SAN DIEGO, CA -August 17, 2011
The Better Business Bureau serving San Diego and Imperial Counties (BBB) is warning consumers to beware of websites and businesses claiming to provide assistance with immigration services. The BBB recently became aware of an increase in operations claiming to provide passport, citizenship and immigration services, in particular the website www.usaimmigrationsupport.com.
In July alone, the BBB received 32 complaints filed by consumers which eclipses all other months this year. The BBB has a total of 46 complaints since January 2011 when consumers began contacting the BBB in earnest with their concerns. In 24 of those complaints, consumers allege US Immigration Organization, the business that operates the website www.usaimmigrationsupport.com, misrepresented itself as a government entity. The BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois has turned this information over to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office for their review due to the increasing number of complaints being received.
“Immigrants who may speak little to no English can easily fall prey to unscrupulous businesses” said Sheryl Bilbrey, president, & CEO of the San Diego BBB. “Businesses are willing to take advantage of anything from a language barrier to someone who is short on time, and scam innocent people out of their money.”
“Consumers have spent anywhere from $75 to hundreds of dollars on these services, thinking they were receiving official assistance with their passport, visa, and naturalization applications”, Bilbrey noted. “In return, they received only the applications that are free and easily accessible through the federal government.
"It is very important for people to fully read and understand any website and its disclaimers before doing businesses on it," the BBB president stated. "This is particularly necessary when a person is seeking assistance involving personal identification or government programs. There are operations whose intent is to deceive people into thinking the business is something it is not, so people send money and the business also gains access to information about their identities.
Evelyn Riddick of Oceanside, CA, found US Immigration Organization during a search online. She says, “I submitted a form for passport renewal (DS-11) and the fee was 149.00 dollars. I submitted all my personal information in these forms and in return I expected to have an expedited passport. I received an email with my application saying that it was complete and to proceed to the post office for verification of my identity. Upon arriving at the post office the clerk advised me that there is no such thing as filing online and that I would have to pay the fee all over again. My concern is not only the fact that I paid 149 dollars but that I submitted my entire personal profile.”
In the wake of similar activities around the country, the Federal Trade Commission has created multi-lingual educational materials for consumers. These tools can help educate consumers to avoid immigration scams and provide the means to file FTC complaints and report suspected scams or fraud.
The BBB offers tips to individuals looking to obtain legal status in the U.S. while avoiding common scams:
Never sign blank documents that may contain inaccurate information
Always retain your original documents and only provide photocopies if necessary.
Do not make online payments or send money to someone who is not a licensed attorney.
Make copies of every document you prepare, submit and keep for your own records.
Request a receipt as proof of payment.
Check the California Bar Association for licensed attorneys who provide immigration services.
For more advice on fighting fraud and finding businesses and organizations you can trust, visit www.bbb.org
The non-profit organization Better Business Bureau of San Diego and Imperial Counties opened in 1921, and is San Diego’s largest county-wide business membership organization with more than 6,300 accredited businesses and charities. The BBB promotes business ethics through voluntary self-regulation, consumer and business education, and helps consumers with free pre purchase information and consumer protection advice, including business reviews on more than 101,000 local companies. Before buying decisions are made, consumers are encouraged to phone the BBB's free 24 hour Consumer Helpline at (858) 496 2131 or (800) 600 7050, or visit the website at bbb.org, to obtain free pre-purchase information and a list of BBB accredited businesses by type of industry.
Public Relation and Marketing Coordinator
Better Business Bureau, San Diego