Avoid Immigration Scams in the US

In pre-departure cross culture training programs, we talk to prospective business travelers to the U.S. about immigration scams; how to avoid being scammed and what to do about it. 

Note that all advice in this blog is not to be substituted for legal advice. If you need immigration legal assistance in the U.S. get in touch with a bona-fide immigration attorney. For career professionals, contact your human resources representative in your company or if you are a student, contact your International Student Adviser. 

In this post, I will share with you tips on handling these calls, case studies of actual calls I have heard about, and videos educating us more on various U.S. immigration scams or concerns you should be aware of. 

Tips On Handling Immigration – Related Scam Calls or Contacts

General Tips:
  • Immigration officers, police officers and other representatives will NOT call your house to ask you for money. 
  • Avoid all unauthorized cash transactions. Do not meet anyone in banks, convenience stores, gas stations or drug stores in the U.S. to hand over money. 
  • Do NOT give your personal immigration details, ID (passport or visa numbers, social security numbers, US driver license numbers, bank account numbers, etc.) through unofficial channels. Immigration website and email IDs end with .gov (see video below for more information). 
  • Immigration officers will not contact you at home, on your cell phone/mobile, through text messages, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, etc. 
  • Avoid talking about your immigration status in public. 
  • Do not share images of your passport or visa on social media or through email / forwarded messages / WhatsApp. 
  • Never sign immigration forms that are blank. Read all the information filled in the form before signing it. 
  • Always keep copies of forms you submit. 
  • Don’t let anyone keep your important documents. Scammers often demand money as ransom to give those documents back. 
  • More tips on avoiding being scammed at the Federal Trade Commission site.

Avoid Engaging in Scam Calls or Contacts
  • In India it is common to answer any call without knowing the origin of the number or who exactly is calling. It is also common to take calls on the run without maybe really paying full attention to who one is speaking with. This can cause a situation where the call starts out quite innocently then quickly turns serious.
  • Try to avoid answering calls in the U.S. from unknown numbers.  Registered U.S. phone numbers should render on your cell or mobile with the 10 digit number and a name above it. If it says ‘Unknown’ or doesn’t have a name attached to the phone number, it is wise not to answer such calls. 
  • There are cases where 1-800 phone numbers that look like legitimate calls from the US immigration service are fraud calls. See the Barclay Damon Immigration site for more information. 
  • Program your family’s, friend’s and US colleagues numbers into your phone with their name. This way when any of these people call you, you can see their name immediately come up on your phone’s caller ID. 
  • Missed calls. In India it is common for someone to give you a missed call you and you may call them back even if you don’t know who they are. Avoid this habit in the U.S. Also keep in mind Americans do not know the concept of missed call (at least not the same way it is used in India). 
  • Likewise, if you use Whatsapp, SMS, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media or text based messaging software do not engage in text chats, instant messaging interactions or voice calls with unknown agents or even friends where sensitive immigration visa details and/or US ID information (such as social security, ATM card numbers, credit card numbers) are exchanged. Use only official channels to connect with immigration professionals.

What to do if you get a scam call?
  • If anyone claims to be calling you from USCIS, immigration, the local police or border control about your immigration status, hang up the phone.
  • If possible note down any phone number/name that comes up on your caller ID. (Though they will mask their actual number/name, note whatever you can.)
  • Report this to your HR representative at your company or whomever is handling your immigration case. When possible, report it to the police, as well. Another place to report is to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov (or call 1-877-382-4357). (Information on reporting taken from this page.)
  • Warn your friends that a scam call has happened to you and be on alert to not talk to such people.

Case Studies – Identifying a Scam Call

Do you know anyone who has actually got a scam call?

I have met a few people who have personally got these calls, and also a few people who knew someone who got these calls. Hearing about these calls and then actually getting these calls are two totally different experiences. When we hear about these kinds of calls, many of us think, ‘Oh, this won’t happen to me! If I ever get a call like this, I won’t even talk to that person!” But, just think about our own phone answering behavior. When answering a mobile, we may be in a rush, we may be doing this while driving (do keep in mind talking on the phone while driving is a punishable offense in the U.S. and fined heavily), watching TV or even in business meetings. Basically, when we answer the call, we aren’t giving our full attention. So, we may only give our full attention after we “understand” the gravity of the call or hearing the assumed name/title/position of the person calling us. In such scam calls, this is too late to understand this as we will be sucked in to the call. The scammer has us where they want us. So, it’s best to avoid answering calls from numbers we don’t know or if we must answer these calls, assure we can give our full attention at the start to cut them off if he or she is indeed a scammer calling us.

