Scammers know the immigration process is complicated. They use the confusion it causes to try to take advantage of people looking for help. Here are some examples of common immigration scams, advice on how to spot and avoid them, and where to get real help.
Notario or immigration consultant scams
In the United States only an immigration attorney or someone authorized by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) can give you immigration advice. But scammers try to confuse immigrants, by calling themselves notario, notary public, accountant, or consultant. In Latin American countries, the word notario or notary public means that the individual is an attorney or has legal training, but that’s not true in the United States.
Only attorneys and people who have been accredited by the U.S. Department of Justice working for a recognized organization can give you legal advice.
Anyone else is just taking your money. Sometimes, their bad advice will hurt your chance to immigrate lawfully or adjust your legal status. The DOJ has a full list of accredited individuals and recognized organizations.
What to know
- Don’t go to a notario, accountant, or consultant for immigration or legal help. See the advice 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, accountant, or consultant might ask you to do this.
- Don’t pay for immigration forms. The official forms from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are free.
- Don’t let a notario or anyone else keep your original documents.
(View or share the YouTube version of this video).
Fake Immigration Websites
When you look for immigration help, you might 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, 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 also 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 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 them money to apply to the program, promising them special access, or promising to increase their chances of winning the lottery. But there is no special access, and nobody can increase your chance of winning.
What to know
- You'll be able to enter the visa lottery
- only once a year
- only at dvprogram.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’ll be able to find out the status of your entry only at dvprogram.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. Scammers tell refugees, for example, that they’re eligible for a special government grant — but to get the money they have to pay 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. And if someone says you have to pay them by gift card, wire transfer, a payment app, or cryptocurrency — to help you with your immigration status or for any reason — that’s also a scam.
What to know
- If you’re a refugee and someone reaches out to you about government aid, talk to the case manager at your resettlement agency immediately.
- Never pay for immigration help with gift card, money transfer, payment app, or cryptocurrency. You’re dealing with a scammer.
- Find more information for refugees on the USCIS website: Questions and Answers: Refugees.
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, who want to help you with the immigration process, might cause problems for you later. For example, someone who helps you with forms might be able to write or translate what you ask them to, but not be qualified to give you advice on what to say or which forms to use. Take some time to find the real help you need for your immigration situation.
Find people authorized to help
Only an attorney or an accredited representative working for an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice is authorized to give you legal advice about the immigration process. Working with them can also help protect you from people who might cheat you.
- 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.
- Check this list from the American Immigration Lawyers Association to find an immigration attorney in your area. These attorneys will charge you a fee.
- An accredited representative is not a lawyer but is someone authorized to give immigration advice. The organizations they work for may charge you a fee.
- An 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.
Do It Yourself
You can represent yourself in immigration proceedings, if you choose. 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 need information you can’t find online. (If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability, use the text telephone (TTY) number: 800-767-1833.)
If you or someone you know has seen or experienced a scam related to immigration, 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 are comfortable with. Or, ask your immigration attorney to use their name, or the name of their law firm or agency, to report it to the FTC.
- your local or state authorities
Find more information on common immigration scams at the USCIS website.