Don’t be a victim: How to protect yourself against notarios & immigration scams

This year alone more than 3.7 million people requested some type of immigration benefit from the U.S. government. With so many applicants, complicated immigration laws, and confusion around correct filing processes—it’s no wonder that many immigrants fall victim to immigration scams.

Immigration scams are not only perpetrated by those commonly referred to as “notarios” (the Spanish word for notary). There’s unscrupulous attorneys who have little to no knowledge of or experience with immigration laws and procedures. And there are the people who falsely claim to have special connections to government agencies.

These scammers charge immigrants and their families sometimes thousands of dollars, and all too often they give the wrong advice. Consequences can be extreme, with certain victims ending up in immigration detention, getting deported, or even being barred from ever returning to the U.S.

But scams are tricky. They aren’t always easy to recognize. So here’s 9 tips on how to detect a scam and protect yourself and your loved ones.

1. Don’t believe the hype

Be wary if someone tells you about a secret new immigration law or claims to have connections or special influence with any government office or agency.  Do your research first before paying any money, or avoid working with this person all together.

2. Never pay for attorney referrals

If anyone tells you that you need to pay money so they can refer you to an immigration lawyer, DON’T DO IT! There are several reputable organizations, and nonprofit agencies, including the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA),  that will help you find an immigration attorney in your area.

Additionally, the U.S. government has a list of law firms and organizations that may even do your case for free!

3. If you hire an immigration attorney, make sure they are practicing legally

If an immigration attorney is assisting you with your case, make sure they have a license to practice law. Most states require attorneys to either display the information about their license in a place that is visible to their clients, or provide the information upon request. To verify that the license is still valid and has not been revoked or suspended, you can check the state bar website where you live to confirm the information is up to date and accurate.

Here’s the State Bar websites for Texas, California, Florida, Illinois, and New York.

4. Avoid signing blank forms

If for some reason you need to sign a blank form, be sure to review the form and make sure all the information is correct BEFORE it is filed. Also, don’t forget to get a copy of the completed form.

5. Always get proof that shows your applications have actually been filed

The person who filed the immigration paperwork on your behalf should be able to provide you with a copy or government filing receipt whenever anything is submitted in your case.

6. Get a written contract

The contract should explain the services provided and list the fees and expenses you are charged for the services. If you agree to change any portion of the contract after it is signed, get the new terms, or an explanation of the changes, in writing.

7. Get a receipt

Always make sure you are provided a receipt. This applies regardless of whether you pay in cash, check, or credit card.

8. Don’t let anyone “find” you a sponsor or spouse to get you a green card

This is considered immigration fraud and it is ILLEGAL. If immigration authorities figure out that you lied about your relationship, or entered into a marriage solely to get your green card, this will severely affect your chances of ever getting a green card or visa in the future, and could lead to deportation.

9. Follow your gut

If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Don’t put your trust in someone simply because they put on a good show or have the gift of gab. Make sure to follow up, do your research, and ask lots of questions. Your future may just depend on it.