In the shadow of the 7 train, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and community organizations denounced the actions of the four scammers who were wearing jackets and hats similar to those worn by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
“There are a lot of people who are on edge and fearful,” Van Bramer said, referencing the recent reports of immigration arrests across the country. “That has created, tragically, an opportunity for some who would prey upon innocent people and seek to take advantage of them.”
According to the councilman, the middle-aged victim was walking home near 65th Street on Monday afternoon when the four scammers approached the victim and told him to “give them all the money he had or they would take him in.”
The victim relented, giving the four men approximately $250. He then went home and told his wife what had happened. They got in touch with Van Bramer’s office, which has alerted the 108th Precinct about the incident.
Van Bramer said the family doesn’t feel comfortable talking to authorities about the incident. Their immigration status is unknown, he said.
“We’re working with them to build up the trust and confidence to report this to the police,” he said.
The councilman said this isn’t the first or only case of someone taking advantage of immigrants in the community. He reminded his constituents to never give money to anyone posing as an ICE agent.
“This is a sick act of four individuals preying on innocent immigrants, trying to make a quick buck on someone’s fear,” he said. “No ICE agent is going to demand money, cash, in order to be let go.”
But he understands that given the political climate, and the recent news of detained immigrants, many people in the community are afraid.
Amit Bagga, deputy commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs, said the city agency has been trying to raise awareness about immigration fraud. He said the city has invested millions of dollars into “free and trusted legal services” available to all New Yorkers.
“For a long time, there have been too many New Yorkers who have fallen prey or victim to fraudsters and those who claim to be able to help them with their immigration processes,” Bagga said. “Instead, they steal their money, sometimes hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars, and often leave them in a position that’s even more vulnerable.
“Many of these people claim to be people that can help you and give you special favors or access to immigration services,” he added. “That is simply not true.”
Van Bramer said he’s seen the social media posts and reports about possible ICE sweeps and checkpoints. He’s still looking for more information from federal immigration officials on who was arrested, where and for what reason.
ICE officials have previously said the accusations of checkpoints were not accurate, Van Bramer said.
“It’s a scary time for a lot of people,” he said. “It’s important for us to have good information on what's happening.”