Immigration Scam Call: Case Study 1 – Good Outcome
An Indian in the US answered their mobile. The call was an unknown number. The person calling introduced themselves as being from the local police station. The person answering the call was paying attention and talking to the “police officer.” After five minutes this officer asked the person to meet them at a local store to pay him a few hundred U.S. dollars to rectify their visa processing costs. The person from India knew they did not owe any money and got suspicious. The person asked the ‘police officer’ to be on hold. The person from India happened to have a room mate and told his room mate about this call. The roommate was aware of these scam calls and told them to disconnect the call without any further discussion. They reported this call to their HR representative. 

Immigration Scam Call: Case Study 2 – Not a Good Outcome
An Indian from a prominent company came to work in the U.S. for a few months. This Indian career professional was on a work visa sponsored by their company. This person also came to the U.S. alone and did not live in a place with other Indians. He was also not aware of these scams. One day he received a call. He talked to the person. In the first call the person did not ask for money, but built a rapport on the call. The person called a few weeks later, asking the Indian H1B holder to meet him at a Walgreens (drug store/pharmacy) to give him a few hundred dollars for some visa processing. The person from India met the man at Walgreens, took money out of his bank account and paid the man in cash. Like this, these unofficial money transactions at various locations (gas stations, grocery stores, banks, etc.) continued for several weeks, until the person from India was scammed out of US$10,000. Somehow, eventually he opened up and talked to someone about this, and stopped handing over the money.

Video Tutorials and Information About Immigration Scams

Immigration Scams: What to Know from the USCIS
The USCIS – the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services is the official government sponsored agency that all immigration matters are directed through. Their website, email IDs, and online interactions end with dot gov. See their website at: https://www.uscis.gov.

Note, also in this video, they speak about "Notario" or "Notario Publico.” While these scams may be targeting Hispanics more than Indians, keep in mind that notaries in the U.S. do not provide legal advice. In India, notaries tend to be a lawyer that also acts as a notary. Often official documents are signed on stamp or bonded paper in India. This is not the case in the US. In the U.S. notaries are found in the HR offices of most companies or your bank. In the U.S. notaries are typically free, as well. Do keep in mind that laminated documents cannot be notarized in the U.S. 

Immigration Scams: How to Protect Yourself from Jessica Dominguez TV

Highlights or topics of discussion:
  • Immigration scams over social media
  • Text messages with request to return calls that sound official. While this video is geared more toward Hispanics in the U.S. similar scams could happen to anyone regardless of country of origin. As noted in the video:

    “Immigration officers will not pick up the phone and ask you to send money and threaten you with deportation. That is not how it works.”

  • Forms – USCIS forms are free - found online here. Do not pay anyone for filling out these forms. More importantly, do not sign blank forms. Some are charging for forms such as N-400. This and other forms are completely free for download from the USCIS site.
  • Books – Scammers will request you to buy special books to get quicker immigration processing.

While this video may stress elements for the Hispanic community, similar concerns are in the U.S. for people from India (and other countries) as well. These scams can target anyone whether on a work (H1B, H4, L1, L2, B1, B2 types), spousal, or student visa (F1, J1, M1 visa types).  (See more visa types here.) 

We want you to be safe. This post has attempted to cover some of the common immigration scams in the U.S. or in relation to U.S. visa types, how to avoid the scams and what to do if it happens to you. As noted in the start of this post, this post offers guidelines and is not intended to act in place of legal advice from a certified U.S. immigration attorney. If you need help or guidance on how to get bona fide legal advice, see the USCIS website

Feel free to share your experiences or feedback in the comments section below. 

Adapting to the U.S. as an Indian Student

“Life is about making compromises to achieve your goals and dreams.”  

This was expressed to me by an international student from India in the U.S. who had been struggling for months trying to balance her cultural identity with Americanizing herself. 

After interacting with, mentoring and coaching many overseas students in the U.S., I would like to share some of their insights that may also help you overcome the culture shock and confusion with adjusting to the American culture. 

Realities of Life Away From Home 
Students I met at SUNY Buffalo.
When we live away from home, and specifically when we move abroad we are confronted daily with new things that challenge everything that we have already been socialized to believe is true. A way of approaching professors in India suddenly doesn’t have the same outcome when done abroad. The approach to studying and getting good grades in India could result in failing grades abroad. Finding ways to spend time, have hobbies, create friendships that felt like second nature in India will take on a new meaning abroad. 

