Translator busted for scamming patients

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A Korean-speaking translator’s scheme was snuffed out when he was caught conning Elmhurst Hospital Center’s non-English speaking patients.

The man, whose identity has not yet been released, charged $240 for translation and interpretation assistance – services generally provided for free by the hospital.

“Accurate language translation and interpretation services reduce medical errors and increase the patient’s ability to participate fully in important health care decisions,” said hospital spokesperson Atiya Butler.

The translating trickster was found out by a staff member who alerted New York City Health and Hospitals Police, telling them a patient had been asked to cough up a fee for help with obtaining a health insurance card.

Hospital police issued the perpetrator a summons for criminal trespassing. Officials from Elmhurst Hospital Center would not specify how long the individual has been swindling patients.

New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) annually serves 1.3 million patients, speaking more than 100 languages.

According to Butler, during the 2011 fiscal year, Elmhurst Hospital provided more than 115,000 translations in 89 different languages. The complimentary service includes round-the-clock telephone interpreters, fluent in more than 100 languages, and in-person translators.

Multilingual signs posted throughout the hospital read “free interpreter services.” Additional information, including “I speak” cards and orientation videos, is distributed to incoming patients.

“We provide various translation services, including selected bilingual and multilingual staff and volunteers who get specialized medical interpretation training tailored to their professional needs,” said Butler.

Antonio Meloni, executive director at Immigration Advocacy Services in Astoria, said certain ethnic groups perpetrate scams among their own. He said language and cultural familiarity make it easy for schemers to dupe people of similar backgrounds.

“They’re taking advantage of their own because it’s much easier to defraud someone because they think they’re your friend,” said Meloni. “The scammers are usually very good at what they do.”

Meloni, who has worked in the field for 23 years, said he has seen similar cases of fraud in the past.