The Federal Trade Commission is allowing the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services arm of the Homeland Security Department access to its secure consumer complaint database so USCIS officials can investigate scammers posing as immigration legal advisers, federal officials announced on Thursday.
Typically only law enforcement officials can search through the FTC's Consumer Sentinel Network, which warehouses tips that customers submit to the Better Business Bureau, National Consumers League and other watchdog organizations.
USCIS, FTC and Justice Department officials announced the new data exchange on Thursday as part of a public awareness campaign to crack down on unauthorized legal assistance providers. Many imposters charge unwitting immigrants for resources the government offers for free, like application forms, or falsely claim they can expedite the approval process, according to USCIS officials. Some promise to help clients obtain immigration papers for which the applicant is ineligible.
Obama administration officials have been stressing the White House's commitment to immigration enforcement, as they try to ease the way for comprehensive immigration reform.
USCIS posted several campaign ads on YouTube to educate people on how to avoid immigration scams, but the promos do not encourage reporting deceptive outfits. The ads direct Internet users to the uscis.gov/avoidscams website for more information. A "Report Immigration Scams" tab on the site takes visitors to an interactive Web page where they can notify authorities about suspicious professionals.