Of course, change is one reason people want to study abroad. It’s exciting to experience another culture and country. Family and friends; some of which have lived in those countries have so many awesome stories that fill us with wonder, inspiration and excitement. We are eager to experience the same. We hear about all the good things and the exciting things – but we often don’t hear about the challenges. One of the biggest challenges faced in moving abroad for studies is the sudden realization of being different. We won’t be ‘like everyone else’ anymore. We will be different. We will be considered foreigners and outsiders. Yet, as any human being we want to fit in, be accepted, understand how to be successful and get good grades, have fun and graduate so that we can enjoy our life and careers. 

Finding Balance Through Self-Discovery 
So, how do we balance our enthusiasm for fitting in, adjusting to a new culture and being successful in a new environment with retaining our cultural identity?

To do this is not easy. There is no one-size-fits-all solution as lifestyle and cultural adjustment whether at home or abroad is a continuous and overlapping process. First and foremost, rather than clinging to stereotypes and ideals of an identity – you as the student must take the time to define your own identity, and ideas you have of identity in the country they will be going to. Where does your identity overlap or conflict with the identity abroad? What stereotypes do you have of the country? What kinds of stereotypes do you think locals in the country have of your country or culture?

What we should know with clarity and honesty is our self and cultural identity. What we are guessing about is the identity of the culture we are going to. We must be open to exploring ourselves and other’s identity more when we are abroad to dispel myths and stereotypes. After all being ‘a foreigner’ studying abroad in another country we do not like others interacting with us based on stereotypes- we prefer to be appreciated for the unique individuals we are. After meeting and talking with locals we may realize the truth in our stereotypes or the falsehood of our stereotypes. We may also come to know where our values, behaviors and mindset overlap, differ or converge with the locals. In this process, we will come to know what we want or need to adjust to be successful in the new culture – without compromising our identity.

Balancing Cultural Assimilation and Cultural Identity 
It’s easy to take cultural adjustment out of context because it’s adjusting to another language, mindset, mannerisms, dressing style, sense of humor and the many other characteristics that create a culture. In this adjustment, we must always remember to be true to ourselves, stay grounded and retain our cultural identity and values. 

Simple Ways to Stay In Touch With Your Identity 
International Students I met at SUNY Brockport.
A talk with any person away from their country will provide a typical list of ways people stay in touch with their native cultural identity. Some of these methods are: stay in touch with family and friends back home, find people to speak your native language with, find ways to cook your favorite foods (even if it’s with local ingredients), watch TV or listen to radio in your language (online), attend spiritual gatherings affiliated with your spiritual path, observe your cultural holidays, dress in your ethnic clothes or country’s fashions from time to time (even if it is only inside your own home), play games or continue hobbies you had from your hometown. Whether or not you can find others from your country in your home away from home, try to teach others in your local area about your culture through answering questions, teaching classes, or just being yourself! 

Making the Most out of the Opportunity 
Studying abroad offers you opportunities as an international student you would not have if you stayed in your hometown or country. Get involved in your college’s international student affairs or global clubs on campus. These opportunities can open doors to meeting other interesting international students and influential members of the campus community that ordinary local students never get the chance to meet such as deans, principals, and CEOs among others. Seize the opportunity – make your best impression by showcasing your understanding of local ways while being true to who you are! 

Jennifer Kumar, cross-cultural coach, wrote this article based on her experience coaching and advising international students in the U.S. from the subcontinent (India). 

Tips for International Students Thinking About the US:
An online orientation to American Colleges and Campus Life 
Considerations when applying to universities in the U.S. 
Being the Only ONE (foreigner from your country) on Campus is Hard, but Rewarding! 

Virtual Resume and Company Profile for Authentic Journeys in 2016

Thank you for making 2016 a memorable one! In 2016, 669 people actively participated in Authentic Journeys sessions, which brings the total participants since 2011 up to 3,522!!  

It's hard to believe that I have met and facilitated sessions for almost 3,500 people! (Authentic Journeys has several other trainers on staff that work with teams as well.) 

If you are curious to see some the Authentic Journeys' 2016 Yearbook, view the PPT below. 

Feel free to share your feedback in the comments section below. Looking forward to hearing from you! May you and yours have a wonderful and prosperous 2017!  

Note: For more information on some slides, click the blue text
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