Unfortunately, immigration scams are common occurrences. As an immigrant, these situations can be hugely stressful, often costing time and money and leaving you fearful of being targeted again. In worse case scenarios, an immigration scam can even lead to identity theft with long-term consequences.
Immigration scams are made easier for criminals by visa rules being different for every country and victims potentially not being fluent in a particular language. And with Covid-19 taking a lot of people’s work and business online, it’s now easier than ever for scammers to prey on victims.
In order to protect yourself from immigration scams, it’s important to first understand the many different types. That way, you can easily spot them and protect yourself.
Types of immigration scams
An immigration scam can take many forms. Usually, the scammers in question promise or threaten one of two things: the ability to speed up your visa application or claim that there’s an issue with your current one. In the UK, the following types of immigration scams are the most common.
Sometimes an individual claiming to be an official from the Home Office might call you up. Often hiding their real number to make it appear a legitimate call, the scammer may inform you that there’s an issue with your immigration record. They may then request personal information or urgent payment to process your visa or avoid deportation. This type of scam is often aimed at students studying and living abroad.
Fake job offer scams
In the UK, legitimate employers do not offer people jobs that they haven’t applied for. Particularly, without inviting you for a proper interview first. In this case, the scammer might ask you to pay visa and work permit fees to secure your position. But no legitimate prospective employer would do this. If they were contacting you out of the blue (over a site like LinkedIn, for example), they should be directing you towards a .gov website or reputable agency so that you can properly apply.
Scammers also work via email. In fact, it’s one of the easiest ways for them to contact a potential victim. A common red flag is if the email comes from a hotmail.com, gmail.com or any other free web-based email address account. And if the email asks you to follow a dodgy link, or asks for confidential information including your bank account details, it’s a no-no.
If the UK Home Office were to contact you via email, they’d use either a [email protected] or [email protected] address. Meanwhile, Foreign and Commonwealth Office email addresses are generally in the format of [email protected] or [email protected] If you are suspicious of the email, do not reply.
More common in the USA, sometimes a scammer knocks on your door claiming to be immigration and customs enforcement. They may present you with a fake warrant, threatening to deport you if you don’t pay up there and then. But remember, real immigration agents wouldn’t let you buy your way out of an arrest or deportation.
Reporting visa and immigration scams
If you are based in the UK and believe you are a victim of an immigration scam, you should contact Action Fraud immediately. This can be done via their website or by phoning 030 0123 2040.
When reporting a scam online, remember to include a copy of the suspicious email or letter you received. Also include the sender’s email address and the time and date the email was sent. If you have already replied to the email, provide details of your response—especially if you sent sensitive information. You can also report suspicious calls, letters and doorstep visits to the police via Action Fraud.
If you’re unsure as to whether something is a scam or not, Citizens Advice have an online scam helper, which helps you identify scams and what to do.
Key points to remember
Being asked to pay money quickly or in unusual ways should immediately ring alarm bells. You should also keep in mind the following.
- In the UK, you will never be asked to pay for a visa using cash or money transfer
- Keep copies of all your immigration paperwork and official correspondence with the government—it could prove invaluable if questions arise later
- If you receive an email from a hotmail.com, gmail.com or other free web email address service claiming to be a potential employer or immigration official, be suspicious
- Don’t click on email links or download anything that you don’t trust
- Never give personal information such as your passwords or PIN number away
- Most countries including the UK, USA, Canada and Australia provide regulated immigration and visa advice
- Always alert authorities if you feel like you’ve fallen prey to an immigration scam
Remember, there’s always help out there. If an offer is threatening or seems too good to be true, treat it with immediate suspicion and report it immediately. And most importantly, stay safe.