The “DIY” (do-it-yourself) movement is taking the country by storm and as the movement spreads, consumers are demanding better access to legal services. The immigration service industry is no exception and this is great news for consumers. Before technology existed to assist consumers with the immigration process, those in need of help had few options. Consumers could either work with a traditional law firm or proceed on their own without any guidance. Since legal services performed by a typical immigration law firm tend to be very expensive – out of desperation – many immigrants proceed with their applications on their own. Unfortunately, this desperate situation has left many immigrant families vulnerable to scam artists and illegitimate service providers.
Scam Artists, Notarios & Vulnerability
These scam artists may call themselves “immigration consultants” or a “notario publico” and hold themselves out as legal professionals able to give legal advice and guide immigrants through the US immigration process. For those immigrants that speak Spanish, the problem begins with the language barrier itself. A “notario” or notary is a lawyer in many Latin American countries. That is not true in the United States. A notary in the US is merely someone who can certify and witness documents. By relying on this language disconnect, the complexity of the immigration process, and immigrants’ unique vulnerability many scam artists aim to take advantage of those in need during one of the most important times of their lives.
Only authorized immigration service providers may represent you before USCIS and/or in Immigration Court. Authorized service providers are:
1) Licensed Attorneys in good standing who are not subject to any order restricting their ability to practice law; or
2) Representatives accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) working for BIA-recognized organizations.
If It Sounds Too Good To Be True; It Probably Is
Working with an unauthorized immigration service provider can seriously impair the immigration process and the likelihood your application gets approved. Scam artists will often take your hard earned money, make empty promises, and will likely never advance your case through the process. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true; it probably is.
Filing the wrong forms or incorrect/incomplete information with the government and/or missing certain deadlines can seriously delay the process. In a worst case scenario, the damage done by an unauthorized service provider may be irreversible. In such an instance, you may never be able to achieve the legal status you desire.
Understand Immigration Fraud & Report It
It is important to point out that this type of fraud is not limited to those that speak Spanish. These scam artists do not discriminate. They often insert themselves into immigrant communities that they culturally identify with and exploit everyone they can. The risk of fraud is so great that the American Bar Association – the organization that governs lawyers – has an initiative specifically targeted at reporting and eliminating this type of immigration fraud. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) has a similar program as well. If you suspect an organization is engaged in immigration fraud, report it to the proper state and federal authorities. Your report could help folks just like you avoid significant problems.
Since authorities have increased awareness of these scams, many illegitimate service providers have taken their scams to the internet to take advantage of the anonymity it provides. They have transformed their scams and essentially become “online notarios.” Unfortunately, the nature of the internet makes it difficult for consumers to tell when an online operation is genuine.
Red Flags & Warning Signs
Fortunately, there are some common red flags among illegitimate websites that consumers can look for when evaluating service providers:
✖ Charging Fees For Immigration Forms
This is a big red flag. A website that simply charges for immigration forms may be a scam. The USCIS provides immigration forms free of charge. Never pay for immigration forms. You can download them all here for FREE.
✖ Zero Guidance
A website that provides little or no guidance about the immigration process should seem suspicious. If a website merely wants to take your hard-earned money and personal documents without any guidance or a connection to a qualified individual or firm, the operation may be a scam.
✖ Asking For Payment Up Front
If a website asks for your credit card information or for payment up front without asking you for information necessary to evaluate your case, the website or operation may be a scam.
✖ Guarantees Regarding Approval
A website or operation that guarantees success or approval of your immigration application should seem suspicious. No one can guarantee that your application for legal status will be approved.
✖ Special Relationships with USCIS or Government Officials
A website or operation claiming to have a special relationship with USCIS or other government officials should seem suspicious. USCIS does not “fast track” applications or establish preferential relationships with service providers.
A Privilege to Provide Access, Simplicity & Transparency
There is no doubt that the continued development of technology will improve immigrants’ access to legal services. Consumers looking for help with their immigration matter deserve to interact with service providers in a way they are comfortable with. At a minimum, the process should be simple, transparent, and provide better access to the help you need. Whether you chose to work with SimpleCitizen or another organization, please keep in mind the red flags discussed above.