UPDATE: Lately immigrants all over the country are being targeted in phone scams. Scammers may call or email, pretending to be a government official. They say that there is a problem with an application or additional information is required to continue the
immigration process. They then ask for personal and sensitive details, and demand payment to fix any problems. Remember, USCIS officials will never ask for payment over the phone or in an email. If payment is needed, mail a letter on official stationery
requesting payment will be mailed out.
Whether you’re applying for or renewing a Green Card, becoming a citizen, or sponsoring a family member, immigration issues can be complicated and immigration mistakes can be costly.
Finding the right person to help you is just as important as finding out which forms to use and how to fill them out properly. There are many people and organizations offering immigration services; and you will see all kinds of newspaper ads, advertisements in store windows, or billboards. Some of these immigration providers will even call themselves immigration experts. The reality is that few, if any of these people, even know the basics of immigration law, and help from people who don’t know the law or rules can hurt you. These people will charge you money, but they will not give you real help. Sometimes, they might even do something that will hurt your case later on.
Even people who mean well – a friend, a teacher, or a relative – can cause problems for you. Helpers like these should only write or translate what you tell them to, not give you advice on what to say or which forms to use. To get real help and legal advice, work with people who are actually qualified, not those who just pretend that they are qualified and know immigration law.
Watch out for dishonest people who may even charge you for blank immigration forms, say they have a special relationship with the government, or guarantee you results. They may promise to get you a winning slot in the Diversity Visa lottery if you pay a fee. They may charge you a lot of money to supposedly guarantee you benefits that you don’t even qualify for. They may tell you they know someone at the Consulate or Embassy who can get you valid papers for a “small fee.”
How to Avoid a Scam
- Never pay for blank government forms. Government forms are free, though you’ll probably have to pay a filing fee when submitting them to USCIS.
- Know that some scammers set up websites that look like they are run by the government, but they aren’t. Make sure that the website that looks like a government site ends with “.gov.” That means it is from the U.S. government.
- Don’t let anyone keep your original documents, like your birth certificate or passport. Scammers may keep them until you pay to get them back.
- Never sign a form that has false information in it. Never sign a document that you don’t understand.
- You will get a receipt from USCIS when you turn in your paperwork. Keep it! It proves that USCIS received your application or petition. You will need the receipt to check on the status of application, so be sure you get a copy.
- Understand that in the U.S., notarios or notaries public are not lawyers; they can’t give you legal advice or talk to government agencies for you.
How to Get the Right Help
Help is available, but there are rules about who can help you. Follow these rules to find help authorized by the U.S. government. Getting help from someone who’s not qualified to give you legal advice – like some immigration scammer – can be worse than not getting any help. Two main groups are authorized to give you legal immigration advice or represent you: lawyers and accredited representatives:
Lawyers can give you advice and represent you. Lawyers, also called attorneys, must be a member of the “bar” – the professional association in their state. The state bar association can discipline, suspend, or even expel a lawyer for breaking the rules. Be sure the lawyer you choose is in good standing with the bar association. That means they’re not in trouble for breaking the rules for lawyers.
There are enough lawyers living in this country for you to have little to no problem finding one that speaks your language, if you are not comfortable communicating in English.
Accredited Representatives are not lawyers, but are authorized by the government to give legal immigration advice. They also may represent you. These representatives must work for an organization that’s officially recognized by the US government. The names of both the accredited representatives and these recognized organizations are on a list kept by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) at the Department of Justice.
Immigration scams are illegal. If you or someone you know has seen an immigration scam or been the victim of one, it’s important to report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the attorney general of your state. Go to ftc.gov/complaint (or call 1-877-382-4357), or click on the map at naag.org o find out how to contact the attorney general in your state.
It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to work with a real immigration practitioner, or someone who knows immigration law. And as everything else in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If someone promises you miracles, especially for an extra fee, chances are you’re being scammed or you are working with someone who has no clue what she or he is doing.