The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently filed a complaint against American Immigration Center and its owner. The company, also known as Forms Direct, Inc., is accused of falsely claiming that the company is affiliated with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The company used this false affiliation to market itself online to customers, many of whom were looking for government web sites to apply for naturalization or renew a green card. The FTC $2.2 million in damages to compensate misled consumers. The suit was settled in October of 2018.
Manipulation of search engine results
The complaint alleges that search engine results using such search terms as “USCIS,” “INS” or “US immigration” would bring up advertisements that said “USCIS Forms – Easy Online Forms for Green Card & Citizenship.” Instead of going to a U.S. government website, the consumers were directed to one of the many Forms Direct, Inc. web sites.
Giving a false impression
The misrepresentation was carried further by using web site designs that were similar to the actual immigration-related government web sites with pictures of U.S. passports and a picture of then-president Obama. The URLs included usimmigration.us, uscitizenship.info, us-immigration.com and usimmigrationcitizenship.com. The FTC also alleges that the company further used similar named forms, such as “Green card Renewal Form I-90.” Moreover, the websites did not say who the company was, and that fee charged was actually for software to help fill out the form. Instead of paying filing fees, unsuspecting consumers were buying a software wizard for fees of $120-$300. The customers were also asked to provide personal information.
Putting a stop to the misrepresentation
The $2.2 million will be disbursed to the victims. The company must also change the language and look of its web sites so it is clear that they are not a government agency, nor are its fees the application fees paid to the government.
The government caught up with the fraudsters this time, but that is not always the case. An attorney experienced in providing guidance to immigrants seeking naturalization, a new green card or some other matter involving immigrants and their families can help consumers avoid this type of misrepresentation or fraud now or in the future.