SCAM WATCH: Immigration document scams hurt those trying to do the right thing

June 21, 2011

We often forget just what it means to have driver’s license and social security card. Unfortunately, the scammers of the world haven’t forgotten.

A rapidly growing area of fraud in the U.S. involves taking advantage of those needing help with immigration processes. The U.S. Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and the Federal Trade Commission recently announced their initiative to fight immigration services scams.

The common thread in this type of fraud involves the unauthorized practice of immigration law. Whenever the BBB is represented on Spanish-language media stations, for example, numerous calls are received from listeners and viewers who repeat stories of being victimized by people claiming that they were authorized to provide immigration and naturalization services; that they were affiliated with the U.S. government; and that the fees paid by consumers would cover all the costs associated with submitting immigration documents to the proper U.S. agencies.

Callers, however, are reluctant to file complaints against the scammers for fear of being noticed by actual immigration authorities.

“Communities of non-English speaking people are always at a higher risk for being targets of scams,” said Blair Looney, president and CEO of the BBB serving Central California. “Victims of immigration services scams face a huge loss of time and money and many increase their risk of being detained or deported by U.S. officials.”

The BBB advises consumers to follow these tips provided by the FTC to avoid becoming a victim of immigration services scams:

  • Don't go to a notario, notario público, or a notary public for legal advice. In the U.S., notarios are not lawyers: they can't give you legal advice or talk to government agencies for you, like the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) or the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). A notary public doesn't have to be a lawyer either, and is not allowed to give you legal advice.
  • Never pay for blank government forms. Government forms are free, though you'll probably have to pay when you submit them to USCIS. You can get free immigration forms at, by calling USCIS at 1-800-870-3676, or by visiting your local USCIS office.
  • Get immigration information from U.S. government websites. 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 is a dot gov (.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 before it has been filled out, or a form that has false information in it. Never sign a document that you don't understand.
  • Keep a copy of every form that you submit, as well as every letter from the government about your application or petition.
  • 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 your application, so be sure you get a copy.

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