MIAMI — Since President Joe Biden launched a probation program to accept a limited number of migrants from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti, a clandestine industry has been brewing that is ripe for fraud.

One of the conditions to be able to apply to the probation program is to have a sponsor in the United States. These supporters, usually close relatives, must provide financial support for at least two years.

Although it wasn’t designed for people to profit from it, many deals are being made discreetly through word of mouth and the WhatsApp messaging app; there is even sponsorship advertising on social media. The prices are usually between $8,000 and $10,000, but many of them are scams.

A resident of Cuba, a young doctor whose name is withheld for security reasons, told NBC News that she was scammed by a Facebook user. She thought she had found someone trustworthy who could be her ticket to the US.

“Most say they have relatives in Cuba who will pay them back if something goes wrong, but they are all lies,” said the 28-year-old woman.

A relative of the young doctor made a transfer of 1,800 dollars to the «sponsor», money that her family in Cuba had been saving for years. They were told $800 was for the application process and $1,000 for a lawyer.

After the transfer was done, the person disappeared and blocked the woman from Facebook.

“Many people I have contacted since then ask me for money in advance. When I tell them I’m not going to pay early, they immediately block me,» the woman said.

The Cuban doctor said she knows people who paid «sponsors» and received travel documents, only to discover that the travel documents were fake.

“I’ve heard of people who have paid others for this type of service and they just disappear,” said John de la Vega, a Miami-area immigration attorney.

“They are taking advantage of desperate and vulnerable people who are trying to get to the United States,” de la Vega said.

Much of the fraud can be found on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

In a Facebook post, a user named “sponsor” says: “We offer sponsors for $10,000 per person paid through Zelle from the United States or in cash in Cuba. 5 thousand in advance and 5 thousand when the papers are ready, before leaving Cuba”.

In another publication aimed at Venezuelans, a person advertises his services with «combo» package offers. There are three options, the most expensive consists of sponsorship, airport pickup and a month’s stay at the fan’s home for $8,200. The listing says «taxes» included.

Florida is home to the largest communities of Venezuelans, Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians in the US and many are receiving requests from family and friends abroad to become patrons.

But not everyone meets the requirements to be a godparent, which include having legal immigration status and demonstrating sufficient financial resources. Some relatives are simply not willing to take on the responsibility of becoming a godparent, even if they meet the criteria. Supporters can also be organizations or companies.

“When they approved the humanitarian parole program for Venezuelans, I was getting about 10 calls a day from people in Venezuela asking us to sponsor them,” said Patricia Andrade, who helps newly arrived Venezuelans through her nonprofit organization , Venezuelan Roots, in Miami.

She said that her organization does not have the ability to sponsor people.

Those without sponsors often turn to social media, where scams abound. And after a coalition of 20 red states filed a lawsuit trying to shut down the program, desperation has grown among those looking to come to the US.

On a Facebook page called “Sponsors of Venezuelans to the US.” With over 2,500 members, many write about their frustration that people offer to sponsor but demand thousands of dollars before applying.

«Everyone asks for money in advance and in the end it’s a scam,» wrote one user.

Another wrote: «So sad to see how they mock the need of others.»

The federal government reviews sponsorship applications for possible fraud and scams.

In a statement to NBC News, US Citizenship and Immigration Services said: «The agency carefully screens each potential supporter through a series of fraud and security-based screening measures before confirming an application. duly sent.» I-134A, Online Application to Be a Sponsor and Statement of Financial Support.”

The statement also said that «USCIS thoroughly reviews each reported case of fraud or misconduct, and may refer those cases to federal law enforcement for further investigation.»

But many of the scams target people and take their money before they have had a chance to apply.

USCIS said it advises beneficiaries to be on the lookout for people who try to contact them online or through social media accounts and offer to support or connect the beneficiary with a supporter in exchange for a fee or other form of compensation.

they list on your website ways to report fraud and tips to avoid scams.

‘We fall in love with things out of desperation’

Yovanna Dimateo.Courtesy Yovanna Dimateo

Venezuelan Yovanna Dimatteo, 38, left a year ago for neighboring Colombia with her husband and their two children in search of a better life. After the Biden administration announced the parole program for Venezuelans, Dimatteo and her husband decided to seize the opportunity, since the situation for them was deteriorating.

Dimatteo said he has contacted churches, organizations and individuals in the US, and those who were willing to be sponsors asked for money. She said she called a church in Utah and the person she spoke to asked for $1,500 upfront and $1,500 after arriving. Other people she contacted asked her to pay between $8,000 and $10,000.

“There are people out there capable of inventing things and innocent people fall for it,” Dimatteo said. «We fall in love with things because of the despair and anguish we face.»

The parole program was initially implemented in October 2022 for Venezuelans and expanded last month to include Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians. Under the program, up to 30,000 people from each country are eligible for humanitarian parole each month, which entitles them to work in the US for two years. Anyone who attempts to cross the border illegally is returned to Mexico and denied the ability to apply for asylum.

The program was announced as Biden was grappling with a record number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border, including the largest number of Cubans in history.