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Job scams. Affinity fraud. Bogus – and dangerous – dietary supplements. Notario fraud. Government imposter scams.
These are just a few of the issues facing consumers in California’s immigrant community – and they’re the same issues the FTC is seeing nationwide. We knew from our last Fraud Survey that many consumer scams impact Latinos and African-Americans disproportionately. What our data did not tell us is how immigrants fare, so we went straight to the source to try learn about the marketplace in immigrant communities.
Just last month, dozens of attorneys, service providers, consumer advocates, academics and government officials gathered at the UC Berkeley Law School. The discussion was about scams affecting immigrants and, more importantly, how the government, legal services, and other non-profit groups can work together to help protect immigrants from fraud. The event – part of the FTC’s ongoing Legal Services Collaboration – was co-sponsored by the FTC and the East Bay Community Law Center.
Over the course of the day, law enforcers and community-based advocates swapped stories on successful partnerships, noting instances when a legal services advocate identified and reported a nasty fraud and law enforcement agencies took on the case to protect the public. Attendees also noted the value of information flowing the other way – when government has useful information or educational materials but needs community-based organizations to get the information into the hands of people who need it most.
“This was a remarkable coming together of government officials at the federal, state and local levels with consumer advocates, community organizations, students, and others,” said Ted Mermin, senior adviser to the East Bay Community Law Center and lecturer at the law school. “And what we realized was that everyone in the room is working for the same thing: to protect our country’s newest residents from fraud, and to make sure that the marketplace offers immigrants opportunity, not financial calamity.”
Here are a few takeaways from the day:
- Notario fraud and affinity fraud are closely linked. Many immigrants trust people in their own community – including local notarios who offer one-stop shops for immigration advice and other kinds of “help.”
- Immigrants are confronted with aggressive marketing for dangerous dietary supplements, including some containing pharmaceuticals or chemicals with known safety risks. Janet McDonald of the Food and Drug Administration noted that the FDA is working to keep these products off the market and to inform immigrant consumers of the risks involved.
- Scams against immigrant consumers are also often crimes. Larry Blazer of the Alameda County DA’s office reminded the crowd that consumer fraud is not just a civil matter – and suggested that victims and their advocates bring these kinds of theft cases to the attention of their DA’s office.
And that last point might be one of the most important points of the day: Please. Report. Scams. All attendees, whether NGO or academic or government, agreed that a victim’s immigration status had no bearing on whether consumer fraud should be permitted. It shouldn't. Period.
“The consensus in the room was clear,” Mermin said. “All consumers – all of us – should be protected. No one who is defrauded should have to suffer in silence.”
We at the FTC agree. We want to hear about the scams you’re seeing, and we want to put a stop to them.