Feds Crack Down on Immigration Scams

Immigration paperworkA husband and wife team who victimized Central American immigrants have been put out of business by the Federal Trade Commission, which accused the duo of misrepresenting their right to provide authorized immigration services.

At the request of the FTC, a federal judge shuttered Loma International Business Group Inc. of Baltimore, which was operated by Manuel and Lola Alban.

According to the FTC's complaint, the Albans exploited Spanish-speaking immigrants from El Salvador and Honduras, charging them fees for consultations in order to prepare and file immigration forms -- services the pair wasn't authorized to perform.Although the Albans collectively charged their customers tens of thousands of dollars, most of the applications they filed were turned down by U.S. authorities, the FTC said in its complaint.

"Scammers often try to take advantage of immigrants by claiming to be affiliated with government immigration agencies, posing as immigration lawyers or pretending to provide legitimate immigration-related services," FTC Commissioner Edith Ramirez said today at a press conference announcing the case along with other federal, state and local actions. "What's even more appalling is that they target people who are among the most vulnerable."

Federal regulations allow only attorneys and authorized providers to accept money in exchange for selecting, preparing, and filing immigration forms on someone else's behalf. But the Albans were never authorized to provide immigration services, and more than half the immigration applications they filed were rejected by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The court terminated the Albans' "deceptive business practices," froze their assets and appointed a monitor to ensure the defendants stop offering unauthorized immigration services, preserve and return immigration documents to their customers, and refer any interested consumers to authorized immigration service providers.

The FTC Iawsuit seeks a permanent injunction against the Albans to prevent them from victimizing consumers with deceptive practices in the future. The FTC is also demanding the return of all consumers' original documents and filings, as well as refunds for all customers.

The FTC also cited another recent immigration scam it targeted in late January. As Consumer Ally reported, the case involved an elaborate scheme, complete with counterfeit websites that fooled prospective immigrants into paying hundreds of dollars in fees to a phony U.S. government agency. To help counteract immigration scams, the FTC has developed the following initiatives:

Consumer Education Initiative
Immigrants with limited English language skills are often targeted by scammers calling themselves "immigration consultants" or "notarios," who frequently masquerade as attorneys. In an effort to protect consumers from these unauthorized immigration services providers and other con artists looking to fleece immigrants, the FTC announced the development of educational materials in English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean.

The materials explain how to avoid and report immigration services fraud, as well as offer tips on finding legitimate no-cost or low-cost immigration advice from authorized providers. As part of its campaign, the FTC also is rolling out six new radio public service announcements in English, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese that warn about illegal notarios and immigration consultants, and direct consumers to the materials on the FTC's website.

FTC Enhances Complaint Database
In order to increase authorities' ability to identity and quash immigration scams, federal immigration authorities will begin forwarding immigration-related consumer complaints to the FTC. This move makes it possible for federal, state and local authorities to access complaints the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services refers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement that the ICE decides not to pursue.

These complaints, together with those received from the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the American Bar Association and from consumers, will be added to the FTC's secure online complaint database, making it the principal repository for immigration services complaints. The database will also be made available to thousands of other law enforcement agencies worldwide.
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