There seems to be a consistent trend with scammers targeting people over the phone. We previously spoke about not saying ‘yes’ on the phone due to voice recording. Scammers are getting more creative with ways to rip people off and there has been another one doing the rounds.
In the USA the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general warned that scam artists are calling victims claiming to work for “U.S. Immigration”. The scam artists are calling victims across the country seeking to steal their personal information and commit identity theft. The scammers until now have had the upper hand as the number that victims receive the incoming call from looks like the Department of Homeland’s hotline number (1-800-323-8603). The technique is called spoofing, scammers manipulate the caller ID to fool victims into believing that the call and information they manipulate out of them is conceivable.
"The scammers demand to obtain or verify personally identifiable information from their victims through various tactics, including by telling individuals that they are the victims of identity theft," the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General said in its fraud alert at the end of April. It also noted that many of the scammers "reportedly have pronounced accents." The inspector general went on to note that the Department of Homeland Security never uses its hotline to make outgoing calls, the hotline is only for incoming calls from the public. The DHS has urged the public to not answer calls from this number and to under no circumstances divulge personal information.
At this point, there have only been around a dozen complaints made, although a low number it is believed that the target groups have been immigrants to the country who may be too afraid to speak up. Erin Quinn, a staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, commented that immigrants are unlikely to come forward due to fear of being caught up in the heightened immigration enforcement dragnet.
It hasn’t just been identity theft that the scammers have been focused on. Fraudulent groups have also been using spoofing to impersonate Internal Revenue Service agents. The targets of these malicious scams have been vulnerable groups, such as immigrants, with threats being made such as deportation or losing their driver’s licence if they don’t pay a sum of money immediately.
At the start of April, Bharat Patel, an Indian national living in Illinois pleaded guilty for his role in exploiting victims financially by liquidating and laundering payments generated in scams, according to a USCIS press release. His admissions plea included information regarding call centres in India where staff would impersonate officials from the IRS of USCIS to defraud victims. Patel confessed that they used information from date brokers and additional sources to target victims.
USA citizens are urged to remember that the USCIS will never ask you for personal information or for payment over the phone.