ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Los Lunas woman got caught up in a wacky kind of scam recently when she tried to apply for Italian dual citizenship through the honorary consul’s office in Santa Fe.
In the end, she was duped into sending off copies of her birth certificate, Social Security card and driver’s license, as well as her mother’s original passport into the United States and her mother’s birth certificate.
Fortunately, the woman did not follow through on sending supposed processing fees of $2,500, which were to be sent by money order or Bitcoin.
It all started when she sent an email to the Italian honorary counsul in Santa Fe, Lino Pertusini, asking whether she qualified for Italian citizenship because her mother had been born in Italy.
The next day, before the real Pertusini could respond, she got an email purporting to be from him and requesting unspecified documents. The email, however, came from a different address than the one the woman had first used.
Less than 24 hours later, she got yet another email, this time from the “dual citizenship lawyer” for the honorary consulate in Santa Fe.
The “lawyer” specified the documents he needed to see copies of, and she sent them. The $2,500 tab, he said, would cover the consulate’s “Start to Finish Program” and if she qualified, she would get her Italian citizenship in three months.
But here’s the real story.
Pertusini says it was not him who responded to the woman, and he has never heard of the “dual citizenship lawyer” who contacted her.
Pertusini has nothing to do with citizenship requests and most other matters pertaining to processing documents. That happens in the regional consulate (not “honorary’) in Los Angeles.
“I told her there is no way we would have asked for this kind of money,” he said in a phone interview. “Whoever is doing this has got to be (running) a scam.”
What Pertusini will do, for example, is look at documents and witness the signature of someone who wants an extended visa to Italy. The documents are then sent off to Los Angeles to be processed. Pertusini, whose office is on top of his Italian restaurant in Santa Fe, does this work to help New Mexicans avoid having to travel to L.A.
The Los Lunas woman said she spoke with an official at the consulate in L.A. and was told the office was concerned because the questionable emails carried the consulate logo and stamp. The woman said the official asked her to send the emails, which would then be turned over to the FBI, along with other agencies.
An officer with the L.A. consulate, in a phone interview, would say only that, “We will make all of our efforts to understand what has happened.”
Here’s what to know:
• Always be reluctant to provide your Social Security number. (The Italian consulate does not require it for such procedures as dual citizenship requests.) Also, be wary of exorbitant fees for services.
• Double-check with official sources.
• Watch for grammatical errors, misspellings and generally awkward language, especially in emails from supposed professionals.
Contact Ellen Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210â€‹.