Negotiating the immigration process is not easy. It’s even harder when immigration scammers use a shared heritage and phony websites to extract money and sensitive information. It’s important to know how to spot a trickster and to avoid their tricks. Here are some of them, summarized from information from the FTC:
Notario Scams: In other countries, a notario público, notary public, or notario can be someone with legal training. However, in the US, a notary or notario público is a witness to the signing of official documents. Notarios in the U.S. are not licensed attorneys; they can’t give you legal advice.
For legal advice about your immigration status, you must speak to an attorney or to people officially designated as accredited representatives. If you go to a notario who is not an accredited representative (learn how to tell here), you’re being scammed…and it could hurt your chance to immigrate lawfully. Here’s a graphic novel to see a few ways a notario scam can happen.
- Don’t sign blank immigration forms, or forms that have false information about you or your situation.
- Don’t pay for immigration forms. The official forms from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are free; find them here.
- Don’t let a notario or anyone else keep your original documents.
Fake Immigration Websites: Scammers love the internet! They create websites that look like they’re with USCIS — but they’re not. Don’t be fooled by names like “U.S. Immigration” and pictures of American flags. If the website address doesn’t end in .gov, it’s not a federal government website and not connected with USCIS. The scam site might charge you for forms that are free from the government, and might steal your personal information.
- Real U.S. government website addresses end with .gov.
- USCIS forms are free. If you have to pay to download government immigration forms, you’re not on a legitimate website.
- You’ll find real immigration information at the USCIS website.
Diversity Lottery Scams: The U.S. Department of State manages the Diversity Visa Immigrant Program. (Some call this the “visa lottery.”) It’s free to enter. Winners are picked randomly and win the chance to apply to become lawful permanent residents. Scammers will charge money to apply for this free program, promise “special access,” or promise to boost the chance of winning.
- You can only enter the visa lottery once a year.
- You can only enter at dvlottery.state.gov
- You can only enter if you are from an eligible country and meet the educational or work requirements.
- You never have to pay to apply for the visa lottery.
- Winners are picked at random. No one can influence the results.
- You can only find out the status of your entry at dvlottery.state.gov.
- And remember: anyone in this process who asks for payment by gift card, money transfer, or cryptocurrency is a scammer.
Get Real Help: Getting the right person to help is almost as important as filling out the right form and doing it the right way. A friend or family member could mean well, but cause problems for you later. Only an attorney or an accredited representative working for an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) can give you legal immigration advice. The FTC has detailed information and links on how to get real help; visit here for more information; it can also guide you on how to learn to do it yourself.
Report the scammers!
Report Immigration Scams: It’s safe and easy to report an immigration scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. You can give as much or as little information about yourself as you’d like. Or, ask your immigration attorney to use their name, or the name of their law firm or agency, to report it to the FTC. It can also help to report your experience to your local or state authorities.
Find more information on common immigration scams at the USCIS website.