How to Avoid Immigration Fraud & Scams
Immigration fraud and related scams are exactly what they sound like. Fraud may entail attempting to immigrate to the U.S. through false purposes, which breach the country’s immigration laws. It may also refer to fraudulent websites, emails, mail, and communications. Scams typically try to convince individuals to share information, resources and money in promises of obtaining residency or another form of legal status in the U.S.
Recently, USCIS reported an uptick in the number of fraudulent communications sent to those who have applied to the Diversity Visa program. However, immigration fraud is not limited to this area alone. In fact, it comes in many shapes and forms.
What are the Most Common Scams?
There are some commonalities across immigration scams to watch for that could help you spot a scam before it is too late. Scammers will often pose as providers of immigration services, claiming that they can guarantee you a green card or speed up the process. These individuals may run online or local businesses that appear legitimate. Some may offer guidance but then may request money for forms and information that you can already find for free on the USCIS website. Never pay for supposedly guaranteed or expedited green cards or any other type of legal status.
Scammers may also attempt to reach you by phone, asking for personal information or requesting payment for immigration services. The U.S. government never requests payment via telephone and only receives fees outside of the country in U.S. embassies or consulates by appointment. If you find yourself in this situation, hang up immediately.
If you have applied for the Diversity Visa Program, you will receive a notification of successful entry through mail or email. The U.S. government notifies online through the DV Entrant Status Check. You will not receive notification through a phone call.
Be aware of individuals taking advantage of the term notary public to confuse native Spanish speakers. While a notario público may refer to a legal representative or licensed attorney, in the United States a notary public is authorized to witness the signing of documents and administer oaths, but they are not authorization to provide you with legal representation in the U.S. and have no way of assuring the obtainment of legal status in the country.
Finally, you will only receive communication from USCIS; the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) ceased to exist in 2003. Any supposed communication from INS may be an attempt to scam you.
Red Flags and Warning Signs of Immigration Scams and Fraud
Now that you’re aware of some of the common scams, review this list of red flags and warning signs. These may all point to possible immigration fraud and deceit:
- Request for payment or personal information through phone call
- Request to fill out sign blank forms
- Fees for immigration documents
- Applications and documents from unofficial websites
- Phone calls from supposed government officials
- References to proposals as laws that have already gone into effect
Remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always consult the official USCIS website for the latest updates and information. Keep copies of any documents and evidence you send for future reference. When consulting with private attorneys, verify that your lawyer is experienced and licensed to practice law in your area. Never be afraid to ask for outside opinions about a matter before proceeding.
Finally, trust your instincts. If you suspect fraud, do not engage with the individual(s). Instead, remove yourself from the situation immediately and report the incident. You can report suspected immigration scams to the Federal Trade Commission and your state. Reporting scams may be done anonymously in many states. Doing so has no affect your immigration status or application.