A U.S. District Court judge granted a motion from the Federal Trade Commission seeking to shut down Immigration Center and Immigration Forms and Publications, Inc., a company that allegedly posed as an official arm of the U.S. government and convinced consumers to pay fees ranging from $200 to $2,500 to cover processing charges for immigration services.

In an attempt to imitate the work of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, an agency which helps immigrants with paperwork and other counseling, the two companies and various officers of the business created Web sites with URLs like www.uscis-ins.us and www.immigrationhelpline.org and used various symbols like American eagles and the United States flag to imply they were government Web sites. The sites also included advice and immigration application forms and directed consumers to call a number where a person answered “Immigration Center.”

Callers then spoke with persons who identified themselves as “immigration officers” or “caseworkers,” and who offered advice and helped with forms. In reality they were merely telemarketers who were not authorized to provide such services, the FTC alleged.

As callers were charged the same fee by the defendants as the government charged for submitting application forms, the applicants believed that the fees would cover all their costs to submit their application forms. Instead, some applicants were charged twice, once by the company and again by the government, while others paid for help with an application that was never processed by the U.S. government for failure to include the necessary filing fee.

Nevada District Court Judge Edward C. Reed Jr. granted the FTC’s motion to freeze the company’s assets and appointed a receiver. The agency is seeking a permanent injunction and restitution for those who purchased its services.

To read the complaint in FTC v. Immigration Center, click here.

To read the court’s order granting a halt to operations and an asset freeze, click here.

Why it matters: In addition to alleging the defendants misrepresented that the fees paid would cover all of their costs to submit immigration documents, the FTC charged the defendants with falsely claiming they were authorized to provide immigration and naturalization services and that they were affiliated with the U.S. government.