With the more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America who have crossed the border over the past year, the federal government has struggled to find them temporary housing before they can be placed with sponsors. President Obama has called the situation a humanitarian crisis. However, some miscreants are treating the crisis as an opportunity to swindle concerned family of the immigrant children.
According to an article by Reuters, U.S. officials have warned that fraudsters are attempting to seek money for phony travel costs from the families of the unaccompanied minors crossing the border. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has said that the scammers have gotten ahold of detailed information about the children temporarily held in emergency detention shelters on two military bases. The information is being used to swindle relatives into paying large amounts of money to reunite families who have been separated for months or even years.
Spokeswoman for the FBI in San Antonio Michelle Lee reported, “there are enough cases that it's not an isolated incident. It is a problem.” Fraud has been reported in at least 12 states, with scammers seeking from $350 to $6,000 in various “fees.”
Federal investigators are still trying to determine the source of the leak, whether a federal database was hacked, or if a contractor or employee with access to the information provided the details to scammers. The FBI began its investigation after hearing that sponsors of the children were contacted by someone posing as a charity worker, stating they could facilitate releasing the children to the family.
Special Agent Lee detailed some of the schemes, including one where individuals claimed to be representing a charitable organization, which they claimed assisted in processing and reuniting children with their families. Another used, “caller I.D. spoofing” to make the call appear to come from a legitimate San Antonio business, in order to make the call appear credible. In each incident, the caller appeared fully versed in the immigration process, and how and when to get the child released.
The callers are requesting payment from parents, aunts, uncles and close friends of the children in the United States. The con artists are demanding phony application fees, or cost for travel, ranging from $300 to several thousand dollars, in order to reunite the children with their families. Payments were made by wire transfers, money order, and even debit payments. Just how many people have paid these fraudulent fees is unclear, and because some family members are in the country illegally, they may be less willing to come forward to report the fraud.
Kenneth J. Wolfe, with the Administration for Children and Families confirmed, “no direct payment to shelters will ever be requested during the reunification process.” The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), tasked with providing the children with food, shelter, and medical needs until the child is released to a sponsor, has issued a press release warning family members of the fraud. Anyone with information about the fraud is encouraged to report it to their local FBI office.