose.”
“In light of these uncertain times, especially for our immigrant communities, we need to ensure that no one falls victim to illegal immigration services from notarios who are often not qualified to provide such services. My constituents have fallen victim to too many of these scams and I urge everyone to call 311 to report these incidents and inquire about ActionNYC, a free City-supported legal services program. I thank the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, Make the Road New York and my Council colleagues for standing together to protect immigrant families throughout New York City,” said Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.
“ActionNYC, combined with DCA’s new consumer protection tips, are free and imperative resources for immigrants in need of immigration services,” said Council Member Vincent J. Gentile. “I thank DCA, MOIA, and Make the Road New York for launching this initiative ensuring that hardworking immigrant New Yorkers have a safe and efficient option to receive the services they need and deserve.”
“Immigrant New Yorkers can often fall victim to fraudsters and scam artists looking to take advantage of their vulnerability. To prevent immigrants from being preyed upon, it is important that we remain proactive in letting the community know that there are multiple resources available for them and their families,” said Council Member Peter Koo. “Many thanks to the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and Make the Road for coming out in force today to make sure New York remains a land that welcomes immigrants with open arms.”
“I applaud DCA’s proactive initiative to inform residents about free, legitimate immigration services, thereby steering a very vulnerable segment of our population away from fraud and scams,” said Council Member Karen Koslowitz.
“New York City is home to 500,000 undocumented immigrants and our city must protect them, especially under the current political climate,” said Council Member Rory I. Lancman. “But certain providers take advantage of immigrants by offering pricey services. It’s crucial to make sure that no one falls prey to these fraudulent services—especially when there are so many free immigration services available to New Yorkers.”
“Unfortunately, immigrants, particularly undocumented ones, are always the target of unscrupulous individuals who prey on the most vulnerable,” said State Senator Jose Peralta. “They take advantage of them, trick them, scam them, especially now as we are in the midst of an anti-immigrant climate in the City and across the nation. Some of our immigrant, hard-working New Yorkers are scared because of what was said during this presidential campaign and after. I applaud these efforts from the Administration to protect them and offer them free assistance. I want to thank the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and all organizations which are leading these programs.”
“The post-election era has left immigrants feeling more vulnerable than ever, opening the door for scams that prey on their fears. My district is home to these communities and I hear their concerns every day; they don’t know if this will still be their home this time next year. Their desperation to remain with their families is being exploited by false promises, fake documents and scams that play on their urgency to resolve their immigration status. I’m proud to support the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and my good friends at Make the Road New York for hitting the streets to combat fraud in the most effective way: raising awareness,” said Assembly Member Francisco P. Moya.
“The Queens District Attorney’s Office, under the leadership of District Attorney Richard A. Brown, is committed to protecting the members of our community regardless of a person’s immigration status, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability,” said Carmencita N. Gutierrez, Director of the Queens District Attorney’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “Our office has successfully prosecuted many individuals who have preyed upon vulnerable members of our community, including people who have taken advantage of immigrants by charging for services that they are not licensed to offer. Our Office of Immigrant Affairs stands ready to assist all victims of immigration fraud and other crimes.”
“It is our mission at Catholic Migration Services to provide high quality legal representation to immigrants,” said Reverend Patrick Keating, Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Migration Services. “Over the past few years we have seen the devastation that notarios and lawyers have caused by filing fraudulent applications on behalf of immigrants. This has not only cost immigrants and their families thousands of dollars but has also led to innocent victims being placed in deportation proceedings. Catholic Migration Services is committed to standing with immigrant communities in this fight against fraud.”
“For more than two weeks, the fear, anxiety, and uncertainty among immigrant communities has both deepened and intensified in a way that has not been seen for more than a generation,” said Mario Russell, Director, Immigrant and Refugee Services, Catholic Charities NY. “Today, we stand with the families, children, and workers who have come to America to build their dreams and build their communities; we stand with New York City in its mission to protect and safeguard the rights of its newcomers; and we stand for creating a just and compassionate society by affirming the dignity of each person. In partnership with law enforcement, Catholic Charities will continue to fight back fraud against immigrants with high quality legal services and the New York State New Americans Hotline (1-800-566-7636). We are confident that in joining our work with the efforts and vigilance of our partners, immigrants will find some of the support and protection they need.”
Since 2014, DCA has received 71 complaints about immigration service providers, conducted 237 inspections, and issued a total of 195 violations. DCA inspectors look for certain signage, advertising, and contract requirements. Because many consumers are hesitant to file a complaint about immigration service providers, DCA receives most enforcement tips from outside organizations and about half result in violations. However, the industry is often transient, with providers relocating frequently, operating from upper-floor suites in nondescript buildings, and sometimes even in private homes. Though DCA’s role is focused primarily on enforcement of laws that require certain disclosures, the agency can refer cases to criminal law enforcement agencies or the offices of district attorneys, which are able to identify and prosecute immigration fraud.
To make an appointment for free, safe immigration help by trusted providers, call 311 and say “immigration help.” DCA also encourages anyone who sees a potentially fraudulent immigration service provider to tweet @NYCDCA a photo and the address of the business using #StopImmigrationFraud or #EnContraFraudeNotario.
DCA today released new consumer protection tips aimed at immigrants, older adults, and women, as each of these groups often faces unique challenges in the marketplace or the workplace. The tips for immigrants cover immigration service providers, employment agencies, finances, and tax preparation; the tips for older adults cover finances and common scams; and the tips for women cover employment agencies, finances, programs and services to build income, and shopping for goods and services. The tips were created in collaboration with the Commission on Gender Equity, Department of Aging, Department of Small Business Services, Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, and Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
The NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) protects and enhances the daily economic lives of New Yorkers to create thriving communities. DCA licenses more than 81,000 businesses in more than 50 industries and enforces key consumer protection, licensing, and workplace laws that apply to countless more. By supporting businesses through equitable enforcement and access to resources and by helping to resolve complaints, DCA protects the marketplace from predatory practices and strives to create a culture of compliance. Through its community outreach and the work of its offices of Financial Empowerment and Labor Policy & Standards, DCA empowers consumers and working families by providing the tools and resources they need to be educated consumers and to achieve financial health and work-life balance. DCA also conducts research and advocates for public policy that furthers its work to support New York City’s communities. For more information about DCA and its work, call 311 or visit DCA at nyc.gov/dca or on its social media sites, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
Immigration Assistance Service Providers are people or businesses that charge fees for any kind of immigration-related services. They are not lawyers. They do not have permission from the government to give immigration advice.
These providers are allowed to:
These providers are not allowed to:
In New York State, a notary public, or notario público, is not an attorney. A notary public cannot give legal advice, draft legal papers, or review documents for legality.
Never pay for blank government forms. Forms are available for free on the USCIS website uscis.gov. Providers do not have to give out free forms.
ActionNYC provides safe, free immigration legal screenings in your community, in your own language.
Visit nyc.gov/actionnyc or call 311 and say “ActionNYC.”
Call the New York State Immigration Hotline at 1-800-566-7636 or 1-212-419-3737 for information on free immigration advice or help.