This week all of our blog posts will be following an “Internet Safety” theme from the perspective of each of our departments. Check back each day for something new. For today, it’s the Center for New Americans….
“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” That is one of the first things we teach new refugees in cultural orientation class. Scams can fool anyone but for those new to the United States who are focusing on the basics (language, food, shelter, and work), recognizing and avoiding fraud may never even cross their minds.
Solomon Haile, a caseworker at the Center for New Americans, recounts how easy it is to fall for advertising tricks or identity theft when you’re new. Haile arrived in 2006 and was one of the first of his ethnic group to the area. On TV one afternoon, he saw a commercial for J.G. Wentworth and their classic slogan, It’s my money; I need it now! Haile, in disbelief, said to himself, “I have money out there? America is wonderful!” So Haile called the company asking for his money but soon learned his mistake. Fortunately Haile’s story ends well and he laughs now about it, but for others it doesn’t always end so well.
Refugees and immigrants are often targeted because of their lower English skills and their unfamiliarity with the culture. Often these scammers pose as someone from the government, like the IRS or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and ask for money or personal information.
Right now a common scam is aimed at those refugees who are paying off their travel loan. Refugees traveling to the United States are issued loans by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to pay for the costs of their transportation from overseas to U.S. resettlement sites and for various medical and screening costs. The funds to cover the transportation were provided by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for Refugee Programs. Scammers pose as employees of IOM or the United States government and say that they will forgive the loan as long as you pay $500 right now. Unsuspecting refugees pay the money only to find out that they were victims of a scam.
We do our best to educate newly arrived refugees about these types of scams and warn them to never give out personal information over the phone. However, new scams pop up continually and unfortunately we only learn of them after they have claimed victims. We tell students that the best way to “test” to see if a call is a scam is to ask to meet the person face to face. When the caller hangs up or can’t provide a proper address, it’s a good bet that they are not who they claim to be. The Federal Trade Commission recently put out new materials to help refugees and immigrants spot, avoid, and report scams. Below are warning signs of a scam. You can also visit usa.gov/common-scams-frauds to learn more about the different types of scams and fraud out there.
Here are some warning signs of a scam
Did someone promise you a job –if you pay them?
- Never pay anyone who promises you a job, a certificate that will get you a job, or secret access to jobs. Those are scams.
Did the IRS call saying you owe money?
- The IRS never calls to ask for money.
Did someone else from the government call, threatening you and demanding money?
- The government doesn’t call to threaten you or ask for money.
Looking for legal help with immigration?
- Use a lawyer or an accredited representative, never a notario.
Did you get a call or email saying you won something? Except there’s a fee?
- Never pay for a prize. That’s a scam. You’ll lose your money.
Did a caller offer to help you get back some money you lost?
- No government agency or legitimate business will call and demand money to help you get money back
Did you get a check from someone who asked you to give them part of the money back?
- Never give someone money in return for a check. Fake checks can look real and fool the bank. You’ll have to pay back all the money.
Did you get an email, text, or call asking for your credit card, bank account, or Social Security number?
- Never give that information to anyone who asks over email, text or phone.
Finally like we teach our students, if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.
Kristyne Walth, Volunteer Coordinator, Center for New Americans