In other countries, a notario público, notary public, or notario can be someone who has a lot of legal training. But in the United States, a notary or notario público is a witness to the signing of official documents. Notarios in the U.S. are not licensed attorneys and can’t give you legal advice. If you need legal advice about your immigration status, you need to speak with an attorney. People who are designated as accredited representatives also can help. But if you go to a notario, and the notario is not an accredited representative, that person is just taking your money. Sometimes, that will hurt your chance to immigrate lawfully. Read this graphic novel to see a few ways a notario scam can happen. You can order free copies to distribute in your community.
What to know:
- Don’t go to a notario for immigration or legal help. See the tips below on how to get real help.
- Don’t sign blank immigration forms, or forms that have false information about you or your situation. A dishonest notario may ask you to do this.
- Don’t pay for immigration forms. The official forms from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are free.
- Don’t let a notario or anyone else keep your original documents.
Fake Immigration Websites
When you’re looking for immigration help, you may find websites that look like they’re connected with USCIS — but they’re not. They may use names like “U.S. Immigration” and show pictures of American flags or the Statue of Liberty. But if the website address doesn’t end in .gov, that means it’s not a federal government website and not connected with USCIS. The site might charge you for forms that are free from the government, and might steal your personal information.
What to know:
- 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 people call this program the “visa lottery.” It’s free to enter. The winners, picked at random, win the chance to apply to become lawful permanent residents. But scammers try to trick people by charging money to apply to the program, promising special access, or promising to increase someone’s chances of winning the lottery.
What to know:
- You can enter the visa lottery:
- only once a year
- only at dvlottery.state.gov
- only if you’re from an eligible country and meet the educational or work requirements.
- You don’t have to pay to apply for the visa lottery.
- The winners are picked at random and no one can influence the results.
- You can only find out the status of your entry at dvlottery.state.gov.
Scams Against Refugees
Refugees — people who are forced to leave their country to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster — also are targets for scams. Refugees have a different legal status than other immigrants, but scammers don’t care. They tell refugees, for example, that they’re eligible for a special government grant. But, to get the money they have to pay a fee first. Or scammers say they’re from the IRS and need the person’s bank account number to deposit the grant money. But there is no special grant. You know this is a scam because the government doesn’t call, text, or email to ask for your bank account number. And if someone tells you to pay them by gift card, money transfer, or cryptocurrency — to help you with your immigration status or for any reason — that’s also a scam.
What to know:
- If you are a refugee and someone reaches out to you about government aid, talk to the case manager at your resettlement agency immediately.
- Don’t pay anyone who asks you to pay by gift card, money transfer, or cryptocurrency for immigration help. You’re probably dealing with a scammer.
- Get more information for refugees from the USCIS website: Questions and Answers: Refugees.
Get Real Help
Choosing the right person to help you is almost as important as filling out the right form, or filling it out the right way. Even people who mean well, like a friend or a family member, and want to help you with the immigration process can cause problems for you later. For example, they should only write or translate what you tell them to and should not give you advice on what to say or which forms to use.
To get the help you need, use the information below to find people who are authorized by the U.S. government to help you. Working with them also will help protect you from people who might cheat you
Who can help:
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.
- An attorney must be a member of the professional association in their state. Be sure the attorney you choose is in good standing with the association.
- To find a free or low-cost immigration attorney, check out this state-by-state list from the U.S. Department of Justice.
- You also can see this list from the American Immigration Lawyers Association to find an immigration attorney in your area.
An accredited representative is not a lawyer but is authorized to give immigration advice.
- The accredited representative must work for an organization recognized by DOJ.
- Find the recognized organizations in your area on the Recognition & Accreditation Program page on DOJ’s website. The organization may charge you a fee.
Do It Yourself
You can represent yourself in immigration proceedings, if you choose. You may want to start by reviewing the section, Explore My Options, on the USCIS website.
What to know:
- Immigration forms are free. Never pay to get official forms. You probably will have to pay filing fees when you submit your completed forms to USCIS.
- If you have questions, use the Tools section on the USCIS website or get more resources on the USCIS Avoid Scams page.
- Call the USCIS Contact Center at 800-375-5283 if you can’t find the answers you need. (If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability, use the text telephone (TTY) number: 800-767-1833.)
Report Immigration Scams
If you or someone you know has seen or experienced an immigration scam, it’s important to report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. When you report the scam, 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.