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Immigration Practice Group

As a Human Resources Manager or In-House Counsel, you may be aware that it is common for foreign nationals to do their own research on U.S. Visa Requirements, accessing government websites relating to visa procedures and requirements. While U.S. government websites relating to such requirements have vastly improved in recent years, operations posing as the U.S. government have also appeared.

Foreign nationals should be aware that The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported in a January 31 Press release that at its request, a a federal judge has shut down an operation that allegedly posed as the U.S. government, then duped consumers into paying fees ranging from $200 to $2,500 by claiming the fees would cover processing by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. The court froze the defendants’ assets and appointed a receiver to take over the business until the case is resolved. The FTC has asked the court to halt the business practices permanently and order the operation to repay its victims.

According to the FTC press release defendants Immigration Center and Immigration Forms and Publications, Inc., set up websites that mimic official government sites, and then used the fake sites to steer immigrants to their deceptive telemarketing operation. The websites depicted American eagles, the U.S. flag, and the Statue of Liberty and had URLs such as www.uscis-ins.us and www.usgovernmenthelpline.com. The sites directed consumers to call a toll-free number that an automated voice answered, “Immigration Center.” 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.” The sites also offered counseling and application forms. The counseling was done by telemarketers who did not meet legal requirements to provide immigration services, the FTC said.

Adding to the consumers’ confusion, the FTC alleged, the defendants charged fees for application forms that were the same amount as the government processing fees, leading them to believe the fees covered the cost of USCIS processing. 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 charged the defendants with violating federal law by misrepresenting: 1) that they were authorized to provide immigration and naturalization services; 2) that they were affiliated with the U.S. government; and 3) that the fees paid by consumers would cover all the costs associated with submitting immigration documents to the USCIS. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.

NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.

For more information, please click on the following link:  Federal Trade Commission

 

This publication is for general information only. It is not legal advice, and legal counsel should be contacted before any action is taken which might be influenced by this publication.

Established in 1925, Gunster Yoakley is one of Florida’s oldest and largest full-service law firms.  Its substantial and diversified practice serves an extensive client base of international, national and local businesses, institutions, local governments and prominent individuals.  The firm maintains a strong presence in Florida with offices in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Palm Beach, Stuart, Vero Beach, West Palm Beach, Jacksonville, and Tallahassee. Gunster Yoakley is home to more than 137 attorneys and 329 employees, providing counsel to clients through 10 practice groups including corporate, immigration, employment, technology and emerging companies, tax, banking and financial services,  real estate, land use and environmental, business litigation, and private wealth services.