Scam artists have always targeted immigrants but with the Obama Administration’s issuance of the new Executive Order scams could be on the rise. The immigration reform has caused much confusion among immigrant populations causing some families to dish out extra money to alleged immigration attorneys scamming them into believing their immigration status is at risk.
Immigration problems are very serious and can provide significant stress on immigrant families. Scam artists understand how stressful immigration problems can be and prey on the weaknesses of vulnerable immigrants. Scam artists are also aware that immigrants are not likely to report scams out of fear of being deported, making immigrants even more vulnerable.
One important point to note is that many businesses offering immigration services are not law firms and do not employ immigration attorneys. This confusion may lead people to believe they have hired an attorney when they haven’t. These business may employ immigration consultants who are not attorneys and cannot provide the same services as an attorney. Immigration consultants can provide some assistance with immigration issues but do not have the same power as an attorney. They are also referred to as “Notarios”.
TheOffice of the Attorney General’s website notes the difference between an immigration consultant and immigration attorney. Only attorneys that are licensed to practice law can give legal advice.
Immigration consultants mayoffer similar services of that of an immigration attorney but it is important to note that an immigration consultant can only provide non-legal help. Examples of the kind of help an immigration consultant may supply is translating forms or documents, submitting your forms to the INS, or advising you as to which forms you should file.
Often time scam artists will pose as an immigration attorney or consultant. The Office of Attorney General notes some common scams that con artists often employ to trick immigrants:
- Representing oneself as an attorney or immigration consultant when one is not qualified.
- Filing unnecessary applications.
- Charging for services that were never conducted.
- Keeping an applicants original documents and then charging a fee in order for the applicant to get the documents back.
- Charging a fee upfront for services and then charge additional fees in order to do more work for the applicant.
Attorney General Kamala Harris also provides a list of good practices for anyone using the immigration system in order to minimize the possibility of getting duped by unscrupulous immigration consultants. Some of her suggestions are:
- Do not accept legal advice from someone that is not a licensed attorney.
- Do not pay a fee to an immigration consultant in exchange for referring you to an attorney.
- Do not trust telephone scammers that pretend to be immigration officials. These scammers will often ask you for personal information or payment information over the phone.
- Beware and take caution against internet scams.
- Never sign any immigration forms that contain false information or are blank.
It’s important to ensure your immigration matters are handled by an attorney you trust. Sweta Khandelwal is a seasoned immigration lawyer licensed to practice law and has been working in the field for over 10 years. She has spoken at several different conferences in India and the United States on immigration issues. Contact The Law Office of Sweta Khandelwal today to discuss any issue or anxiety you have about the immigration process.
Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Issues Consumer Alert on Scams Targeting Immigrants and their Families, November 25, 2014, State of California Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General.
Immigration Consultants, State of California Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General copyright 2015.