Immigrants are often targeted in scams because they are less likely to report them. Here is an example — where the Oregon AG with some assistance from the Willamette University College of Law Clinical Law Program is going after four California corporations for scamming immigrants — who want to learn English.

Ironically, I seem to hear a lot of criticism about immigrants, who don’t want to learn English. In this instance, people trying to exactly this (learn English), were being scammed!

From the Oregon AG (Attorney General) press release:

The lawsuit alleges that from 2002 to 2005 the defendants targeted members of Oregon’s Hispanic community by advertising “free” English-language instruction courses entitled “Ingles con Ritmo” (English with Rhythm) and later charged exorbitant shipping and handling fees. The defendants repeatedly demanded additional payments for products that consumers never ordered or received. Thereafter, the defendants falsely represented themselves as third-party debt collectors and lawyers and threatened legal action in an effort to extract more money from the victims. In all cases, the victims owed the defendants nothing.

I decided to Google “Ingles con Ritmo” (English with Rhythm) and found an article by Consumer Affairs, where the FTC filed a similar action in June.

From the FTC press release:

According to the FTC’s complaint, from 2003 to 2005 the defendants sold an English-language instruction course, “Inglés con Ritmo,” advertised on Spanish-language television and the defendants’ Web sites, and, stating that it was free due to government or non-profit subsidies. Inquiring consumers were told that a shipping and handling fee of $100 to $169 applied. Since 2006, the complaint states, the defendants, posing as third-party debt collectors, told consumers they owed money, typically $900, and repeatedly called them, even though the evidence shows that they owe no money.

The defendants are charged with violating the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by falsely claiming that a debt is owed; by falsely claiming to be, or to represent, an attorney; and by falsely threatening legal action, arrest, imprisonment, property seizure, or garnishment of wages. Other FDCPA violations alleged are attempting to collect an amount of debt not authorized by contract or permitted by law; harassing consumers; and failing to inform consumers, within five days of their initial communication with them, of their right to dispute and obtain verification of their debt and the name of the original creditor.

The corporations and individuals listed in the suit are:

Tono Records, dba Tono Music and Professional Legal Services, Tono Publishing, Promo Music, Millennium Three Corp., Dulce Ugalde, Luis Roberto Ruiz, and Maria Oceguera, all based in Los Angeles County, California.

As of this writing, both the sites linked to in the FTC press release are no longer active.

Although, I’m glad to see a civil action undertaken in this instance, I have to wonder why criminal charges aren’t being filed. Some of the collection practices allegedly being used, might be defined as “extortion,” which is a criminal offense.

Consumer Action, a non profit organization that has been around since 1971 has a page on their site detailing the most common scams, where immigrants are targeted.

They list the most common scams against immigrants, which were put together by the FTC in 2006:

  • Predatory lending practices. Lower income levels and other factors can make obtaining access to credit difficult. Moreover, Hispanics unfairly may be charged higher interest rates.
  • Immigration fraud. Perpetrated by so-called “immigration consultants,” such schemes tend to increase when immigration legislation (for example, for an “amnesty”) is being proposed or considered. The “consultants” take advantage of general awareness of possible new programs and their victims’ lack of sophistication about the legislative process.
  • Used cars. Some sellers fail to comply with applicable state and federal laws, such as the FTC’s Used Car Rule (if a transaction is conducted in Spanish, the mandated “Buyers Guide,” disclosing whether the vehicle comes with a warranty or “as is,” must be provided in Spanish) or California’s law that if negotiations are conducted in Spanish, the written contract also must be in Spanish.
  • Health insurance fraud. Because minimum wage earners often do not obtain health insurance from their employers, they are attracted to offers for low-cost health insurance, which may not provide the advertised benefits, if any.
  • Buying clubs (offering discounts on products and services). For Hispanics who seek discounts and best prices, offers for buying clubs are extremely attractive. Panelists at an FTC Hispanic/Latino Outreach Forum described a Hispanic cultural affinity for “free” or discounted goods and services, and an economic need for them driven by lower income levels as a group. Buying clubs often are offered for free for thirty days, requiring the consumer to cancel before the end of thirty days to avoid being charged for the club.
  • Work-at-home schemes. The panelists considered this a growing problem area that particularly takes advantage of undocumented immigrants seeking an income without having a traditional employer. Tackling this fraud also poses challenges because these schemes are advertised not just in classified ads and other media, but often by signs tacked onto telephone poles.
  • Notario fraud. In most Latin American countries, the term “notario” implies that the person described is a licensed attorney. Panelists reported a common scam involving individuals who represent themselves as “notario” and offer help with the immigration process; in fact, these individuals are not attorneys.
  • Remittances. The panelists noted that many Hispanics wire money to relatives in their home countries and that there are many problems with undisclosed fees or fees that vary from what was disclosed.
  • Prepaid phone cards. Panelists agreed that problems with undisclosed fees are commonplace with these cards.
  • Employment agency fraud. This fraud preys upon undocumented immigrants looking for work and tends to increase when the economy is in a downturn.
  • Panelists observed that purported cures for many ailments appear in numerous Spanish newspapers and other Spanish-language media.

Oregon AG press release, here

FTC press release, here.

The FTC now has information in Spanish on their site, here.


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