[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ugo Bustos opened up his email to bad news. A distant family member in Mexico had died. But, this family member had left Bustos an inheritance of $50,000. All Bustos had to do was send his personal and bank information to the mysterious email. Bustos knew something was strange.
“I come from Mexico City; it’s natural to always be on guard,” said Bustos. “Who is going to give you that? It’s crazy.” He deleted the email, but it wasn’t the last time he would get suspicious emails looking for his personal information.
Bustos is one of the many Hispanic Americans who scammers attempt to take advantage of every year. According to the latest Federal Trade Commission report on consumer fraud, Hispanic Americans are in greater danger of being taken advantage of for fraudulent activities than non-Hispanic white Americans.
According to the 2013 report, during 2011, 13.4 percent of Hispanics were fraud victims—almost 50 percent higher than the rate for non-Hispanic whites.
The greatest difference between non-Hispanic whites and Hispanic victims was debt-related fraud, where Hispanics were more than two and a half times as likely to be a victim, according to the report. Debt fraud can include phone calls from a person claiming that you owe money for a loan you must pay or else face fake legal actions.
A very devastating type of immigration fraud in the Hispanic community is notary fraud. Notary public offices operate under the guise of helping immigrants obtain citizenship papers and good legal counsel but often fall short of the mark, according to the American Bar Association.
“They’re not lawyers,” said Chicago-based immigration attorney Rosalba Piña. “It is illegal. They are engaging in unauthorized practices of law.”
According to Piña, many immigrants come from countries where notary public offices are a viable and trusted source for legal counsel. However, in America, notary publics are not licensed to practice law and take advantage of the trust earned in other countries, said Piña.
Some immigrants who fall for the scam are unnecessarily deported, miss opportunities for legal residency status or are held liable for civil and criminal charges for filing false statements, according to the ABA.
“They’re shameless,” said Piña. Piña said that government needs to do a better job regulating notary public practices like the ABA does for lawyers.
The report also found that Hispanics were 60 percent more likely to fall victim to fraudulent weight-loss products than non-Hispanic whites. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, these “magic weight-loss” pills and scams can sometimes lead to severe illness or death.
But there is hope for fraud victims and it starts with prevention. Here are some basic tips to help:
• Prevent debt fraud over the phone by obtaining all of the “collector’s” information. Ask for the person’s name, the company’s name, the company’s address and a telephone number. If the person cannot provide these details, hang up. Check with your loan provider as to when payment is due.
• Only respond to trusted and known email addresses and never give away personal or banking information on the internet.
• Make sure any dietary pills or supplements have been approved by the FDA and are safe to use before taking.
• Prevent immigration fraud by finding good legal counsel. The American Immigration Lawyers Association helps people search for immigration and bilingual attorneys. You can use this site to locate one near you: www.ailalawyer.com/default.aspx?LanguageId=english
If a person is a victim to any kind of fraud, they should report it immediately to the FTC on their website at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
This post is also available in: Spanish