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Scammers target families of illegal child immigrants to U.S.: FBI

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - 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 immigrants crossing the border from Latin America, seeking money for phony travel costs.

A Federal Bureau of Investigation official in San Antonio said investigators have uncovered two similar fraud schemes targeting family members of the children who are living illegally in the United States.

"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," said Special Agent Michelle Lee.

  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 United States in recent months has been facing a surge of unaccompanied children arriving from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, with some 90,000 expected to have arrived over the year by the end of September, according to White House estimates.

Officials said many of the family members being preyed on in the new fraud have already borrowed several thousand dollars to pay smugglers to get the children into the United States. Many of the children are hoping that the presence of a relative in the United States would allow them to stay in the country.

  Lee said the number of victims and amount of losses was not known at this time.

The United States on Friday stepped up its pace of deporting some of the children, expelling more than 40 children back to the three violence-torn countries.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Rosalind Russell)

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