Everything Is Illuminated
Earlier this week, more than 50 legal services practitioners joined together with staff from the FTC, USCIS, DOJ, the CFTC, the CFPB, and the SEC to talk about scams against the immigrant community – present and future.
The results of the half-day forum were illuminating for all of us. We found out about all sorts of creative scams targeting immigrants – more about that in a minute. But, just as important, we heard about the hard work and creative solutions that advocates are undertaking to help protect immigrant communities.
Here’s a snapshot of some conversations:
- Ayuda, a DC non-profit, has created Project END (Eradicating Notario Deceit), to both represent victims of notario scams and serve as a model for other regions working on the same issue.
- Door-to-door sales and telemarketing scams are alive and well, according to Tom Domonoske, Of Counsel to the Legal Aid Justice Center. He reported seeing scams selling products to make your drinking water safe, helping you learn English, or guaranteeing your child will do better in school. And, once immigrants are signed up to payment plans, abusive debt collection follows: threatening immigration status and even jail time.
- The soon-to-be-implemented Health Insurance Marketplace, part of the Affordable Care Act, might present challenges to immigrants who have never before been exposed to the U.S. insurance system. Dan Choi of the Legal Aid Justice Center highlighted possible threats like affinity fraud, unfair debt collection practices for medical debt, and unlicensed practice of medicine.
- Speaking of debt collection, the Legal Aid Society of DC’s Consumer Unit has a unique program, providing same-day representation to people in DC court. Ashley Waddell Tingstad, a Skadden Fellow with the Consumer Unit, says this is particularly important to immigrants who can show they don’t owe the debt but may have a hard time communicating their defense.
- Experience tells us that scammers follow the headlines – and immigration reform is certainly in the headlines of late. Michelle Sardone of CLINIC warned that no bill has been passed yet, but if passed, advocates should warn their clients about scams that lure immigrants with the promise of helping them complete confusing documentation requirements. As Cori Alonso-Yoder of Ayuda said, “Confusion is a crook’s best friend.”
To help fight fraud in immigrant communities, we have created a toolkit with resources for advocates and individuals, alike: consumer.gov/immigranthelp. Please pass it along to anyone you know who might find it helpful.