There is hardly anything more despicable that exploiting the most vulnerable, and yet that is exactly what immigration scammers do—and often. A range of factors make immigrants easy targets for such urchins, including the fact that many immigrants are anxious about the immigration process, unsure if they qualify for green cards or other visas, and unfamiliar with how the U.S. government conducts business. On top of that, many immigrants speak limited English and are unsure of U.S. cultural norms.
As a first line of defense, should you worry that someone claiming to be from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is an imposter, contact USCIS customer service at 800-375-5283. In addition, it is worth becoming familiar with two of the most persistent scams.
1. Imposter Lawyers (Notarios)
This scam exploits the fact that, in Latin America and Europe, a “notario” or notary public, often refers to someone who has a high level of education and the equivalent of a license to practice law. In the U.S. and Canada this same designation simply qualifies someone to witness signatures and requires no specialized education. Thus, scammers employ this title to impersonate lawyers when, in fact, they have no legal training or authority. Their scam depends on offering to help immigrants file paperwork with the government in return for a fee and then never following through or worse, filing ineligible paperwork, thus creating future problems for their “clients.”
Remember, only licensed attorneys in good standing and accredited non-lawyers listed on the Department of Justice’s Accredited Representatives Roster are allowed to provide legal advice about your specific immigration case and communicate with USCIS on your behalf. There are no exceptions to this rule of thumb. Keeping this in mind should help immigrants avoid this notorious “Notarios” scam.
2. Fake Government Officials
Another common immigration scam stems from people or websites pretending to represent government agencies such as USCIS or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These individuals call, email, or visit the victim, tell them there is a problem with their immigration status, and offer to fix the issue for a fee. Frequently, these scammers threaten that failure to pay will result in a visa application denial or deportation, seeking to scare the victim into providing immediate payment. A variant exists wherein the aggressor simply seeks to “verify” personal information such as names, dates of birth, social security numbers, and addresses which can then be used to steal the victim’s identity.
In order to avoid the above scams and others like them, keep the following guidelines in mind:
If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. You can’t avoid deportation by paying a fee and no lawyer can guarantee you a green card or work permit. Such offers are unscrupulous and fraudulent.
The government only communicates through official channels. All official U.S. government websites and email addresses end in “.gov”. If this is not the case, you are likely dealing with a scammer. Moreover, USCIS will never call you to request information about your case.
Suspicious payment methods. No government agency will ever ask you to submit payment through Western Union, PayPal, or any other third-party platform. Indeed, the USCIS outlines clear fee instructions for paying by check or money order made out to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.”
If you suspect you have been the victim of a scam or have been contacted by a potential scammer, report to both your state authorities and the Federal Trade Commission. Likewise, do not hesitate to forward any suspicious emails to the USCIS Webmaster (USCIS.Webmaster@uscis.dhs.gov).
Reporting an immigration scam will not affect your application, and can often be done anonymously.
Ask the Immigration Attorney
Have a burning questions about how to avoid immigration scams, or any other immigration-related topic? Take the opportunity to ask Amena Choudhury—one of Cleveland’s most compassionate immigrations attorneys—your question, completely free! Just submit your question via the form below, and Amena will get back to you.