This is the internet age. If you want information, directions, advice, go online. If you want to access government information, go online. Suppose a person wants help with immigration services. A person in the know knows that USCIS provides all kinds of information and free forms online. A less savvy person may not even know the name of the organization, USCIS, but this being the internet age, still turns to the internet for help. Step one, search for help. An internet search on Google of “USCIS” gets one to this right on top – first entry:
USCIS Forms – US-Immigration.com
Google “immigration department” and you get this as the first entry:
Immigration Department – US-Immigration.com
It seems like you’ve found it. Here’s the site.
It’s got flags, the statue of liberty, a U.S. passport, and links to everything, including forms. Clicking on the first form listed, the Form I-90, and after some questions, you learn that for $170 you can get the form — a form that is free on the actual www.uscis.gov website. Bing is even worse – three imposter websites as first hits for “USCIS.”
Is there any clear disclaimer or indication at the top of the website that it is not a government website? No.
Do the owners show you their pictures and explain that it is a private, for profit site? No.
Is there fine print that these are not a government sites? Yes. Are there tell-tale signs that these are not government sites? Yes. However, it is manifestly clear that these sites’ sole purpose is to mislead people to think they are at the actual USCIS website to rip people off, to trick people who happen onto the site to pay for things that are free elsewhere.
Suppose you innocently type in the URL, www.uscis.com instead of www.uscis.gov? Guess what you link to? The same charlatans.
USCIS ripoffs are not the only ones. Call the Clark Court Nevada telephone number and you will get a bewilderingly long and complex phone message about court services. A reference is given to website: www.clarkcountycourts.us. (.us?). Type it in and you are taken to a website where a vast array of information, including all kinds of computerized court record information is available for free. Type it wrong – drop the s in courts, and you get to this site http://www.clarkcountycourt.us/ – an imposter site that will charge you for the information the real website provides for free.
I don’t know how many times people have come to my office and told me about filing applications online thinking they filed with USCIS, but instead were tricked and gave money to charlatans or how many times I told people that they could get a form for free online and then was told that I was wrong, the website required payment?
It is amazing to me that disguising a website as a government website to trick money out of people is not a crime. Likewise, it is amazing to me that making buckets of money directing searchers to imposter websites is not a crime. It is also amazing to me that USCIS or Clark County or any powerful government entity having its stakeholders ripped off does nothing about it. But it most amazes me how people can do things like this in the first place. Posted March 22, 2015.