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Scam Alert! Reports of Individuals Impersonating USCIS Officers & Other Scams That Prey on Immigrants

April 10, 2013
Beata Leja

In recent days, there have been reports of a new scam that targets foreign nationals in the U.S.

According to a report received by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), an individual impersonating an officer of the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) called an immigrant and provided certain correct information about that immigrant, including the immigrant’s name and address. The caller then stated that there is a discrepancy in the USCIS records database and asked the immigrant to confirm his/her data (e.g. I-94 number, Alien number, or visa control number). The caller then told the immigrant that there is a penalty that must be paid for correcting this discrepancy in the USCIS database and asked the immigrant to send money via Western Union to an address provided by the caller.

Please be aware that the USCIS does not charge a penalty for correcting discrepancies in its database. If you or someone you know receives such a phone call, please report it immediately to your local law enforcement authority, as well as the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection (whose database is accessed by criminal and civil law enforcement authorities worldwide).

Unfortunately, there are many other types of scams that prey on immigrants. The following tips provide useful information to ensure that you or someone you know does not become a victim of such scams:

  • Unlike in Poland, Mexico, and other parts of the world, notary publics in the U.S. cannot practice law. U.S. notary publics are only authorized to verify your identity, witness the signing of important legal documents, and notarize your signature, and are authorized to administer oaths. It is illegal for a notary public, or other similar unlicensed individual, to advise you on immigration law or to assist you in completing immigration forms.
  • Immigration forms in the United States are free. While you may be required to pay a fee to file a form with the United States government, no one should charge you to obtain a copy of the form itself. All forms are available free of charge online, or can be obtained directly from the government agency involved in your case. For example, forms to sponsor a family member or to apply for U.S. citizenship are available online with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  • The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) no longer exists. The U.S. government reorganized its federal agencies after September 11, 2001, dismantled the INS, and on March 1, 2003 created the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which has three agencies dealing with immigration: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (provides immigration benefits); U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (interior enforcement of immigration laws, including deportations); and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (enforcement of immigration laws at borders and airports). Any official immigration documentation should come from one of these agencies. You should not be receiving documentation from the INS anymore.
  • There are no guarantees in immigration. You should be suspicious if someone guarantees you a particular result in your immigration case. At the end of the day, a judge or a government official will make the decision in your case and will base their decision on the status of the immigration laws at that time. Judges and government officials cannot be influenced to make a positive decision in your case, so don’t believe anyone who claims to have a special connection or influence with any judge or government agency. If it sounds like it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.
  • There are many immigration scams on the internet. U.S. government websites always end with a .gov address (e.g. www.cbp.gov, www.ice.gov, www.state.gov). Do not trust any websites that pretend to be affiliated with the U.S. government, but which do not end with a .gov domain name. Also be careful of e-mails which request banking information or credit card payment in exchange for immigration assistance. For example, a recent e-mail scam informed individuals that they won the green card lottery and requested online payment of fees. The U.S. government does not notify green card lottery winners via e-mail and certainly would not request fees after approval via email

If you have been a victim of an immigration scam, or would like to report the unauthorized practice of law by a notary public, travel agent, insurance agent, immigration consultant, or other unlicensed individual, please contact the Attorney General and/or bar association of your state.

In Illinois, you should contact the Immigrant Assistance Program of the Illinois Attorney General, Lisa Madigan: 1-800-964-3013 or http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/rights/immigrant.html . For other states and for more information on the unauthorized practice of immigration law, visit www.stopnotariofraud.org.

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