Today’s news:

Scam targets immigrants

As the economy flounders and more people seek work, state legislators are trying to stiffen the fines on employment agencies that attempt to swindle clients out of a finder’s fee.

State Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D−Jackson Heights) said his office has been flooded with complaints about such agencies in the last two months. The agencies promise clients a job, accept a payment between $100 and $150 and then send them off to a false address or a business not looking for extra help, Peralta said.

“It seems like Consumer Affairs has been doing its job,” Peralta said at a news conference Friday. “But guess what? They’re back.”

Julissa Bissono, a coordinator with the immigrant rights nonprofit Make the Road New York, said her agency has also seen a sharp increase in complaints from immigrants, whose job searches cost them both time and money.

“Sometimes this is their last $100 and they spend it and can’t get it back,” Bissono said.

Corona resident Julio Ruiz, 30, a Honduran immigrant, said he paid one agency $120 for construction jobs only to be sent to locations that were not hiring.

“I’m hoping not only for myself, but for other victims that there is some help,” he said through an interpreter.

Of 368 licensed employment agencies in the city, 40 are located in Jackson Heights and Elmhurst, Peralta said. The city Department of Community Affairs has padlocked nine of them, he said.

Peralta urged residents to dial 311 to report unscrupulous or unlicensed employment agencies, noting the city service does not ask questions about immigration status.

He also said the state Legislature is pushing forward a bill that would increase the fines for employment agency violations from $100 to $500 per infraction. The bill would also classify an accumulation of three or more violations over five years as a misdemeanor crime.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

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