U.S. officials warned on Sunday that scammers are attempting to prey on the families of some of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied child migrants, mostly from Central America, who have over the past several months fled violence and poverty in their home countries and crossed into the U.S.
A Federal Bureau of Investigation official in San Antonio said investigators have uncovered two similar telephone fraud schemes in search of money for phony travel costs that have targeted family members of the children.
"One fraud scheme involved individuals who claimed to be representing a charitable or non-profit organization, which they claimed assists in processing and reuniting the children with their families," Special Agent Michelle Lee told Reuters.
Another scheme used what Lee described as "caller I.D. spoofing" to make it appear that the calls were coming from a San Antonio business, which she didn't name, in an attempt to lend credibility to the scheme.
Lee said the callers requested payments from the families of the young immigrants ranging from $300 to several thousand dollars, claiming the money was for travel expenses.
The FBI urged Texans to be skeptical of people representing themselves as officials and asking for payments or donations by phone, email, social networking sites or door-to-door, according to KVUE-TV, the ABC affiliate in Austin, Texas. The bureau urged Texans to verify the legitimacy of government agencies or non-profits by searching for them online rather than following any emailed links to a group’s supposed website, the TV channel said.
The United States in recent months has been facing a surge of unaccompanied children arriving from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, with a total of about 90,000 expected to have arrived by the end of September, according to White House estimates.
Officials said many of the family members being preyed on have already borrowed several thousand dollars to pay smugglers to get the children into the United States. Many of the children and their families are hoping that the presence of a relative in the United States will allow them to stay in the country.
Lee said the number of victims and amount of losses is not yet known.
The United States on Friday stepped up its pace of deporting some of the children, expelling more than 40 back to the three violence-torn countries.
Al Jazeera and Reuters