Allison here, with AllClear ID. Scammers do their work by preying upon vulnerable populations: the elderly, the children, the deceased. But, there’s one more population that’s also being targeted: immigrants. New immigrants are especially vulnerable. They can be intimidated or threatened with arrest or deportation for reporting a possible fraud or scammer.

The Federal Government has created a database with over 6 million immigration fraud complaints, ranging from scammers providing false green cards and immigration documents – to providing false or nonexistent immigration services. These scammers even charge for government forms and access to personal documentation that is otherwise free. Sometimes, these scammers work under identities stolen from legitimate practitioners, as was the case with one man arrested in West Palm Beach, Fla. in 2011. The man posed as an attorney and processed more than 3,000 fraudulent immigration applications and consulted with them in his home.

If you or someone you know is an immigrant seeking legal counsel or has been a victim of immigration fraud, please follow these tips when finding an attorney, legitimate immigration services, or help in settling the fraud:

  • Make sure to consult an attorney, not a notary public or an “immigration consultant”. If you are undocumented and need legal advice regarding your situation, avoid any ‘notario’ immigration consultant or other so-called “professional” who is not a licensed attorney in your state. A notario or consultant isn’t allowed to give legal advice or to talk to government agencies for you.
  • Request receipts for payments, request copies of all documents filed on your behalf, and make sure you have a representation agreement in writing. Don’t let anyone keep your documents, such as a passport or a birth certificate, or fill out paperwork that you can fill out yourself. If anything doesn’t feel right, get a second opinion.
  • Only work with immigration websites that have a .gov ending, as only those sponsored by the government can have such a website. Immigration websites with any other ending are probably fraudulent.
  • Some local businesses, websites and individuals make reference to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). This agency no longer exists! Those referencing this agency are trying to scam you. The INS was dismantled on March 1, 2003. The agency that you should be working with is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which grants immigration benefits.
  • Don’t work with any business that says they can guarantee a quicker processing, a green card, or entry into the annual Diversity Immigrant Visa Program for a fee.
  • There is free or low-cost legal help available for people who think they have been defrauded: The Board of Immigration Appeals has a website with referrals to local immigration attorneys or non-profits that can provide services for low or no cost.
  • The American Immigration Lawyers Association provides referrals to attorneys in different areas of immigration law.