BULLETIN (UPDATE): Now, A Web-Based ‘Immigration’ Scam Tied To A Telemarketing Scam, FTC Charges; Fraudsters Posed As U.S. Government, Agency Says; 3 People Arrested

BULLETIN: (UPDATED 3 P.M. ET (U.S.A.) The first experience some people seeking to become U.S. citizens had was to be duped by Americans, the Federal Trade Commission has alleged. After a probe involving multiple government agencies, the FTC has gone to federal court in Nevada to block what it described as an “immigration scam.”

3 P.M. UPDATE: The alleged scheme also resulted in three arrests on criminal charges of Obtaining Money Under False Pretenses in the Course of a Technological Crime, six counts of Conspiracy and two counts of Criminal Racketeering.

Charged criminally by the office of Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto were Charles Doucette, Deborah Stilson and Cybil Duran Berti, authorities said.

The scammers posed as government agencies, used the symbols and language of government, used websites that mimicked government sites, used the American flag, the Statue of Liberty and answered phones by using the acronym of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, the FTC alleged.

Charged in the case were companies known as “Immigration Center,”  a nonprofit based in Colorado, and “Immigration Forms and Publications” of Missouri.

A federal judge has frozen the assets of the companies and co-defendants, including Charles Doucette;  Deborah Stilson, also known as Deborah Malmstrom; Alfred Boyce; Thomas Strawbridge;  Robin Meredith; Thomas Laurence; and Elizabeth Meredith.

Domains used by the fraudsters included www.uscis-ins.us and www.usgovernmenthelpline.com, the FTC said. The phrase “uscis-helpline” also was used in a domain name, the agency added.

“The sites directed consumers to call a toll-free number that an automated voice answered, ‘Immigration Center,'” the FTC charged. “Consumers were then transferred to a live person who answered, ‘USCIS’ or ‘U.S. Immigration Center,’ and identified him or herself as an ‘agent,’ ‘immigration officer,’ or ‘caseworker.'”

Consumers were duped into paying fees of up to $2,500, the FTC said, alleging that telemarketers were illegally conducting business by posing as immigration counselors.

“[T]he defendants charged fees for application forms that were the same amount as the government processing fees, leading [customers] to believe the fees covered the cost of USCIS processing,” the FTC said. “Some consumers who applied for the forms were told to send checks by overnight mail to cover the costs. Others paid with checks or money orders on delivery.

“Consumers ended up paying for applications that were never processed by the USCIS for failure to pay the official processing fee, or, in some cases, they were charged twice, once by the defendants and once by the government after the defendant forwarded their bank account information to USCIS,” the FTC said.

Assisting in the case were the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services; Immigration and Customs Enforcement; the Office of the Attorney General of Colorado; the Office of the Attorney General of Missouri; the Office of the Attorney General of Nevada; the Pettis County, Mo., Sheriff’s Office; the Department of Justice and Executive Office for Immigration Review; and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

“These egregious actions by scammers who impersonate Federal employees and prey on innocent people who are trying to work within the system to achieve citizenship is particularly distressing,” said Cortez Masto.

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2 Responses to “BULLETIN (UPDATE): Now, A Web-Based ‘Immigration’ Scam Tied To A Telemarketing Scam, FTC Charges; Fraudsters Posed As U.S. Government, Agency Says; 3 People Arrested”

  1. Admin test.

  2. Story from The Denver Post in 2009:

    The business, called the Immigration Center, allegedly charged from $300 to $700 for immigration forms that are free from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

    The Colorado AG’s office alleged that the Colorado Springs-based Immigration Center either posed as a government agency or claimed an affiliation with a government agency.