by NADEEM BADSHAH
FRAUDS pretending to be from the Home Office are conning immigrants out of hundreds of pounds by telling them they have a problem with their paperwork.
Investigators said Indians in the UK have been the main target of the cold callers, who use software that allows them to display the Home Office’s number on the other person’s phone.
The con has been branded “absolutely deplorable” by MPs and sees victims asked to confirm their passport number; some are told they have criminal charges against them in India or that their documents were filled in incorrectly.
Immigrants have been threatened with deportation and are pressured to pay a fee through a money transfer, virtual currency Bitcoin or buy iTunes gift vouchers and relaying the code to the caller.
Action Fraud, the national crime reporting centre, said it received 305 reports of the scam last year, which included the Home Office number 020 7035 4848.
Fizza Qureshi, director of the Migrants’ Right Network, told Eastern Eye it has come across a string of cons targeting people from abroad.
“It is alarming to hear of vulnerable migrants being taken advantage of by fraudsters.
“Unfortunately, with the complexity of the immigration system, the harsher enforcement measures under the ‘hostile environment’, and the fear of falling foul of the immigration rules, it is not surprising that people end up being exploited in this manner.
“At the Migrants’ Rights Network, we have also heard of cases where people have posed as immigration enforcement officers and entered restaurants demanding payment on the spot for fake fines. This issue is clearly bigger than envisaged.
“Positive steps are being taken to alert people, and for them to take the necessary measures to alert the authorities if they have been targeted.
“However, more needs to be done to ensure there are no further victims. There needs to be consideration as to whether the ‘hostile environment’ and emphasis on immigration enforcement has created a space for such criminal activity to target vulnerable migrants.”
This newspaper found companies online offering businesses virtual telephone numbers for up to £5.99 a month where calls can be diverted to a mobile phone. Criminals are exploiting this type of software by “spoofing” the Home Office’s phone number to dupe victims.
Police warn that fraudsters usually try to keep the victim on the phone until the payment is received, which can be hours at a time.
Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Bar, told Eastern Eye: “It’s absolutely deplorable.
“The way they put further pressure on individuals with an uncertain future and pressure them to fleece them out of money.
“It’s the lowest of the low. People should report it to the authorities and the police. And circulate it on social media to spread this message, people’s livelihoods depend on it.”
Action Fraud said any government department or enforcement agency will never demand money over the phone and do not ask individuals for digital currencies.
“When receiving unsolicited calls, be wary of providing personal information, or confirming that personal information the caller already claims to hold is correct.
“Always ensure you know who you talking to. Ask for the details of the organisation that the caller represents and call them back yourself on the officially published numbers, rather than the numbers the caller may try to provide you with.
If you think you have been a victim of fraud, you should report it to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 20 40