(Prescott, AZ – July 16, 2012) With recent announcements about the DREAM Act and changes to Arizona’s immigration laws, Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns that some individuals who claim to offer legal or immigration preparation services may be either unauthorized to so or simply operating a scam.
Consumers can fall prey to individuals who use claims like “immigration lawyers,” “competent in immigration law,” “authorized to provide immigration services,” or “affiliated with the U.S. government.” Victims of immigration services scams often face a huge loss of both time and money, while also increasing their risk of being detained or deported by U.S. officials if they are not provided legal counsel by an authorized entity.
“It is important to remember that specific steps have to be followed when it comes to legal matters,” said Matthew Fehling, BBB President/CEO. “While the public may be tempted to rush out and enlist the services of anyone willing to take on their case, they should research and double check a person’s credentials first.”
Recognizing the negative effects of unauthorized immigration service providers, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offers the program “The Wrong Help Can Hurt,” providing adequate resources and helping to identify dishonest practices.
BBB advises consumers in need of legal or immigration services to follow the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of immigration services scams:
- Don't go to a notario, notario público or a notary public for legal advice. While the word “notario” may refer to a powerful attorney in many Latin American countries, in the U.S., notarios are not lawyers and they are not authorized to provide legal advice or represent consumers at government agencies like USCIS.
- Use a Certified Legal Document Preparer if you need help completing immigration forms. In Arizona, certified legal document preparers can prepare legal documents without the supervision of an attorney; they may also provide general legal information but may not give legal advice.
- Beware of businesses or individuals who guarantee they can get you a Visa, Green Card or Employment Authorization Document. Also, be careful of individuals who claim to be affiliated or have special connections to USCIS.
- Never pay for blank government forms. Government forms are free, even though there is a charge associated with submitting the forms to USCIS. Free immigration forms can be found at USCIS’ website or by calling 1-800-870-3676. Consumers can also visit a local USCIS office to obtain free immigration forms.
- Never sign a form that is not filled out completely or correctly. If a form contains sections that do not apply to you, mark them with “N/A.” Also, if the form contains incorrect or false information do not sign it, as the applicant is responsible for the validity of the information on the document. Lastly, never sign a document that you don't understand.
- Don't let anyone keep your original documents, such as your birth certificate or passport. Scammers may keep them until you pay to get them back.
- Beware of emails or websites that claim they can help you enter or win the Visa lottery. One can only apply for a Visa lottery through an official government application process.
- Keep a copy of every form submitted to USCIS and keep a copy of every letter received from the government relating to your application or petition. USCIS will send you a receipt after receiving your documents. Make sure to keep it as it proves that they received your documents. You will also need the receipt to check on the status of your application or petition.
- Report scams. If you have been a victim of a scam report it to the Federal Trade Commission, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, and your BBB.
For more information on how to avoid immigration scams, visit the USCIS website. USCIS may also be contacted for updates on the Deferred Action Process for Young People at 1-800-375-5283 or ICE’s hotline at 1-888-351-4024.