Migrants in Mexico fall victim to rampant scams on their way to the US.

Latin American migrants making their arduous journey to the United States often fall victim to scams that can amount to thousands of dollars in losses paid to fraudulent businesses spreading misinformation and prey on the vulnerable.

Scammers range from human traffickers, often referred to as coyotes, to social media influencersand many of them fraudulently pose as job recruiters, legal advisers or immigration coaches.

Most impostors take advantage of the many twists and turns in US immigration policy, tricking migrants into paying for bogus legal advicework visas, political asylum or alternative ways to cross the US-Mexico border.

About a quarter of migrants surveyed earlier this month said they received messages offering immigration services and jobs, mostly through Facebook and WhatsApp. Two-thirds of the 210 respondents said they were victims of some form of fraud or misinformation. One migrant said he spent $1,500 on a form that turned out to be fake.

In Mexico, they were reported 5,684 complaints for crimes against migrants since 2016 until November 2022, according to the Mexican Ministry of the Interior. Of these, 1,849 were classified as illicit trafficking, 2,655 as theft, and only eight as fraud.

Pursuing a fraud complaint is complicated. Migrants often seek help from an independent organization such as the Center for Migrant Rights, the non-profit organization Al Otro Lado, or a migrant shelter such as CafeMin. Migrants often continue their attempt to cross the border, and if they succeed, they abandon their case.

As a result, misinformation and scams continue to flourish and go unpunished, with scammers using social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Tiktok to attack migrants.

Migrants stand to lose between $1 and $20,000 per person overall in scams, according to social media posts monitored during May and June and testimonials collected from migrants in early June.

Mercedes Pérez contacted Jaime Díaz Márquez through social networks, who posed as an employee of a US religious organization and promised to obtain political asylum in the United States for her and 14 family members. Pérez said she asked for $55 for each family member in exchange for processing a parole, a temporary permit granted by the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons to allow migrants to remain in the country for at least a year without a visa.

In a Facebook Live broadcast, Díaz Márquez assured the family that they would be able to pick up their papers and cross the border legally on December 9, 2022. He later deleted videos and did not repost. Mercedes said that he lost $770 and received nothing in return.

She reported the alleged fraud to Al Otro Lado and was directed to file a complaint with local authorities. Ultimately, she refused to do so for fear of retaliation.

Díaz Márquez did not respond to multiple attempts seeking comment by phone and WhatsApp.

Al Otro Lado says migrants affected by scammers rarely report fraud for fear of being deported or jeopardizing their entry into the US.

Evelyn Reyes, originally from Mexico, said her husband paid about $2,000 and mailed his passport to a person supposedly named Alberto, whom he contacted through Facebook. The money was supposed to go towards a round trip flight and a visa for the passport, which was supposed to be given to him in Mexico City. But he lost his money and his passport.

“When he arrived, there was nothing, just ghosts,” Reyes said.

Jorge Gallo, regional press officer for the UN International Organization for Migration, said that many migrants “get into deep debt to be able to pay for the services of these coyotes and in many cases lose everything.”

Gallo says that coyotes sometimes simply abandon migrants in middle of a border crossingexposing them to danger and even risking their lives.

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Then there are the social media influencers who offer legal services without being lawyers. Let’s take Darío Andrés as an example, who advertises his services on TikTok and Instagram, where he has more than 500,000 followers.

On his Instagram profile, the self-styled lawyer and partner José Rafael Román Argote offers advice to migrants from Florida. But a search in the 50 US Bar Associations shows that none of them are registered.

Attempts to speak with Andrés and Argote through WhatsApp messages, TikTok, Instagram and calls were not answered.

These types of online personalities share information about immigration procedures as bait for their followers, then sell them advice that is not always legally sound or even misinformation.

American policies have often changed, sowing confusion among immigrants and creating opportunities for scammers. Title 42, which ended on May 11, denied asylum for preventing the spread of COVID-19, but applied unevenly. And US authorities created an opaque waiver system that allowed select organizations to choose who qualified for the waivers, but their names were not made public and their selection criteria were often a mystery.

After Title 42, the main ways to enter the country are with a mobile app called CBP One, which is based on a lottery of 1,250 daily slots at land crossings with Mexico, and parole for up to 30,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans per month. who apply online with a financial sponsor and arrive at an airport.

Mexico’s Center for the Rights of Migrants says it has noticed an increase in online migrant recruitment fraud since 2016, especially through ads on Facebook. Although the center does not offer specific figures, the digital survey carried out among migrants indicated that 13% of all respondents received false job offers.

A US employer who wants to hire temporary workers, for example, in agriculture, you must have a temporary labor certification. Visa processing is referred to private agencies looking for workers.

Jocelyn Reyes, CDM’s director of Advocacy, Education, and Leadership Development, says the worker-hiring process has been patchy, informal, poorly documented, and opaque since the US-Mexico temp system was created.

Reyes says that recruiting agencies have been able to monopolize the process by having access to information about job opportunities in the US and process H-2 visas that allow workers work temporarily in the US

Recruiters often impose fees on migrants interested in accessing job opportunities, which is illegal under the CDM.

At the same time, the Fraud Prevention Department at the US Consulate in Monterrey, Mexico, where the largest number of visas for temporary farm work are processed, said that since 2019 to date the number of messages has increased to their fraud reporting hotline. 12% to 15%.

Some scammers pose as companies authorized to hire temporary workers in the United States. They might charge for a criminal background check, which is not required and is never actually performed, according to the migrant rights center.

Samantha Hernández, spokeswoman for the CafeMin shelter that receives migrants from Latin America and Central America in Mexico Citysays that online misinformation leads many migrants to believe that they need safe-conduct documents to transit through the Mexican capital.

Laura Ortiz, originally from El Salvador, said that she and others paid $2,500 a so-called lawyer to organize the safe-conduct. In reality, he just needed to contact the Mexican immigration authorities.

“They took our money,” Ortiz said, adding that the scammers then “blocked our WhatsApp.”

She said she did not report the scam for fear of being jailed and deported.

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