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How to Avoid Immigration Scams

May 6, 2022

Be on the lookout for immigration scams. Make sure that anyone you turn to for immigration legal advice is qualified and authorized to be giving you legal advice. At the Law Office of Jason A Dennis, we have the experience needed to guide you through the immigration process and to help you spot and avoid immigration scams and pitfalls. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a free case consultation!

Types of Scammers

Immigration scams can have a number of severe consequences, from costing you money upfront to causing serious immigration consequences, and even possibly leading to identity theft. 

There are a number of factors that make immigrants a common target for scammers. Many immigrants feel anxiety over the immigration process and the uncertainty they can face over green cards or other visas. Add to that the complexity of U.S. immigration law, and you will find that most of those involved in the immigration system are unfamiliar with how the federal government conducts its business.

To take things one step further, many immigrants don't speak English fluently or are not yet familiar with U.S. social norms. These factors all combine to make them frequent and, in many cases, easy targets for scammers. 

an image of a scammer on a laptop

Scammers will target immigrants at all stages of the immigration process. They will most commonly present themselves as:

Notario Fraud

One of the most prominent immigration scams is involved underqualified individuals offering help in filing paperwork for immigration cases, charging a fee for their services, and then either failing to finish the paperwork or filing for incorrect benefits which can create larger immigration issues for the victims of their scam. 

These scams typically use a deceptive translation to perpetuate their con. By referring to themselves as a "notario" or a "notario publico" they gain some legitimacy among immigrants from a number of Latin American countries. This is because "notario publico" directly translates to "notary public" and carries a significantly different meaning in the United States than it may in other countries.

While a notary public in the U.S. is an individual licensed to witness signatures and the designation neither implies nor requires specific educational requirements, in certain Latin American and European countries it often refers to someone with a high level of education and the equivalent of a license to practice law. Due to this, many scammers use the term "notario" to seem legitimate while searching for a victim. 

Be sure to thoroughly research anyone offering to help you with any immigration matter you may face. Look carefully at their qualifications, track record, and testimonials from former clients to verify that they can provide the legal services they say they can. 

Learn More: How to Find the Best Immigration Lawyer

Imposters Posing as Government Officials

Another common immigration scam people may encounter is a person or website pretending to work for or represent federal agencies such as United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

This type will usually involve a phone scam, email fraud, or even an in person visit to tell the victim that there is an issue with his or her immigration status. The scammer will then offer to fix the problem for a fee, and may even use threats of denied applications or deportation if the fee is not paid. 

Imposter scams will often focus on getting immediate payments, but some will collect personal information such as names, dates of birth, social security number, and addresses for use in identity theft schemes. 

Variations on the impostor scam can include:

  • Phone scams: The scammer will claim to be calling from USCIS or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). They will request personal information or ask for payment of some fees. USCIS will not ask for personal information over the phone. 
  • Deportation threats: Fake ICE agents will use fear of deportation to extort immigrants. The scammer will threaten them with deportation unless they pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in "fees". 
  • Scam websites: Scammers set up copycat websites using logos and addresses similar to official U.S. government websites. They will encourage immigrants to file paperwork or pay USCIS fees through this false webpage. Scam websites sometimes also claim to file immigration forms directly with USCIS, which leads victims to believe their paperwork is being processed when it has never been submitted. 
  • Diversity Visa scam: Scammers will pretend to be a U.S. State Department official and email the victim claiming they have won the diversity visa lottery. The email will typically ask for money to be wired for processing fee.
an image of a distraught looking woman on a computer

Spotting a Scam

Immigration scams are far too common, but if you know what to look for, most are fairly easy to spot. Some of the most common signs that you are dealing with a scammer are: 

  • News that is too good to be true. If lawyers have told you you do not qualify for a green card and someone claiming to be a licensed attorney tells you that it will not be a problem, be on alert. Similarly, you cannot avoid deportation by paying ICE agents. This will be a scam. 
  • Someone offering you guarantees of a result. Immigration cases are all unique. None carry a guarantee of a specific result, and you should look closely at anyone telling you they can. 
  • No explanation of the immigration process or your eligibility for particular programs. A qualified immigration attorney will be able to explain everything you will need to do and can tell you what immigration benefits you qualify for. Be wary of anyone promising results without explaining how the they will get them, or asking for personal documents or identification without telling you why it is necessary. 
  • Communicating through a suspicious medium. Federal websites and email addresses should always end in ".gov". A website or email address using a different suffix while claiming to be from a government official are a particularly common scam.
  • Unusual payments. The federal government will not ask for payment through paypal or in the form of iTunes or Target gift cards. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services policies for processing payments are clearly spelled out, and they will not call or email you requesting a payment. 

Related: Reasons to Hire an Immigration Lawyer

Hire an Experienced Immigration Attorney

If you have received a suspicious email, phone call, or visit regarding your immigration case be aware that you may have been targeted by scammers. They may have offered you particular services or offered to ignore a deportation order in exchange for money. These types of immigration scams can result in lost money, and in some cases can jeopardize your legal status if they told you they would file your immigration application or other paperwork. 

For any questions you may have about the immigration process, you should retain the services of a qualified immigration lawyer. At the Law Office of Jason A Dennis, our New York immigration attorneys have years of experience successfully representing clients in various types of immigration cases, including those that involve the most basic immigration applications to those associated with extremely complicated federal court litigation. Contact us today for a free case consultation to see what we can do for your case!

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