U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is warning the public of a new telephone scam targeting foreign-born immigrant applicants and petitioners. The scammers contact individuals in temporary status, and identify themselves as USCIS or other government officials. The callers often have some private information, and are very skilled at collecting more private information, and then using that information to lend credibility to their claim to be governmental officials. The callers use “Caller ID spoofing” to display a misleading phone number (often 911) in the recipient’s Caller ID, and then claim that due to problems with the recipient’s application or records, they must quickly pay a large sum of money to correct such errors or avoid severe penalties like deportation.

Recently, we were alerted to an H-1B visa applicant who was contacted and was told to provide $5,000 in order to avoid deportation. After paying this sum, the scammer again called her to further demand she provide an additional $20,000! Despite warnings that she should not talk to anybody else about this request, she nevertheless contacted her Human Resources department and learned that the call was a scam. We have learned that this is a common, yet quite sophisticated scam and many immigrants – many of whom are highly educated – have fallen victim to the pressure. While the immigration laws can be complex, and compliance is often counter-intuitive, the Government will NEVER request that money be sent to avoid unpleasant results.

Individuals who receive similar calls should immediately hang up and not provide any personal or payment information. If you are aware of any of your employees who have received similar calls or are a victim of this or a similar scam, please have them report it to the Federal Trade Commission at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/, or to the appropriate state or local police authority. In Ohio, they may contact the local police department or the Ohio Attorney General’s office at (800) 282-0515, or they may file a complaint online at http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Individuals-and-Families/Consumers/File-A-Complaint. If they reside in another state, they can visit www.uscis.gov/avoidscams for information on where to report scams in that state.

Please be aware that individuals who have questions or concerns about their immigration records or a pending application or petition should contact counsel. In the alternative, they can directly contact USCIS at the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283, or visit a local USCIS field office for information by making an InfoPass appointment at http://infopass.uscis.gov/.

The best defense against this scam is the security of knowing that the USCIS will never request payment to avoid deportation. We suggest that human resource departments distribute this blog post or a similar warning to foreign national employees to help educate potential victims to be aware of the potential scam.