When Stilwell & Slatton Immigration was first founded, one of our attorney’s names became associated with the word “immigrant” on the internet. Although this association is generally a positive development for an immigration attorney, an unintended consequence was that one of our attorneys also became the target of certain scams aimed at those seeking immigration help.
At one point, Victoria Slatton, a managing partner, received a threatening phone call stating that she had failed to appear at her court date and that she continued to be under federal investigation. Although she eventually learned that the phone number was associated with a notorious scammer, she naturally spent the first few hours after the initial call in a state of blind panic.
If you are an immigrant or have been targeted by a similar scam, please know that you are not alone. IRS scams are on the rise, they are relentless, and they can happen to anyone. Even as trained lawyers on the other side of the immigration arena, we were stunned by how convincing the phone call appeared and terrified at the thought of a federal investigation.
Even more worrisome is that these scammers targeted our firm because they assumed our attorneys were immigrants. They continually threatened Miss Slatton with deportation over the phone, and told her that if she didn’t pay a significant amount of money that day, her family would be put on a list for USCIS investigation. Of course, none of these accusations were true, but they certainly put the seriousness and sophistication of these scams into perspective. While these threats would be terrifying for anyone, they would be especially concerning for immigrants who are already concerned about USCIS procedures.
To help our clients and immigrants generally, our firm wanted to provide a myth and fact section to help combat this type of scam.
Myth: It’s not a scam if the call comes from your local area code.
Fact: International scammers can buy local area phone numbers, making it appear as though their calls are coming from nearby enforcement branches.
According to multiple warnings from the IRS fraud investigation branch, this practice of buying local area codes and posing as enforcement officers has become especially common in the past year. Another common practice is to buy area codes from DC with scammers claiming to be federal law enforcement. It’s important to remember that area codes do not bring legitimately to a call. If you receive a phone call of this nature, ask if you can hang up and dial the official number listed on the IRS or USCIS’s website. If the “officer” says that this is not an option, the phone call is a scam.
Myth: USCIS officials will call you if they need a payment to process your immigration claim.
Fact: USCIS officials will never threaten you or ask for payment over the phone or in an email.
According to a statement issued by USCIS in April, it is against agency policy to collect payments over the phone or email. A request for payment will always come through mail to either you or your immigration attorney. This policy is universal for all agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service. If any “government official” requests your credit/debit card number, bank account information, or money order, hang up immediately.
Myth: The IRS/USCIS has the authority to deport you immediately for missing a payment.
Fact: The IRS/USCIS will never threaten deportation over the phone if you do not pay an immediate owed sum.
Like most issues in the immigration system, the process of deportation moves slow and has plenty of built in checks and appeals. The IRS and USCIS have both specifically stated that they will not “demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.” Like all removal proceedings, USCIS must issue an official Notice to Appear and Deportation Order, a long process usually requiring a full trial and appeal before deportation is admissible.
Myth: If they have personal information about you, they are a legitimate enforcement agency.
Fact: Scammers have access to all kinds of personal information.
Even if they recite your birthday, residence, and even social security number, they are not necessarily a legitimate enforcement officer. The IRS has received reports of scammers gaining access to highly personal and private information indicating that they have either hacked several databases or certain information is being sold. If they have this information, it is likely that your identity has already been stolen, which should be taken very seriously. If this is the case, please refer to this guide and/or seek professional help to protect your bank accounts and credit card information.
If you are targeted by a scammer, remain calm and hang up. Do not give out any personal information, including basic identification. Any information disclosed could be used against you to steal additional information or hack into your accounts. Check to see if the phone number that called you has been reported as fake by googling the number, and do not call it back under any circumstances. If you have reason to believe you are being investigated by the IRS, you can check by calling 800-366-4484. Under no circumstances will an IRS agent tell you that you are not allowed to call an official number listed on a government website.
If you receive a fake call from USCIS, contact your immigration attorney immediately. If you owe payments to USCIS, they will have either mailed a statement to you or your attorney’s law office. If you are threatened with deportation, do not panic. You or your immigration attorney can check the legitimacy of the claim by:
- Making an InfoPass appointment at http://infopass.uscis.gov
- Using myUSCIS to find up-to-date information about your application; or
- Calling the National Customer Service Center at 800-375-5283 to ask if you need to do anything about your case or immigration status.
You always have the right to report the scam. If you receive a scam email or phone call, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at http://1.usa.gov/1suOHSS. If you are not sure if it is a scam, forward the suspicious email to the USCIS webmaster at firstname.lastname@example.org. USCIS will review the emails received and share with law enforcement agencies as appropriate.
If you have any additional questions or concerns about these scams, contact an attorney at Stilwell & Slatton Immigration by calling 202-333-2100 or visiting our website.