WOODSIDE — State and elected officials are warning undocumented residents to beware of scammers posing as immigration officers, saying thieves may look to exploit people's fears over recent ICE raids to make a quick buck.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a "fraud alert" Wednesday in response to complaints reported to his office, urging victims to report suspicious activity to his Services Fraud Unit Hotline.
Schneiderman's office did not immediately respond to a request for more information about specific complaints they've received or the number of cases reported to them so far.
But earlier this week, a woman contacted City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer office to report that her husband was approached Monday on 65th Street and 38th Avenue by four men wearing uniforms who claimed to be Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
The thieves told the man they would take him in unless he paid them, and the man handed them $250 in cash, according to Arielle Swernoff, a spokeswoman for Van Bramer. It's not clear what the man's immigration status is.
The NYPD said it has not received any formal complaints about such a scam, but advised anyone who is victimized to report it.
Swernoff warned that swindlers may look to take advantage of those who are fearful after ICE agents arrested 41 undocumented people in the New York City area last weekend.
"This kind of scam is not a brand new scam — stuff like this has happened before," she said. "I think people are taking advantage of this atmosphere of anxiety and fear coming after the raids."
Natalia Aristizabal, an organizer with the advocacy group Make the Road New York, said they're advising residents of their rights and how to look for red flags if they are stopped.
"A real law enforcement agent, regardless of what agency they come from, will not ever allow someone to be released in exchange for money," Aristizabal said.
"That should be a signal to say that they're not interacting with someone who is real."
If someone feels they've been targeted, they should report it to Make the Road New York or another organization they trust, she said.
The Attorney General's office is also advising undocumented people to watch out for phone calls from people claiming to be government officials or a law enforcement officer, according to a press release.
Other common scams include people posing as immigration attorneys, legal experts or "notaries," who charge "exorbitant fees" with the false promise of helping immigrants with the naturalization process, Schneiderman said.
Immigrants should only work with licensed lawyers or vetted providers, and should never sign an application or document they don't understand or make payments over the phone or email, according to the attorney general.
His office advises those who need help to call the New Americans Hotline, run by Catholic Charities Community Services, at 1-800-566-7636 for free and anonymous help and referrals.
"We will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal and bring to justice to those who commit fraud against our immigrant communities," Schneiderman said in a statement.