BBB: Scammers target immigrants hoping for a U.S. visa

National

FILE – In this Aug. 16, 2019, file photo a citizen candidate holds an American flag and the words to The Star-Spangled Banner before the start of a naturalization ceremony at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Miami field office in Miami. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers can now create fictitious social media accounts to monitor information on foreigners seeking visas, green cards and citizenship.(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

(PRESS RELEASE) — This spring, the United States restricted visa applications due to COVID-19. Unfortunately, the situation has created plenty of opportunity for scammers. With many people confused by the changing laws, con artists prey on those who urgently need a visa to continue their studies or work in the U.S. Scammers pose as U.S. government officials and promise visas in exchange for a fee.

How the Scam Works

You visit a website or receive an email that looks like it’s from a U.S. immigration service or agency. It includes pictures of the president, the American flag, the U.S. seal, and other patriotic emblems. As you explore the website, you find other convincing terms, such as “official green card lottery” or “government visa applications,” which seems to assure that you’re going through the proper channels. The “green card lottery,” officially known as the Diversity Visa Program, is a U.S. government program that grants 50,000 visas a year to individuals from selected countries.

However, these websites are not official and often make false claims. For example, many websites set up to “assist” immigrants in applying for the Diversity Visa Program promise that if you hire them, your chances of receiving a visa improve. This claim is completely untrue. Often, the only way these services “improve” your chances is by including false information in your application. This practice will immediately disqualify you from the program.

What’s worse, these scam services can open you up to identity theft.  You’ll be asked to provide detailed personal information, such as your name, birth date, birth country, address, marital status, and phone number. You’ll also need to share your work history and passport photos. Getting this information and your money is the end goal of many scammers. Scammers have no intention of ever helping you apply for a visa.  

How to Avoid Visa Scams

  • Only apply for a visa through official websites. The only official place to get information about the DV program and immigration visas is through U.S. government websites that end in “.gov,” such as state.gov and dvlottery.state.gov. You should apply directly for the Diversity Visa Program through the official U.S. Department of State website during the specified and limited registration period.
  • Be wary of people who assist with immigration visa applications. The U.S. Department of State does not recommend you get outside assistance and makes it clear that outside help will NOT improve your chances of being selected or approved. If you must get assistance, be sure you only work with reputable persons and double-check that all the information they put on your application is 100% accurate.
  • Check for lookalikes. A website may appear to be official by using patriotic images, but proceed with caution if the website does not end with “.gov.” The same goes for emails. All official visa-related correspondence will come from a “.gov” email address.
  • Get to know scammers’ tactics. The Department of State has posted a warning about fraud related to the Diversity Visa Program. Read up on scammers’ tricks to protect yourself from fraudulent offers.

For More Information

Stay alert to potential scams by visiting BBB.org/AvoidScams. Read more about impostor scams in this BBB study of government impostors.

If you’ve been the victim of a visa scam, report the incident to BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help alert others to similar scams.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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