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scam signThere are a number of common scams inflicted on innocent immigrants every year. One example occurred in Florida is when Josefa Siverio stole checks and money orders that hopeful applicants paid. The applications were ultimately denied when Ms. Siverio allegedly kept the filing fees and failed to submit the payments to USCIS.

She touted her business as an immigration consulting and services provider but she was not licensed to give legal advice. She is accused of preparing 146 fraudulent petitions, when, instead of writing checks out to USCIS, she wrote them out to herself.

Scammers are always on the prowl for victims. Often unlicensed “notarios” prepare and file immigration forms when the client is not eligible for the benefit, sometimes resulting in removal orders. Other examples include filing the wrong forms, missing deadlines, and robbing immigrants of their money.  Scammers are always looking for a way to make a few dollars from the pockets of innocent victims by making false promises in order to coerce their victims into paying for bogus or unnecessary services.

1. Hiring a Notario Publico

A Notary Public in the United States is very different from the definition of a Notario Publico in many Latin American countries. In the United States, a Notary Public is a person who can witness the signing of documents, but it is not a person who can provide any type of legal advice.

Since a Notary Public in the United States cannot provide legal services or legal advice, their fees should be nominal.  Do not pay a non-attorney to prepare immigration forms which can be found for free at www.uscis.gov.

Remember, a Notary Public does not have the necessary education to provide legal advice on immigration matters.  In Latin American countries, notarios are attorneys and many immigrants in the United States may confuse the two.  Remember, in Florida, a nonlawyer cannot provide legal advice or legal services.

It is important to know that you are hiring a qualified attorney. In Florida, if you would like to know whether someone is an attorney licensed to practice law in the state of Florida, go to www.floridabar.org and click on the “Find a lawyer” button.

2. Paying for Fees by Phone

Many immigrants are not aware that the United States Department of Homeland Security is never going to ask for fees to be paid over the telephone. Often, unscrupulous scammers target immigrants over the telephone and request the unsuspecting victim to pay fees for immigration services over the phone.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), will never call an applicant and ask for more detailed information over the phone. Scammers understand that undocumented immigrants and those who have a language barrier are often willing to provide this information by making threats of deportation.

Immigration fees can be paid via a variety of methods. Check uscis.gov to verify the correct payment methods, filing fees, and addresses.

3. Receiving an Email That You Won the Green Card Lottery

The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (Green Card Lottery) makes up to 50,000 immigrant visas available each year. They are drawn from a random selection among all entries to individuals who are from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Although there is a selection process and some individuals will be given the opportunity to receive a green card through a lottery system, those that are chosen do not receive an email that they have won a green card in the lottery.

These types of scams entice the unsuspecting victim by sending an email that they have won and that they will get a green card as long as they complete the signup process at the fake website that is provided in the “winning” email.

It is important to know that you will not be notified by email about winning the lottery and you should never pay for fees by following a link from such fraudulent emails.

4. Charging for US Immigration Forms

If you are applying to immigrate to the United States, it’s important to know that all of the necessary immigration forms are provided free of charge by the Department of Homeland Security. A number of websites exist that are designed to look like they are affiliated with the Department of Homeland Security.  DO NOT pay a fee to download free forms that can be found at www.uscis.gov.

If you are being asked to pay for forms, navigate to www.uscis.gov.

What to Do if You Have Been Scammed

If you are caught up in an illegal scam and you were targeted as an immigrant, you can contact the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and provide them with all of the details of your case.

If you are unsure about your immigration case or have legal questions, it is important to work with an attorney that has experience in immigration law. In Florida, you can contact the Florida Bar to report anyone who is practicing law without a license, or the Florida Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protections to report fraud.

To protect yourself against scammers in the immigration industry, it is vital to know that you will never be contacted over the telephone for information. You can contact USCIS anytime to discuss your application.

If you are worried about illegal scamming, it is time to work with an attorney that can help you.

If you need immigration services, contact Pobjecky & Pobjecky, and we will will schedule an appointment to discuss your case.