At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a federal judge has shut down an operation in Baltimore, Maryland for allegedly misrepresenting that it was authorized to provide immigration services. The judge ordered a halt to the allegedly deceptive tactics of Manuel Alban and his wife Lola Alban. Under federal regulations, except for attorneys, only authorized providers may accept money in exchange for selecting, preparing, and filing immigration forms on someone else’s behalf. According to the FTC’s complaint, the Albans – who also operated as Loma International Business Group, Inc. – targeted Spanish speakers from El Salvador and Honduras, charging them fees for consultations to prepare and file immigration forms. Based on the Albans’ misrepresentations, consumers collectively paid them tens of thousands of dollars. However, the Albans are not authorized to provide immigration services, and more than half the immigration applications they filed were rejected by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, according to the complaint.
The court immediately halted the defendants’ deceptive business practices, froze their assets, appointed a monitor, and granted immediate access to their business premises. The monitor will ensure that the defendants stop providing unauthorized immigration services, preserve and return immigration documents to consumers, and refer any interested consumers to authorized immigration service providers.
The FTC’s law enforcement action will seek a permanent injunction against the defendants to prevent further deceptive practices, the return of consumers’ original documents and filings, and consumer refunds.
“Scammers often try to take advantage of immigrants by claiming to be affiliated with government immigration agencies, posing as immigration lawyers, or pretending to provide legitimate immigration-related services,” said FTC Commissioner Edith Ramirez today in announcing the case along with another 15 federal, 49 state, and 9 local cases and additional local administrative actions. “What’s even more appalling is that they target people who are among the most vulnerable.”
In a separate action in January 2011, the FTC brought an immigration services case
Against Immigration Center, one of several associated companies allegedly participating in a large Internet scam in which they masqueraded as a U.S. government website. According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants in that case posed as agents of the U.S. government, then tricked consumers around the country into paying fees ranging from $200 to $2,500. The defendants falsely claimed that these fees would cover processing fees charged by USCIS. The FTC was joined by the Nevada Attorney General, who simultaneously filed a criminal suit against the defendants in the case who were operating in Nevada.
FTC Consumer Education
Navigating U.S. immigration laws can be complex. Missing a deadline or choosing the wrong form can jeopardize a person’s immigration status, or make it harder to legally remain in the United States. Unauthorized immigration services providers and scam artists look for ways to exploit immigrants, and often take their money while doing nothing for them. The unauthorized providers may also lose important documents, provide substandard service, or encourage immigrants to make false statements to the government. The result can be rejection or denial of benefits and, in some cases, criminal prosecution.
Because immigrants with limited English language proficiency often are targeted by scammers who call themselves “immigration consultants” or “notarios” – or falsely claim that they are attorneys – the FTC has developed education materials in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Korean. These materials explain how to avoid and report immigration services fraud, and how to find legitimate no-cost or low-cost immigration advice from authorized providers. As part of the campaign, the FTC also is rolling out six new radio public service announcements in English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese that warn about illegal notarios and immigration consultants, and direct consumers to the materials on the FTC’s website.
FTC Complaint Database Enables Collaboration among Federal and State Agencies
Federal immigration authorities have agreed to forward immigration-related consumer complaints to the FTC, making it possible for the first time for federal, state, and local authorities to access complaints that USCIS refers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and that ICE opts not to prosecute. These complaints, together with those received from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the American Bar Association (ABA), and directly from consumers, will be added to the FTC’s secure online complaint database, making it the centralized repository of choice for immigration services complaints in the United States. These complaints will then be available to thousands of other law enforcement agencies worldwide. The FTC database provides a powerful tool for federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to identify scams, locate consumer witnesses, coordinate law enforcement activities, and ultimately bring additional enforcement actions against immigration services scams.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint against Manuel Alban, Lola Alban, Loma International Business Group, Inc., and Servicios Latinoamericanos de Maryland, Inc. was 5-0. The complaint and request for a temporary restraining order were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Maryland, Baltimore Division.
The FTC would like to acknowledge the assistance of Catholic Charities; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and the U.S. Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review, in bringing this case.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter in English and Spanish.
FTC Southwest Region, Dallas
(FTC File No: Manuel Alban 1123031)
(Immigration Initiative NR)