Immigration scams are so common that you probably know someone who has fallen victim. It may be your cousin, a friend of the family, or you have your own immigration scam story. All the stories are similar – trust was put on someone, whether in person, or over the phone, or on a website with the promise of legal immigration fast and cheap. A lot of money was paid upfront. Then the person who seemed honest, professional, and legitimate disappeared, or the website didn’t deliver on their promises and your hard-earned money was long gone.
Situations like these make it hard for people unfamiliar with the American immigration system to trust anyone who is actually trying to help. And those who do scam immigrant victims often get away with it because their victims are too afraid to alert the authorities and give details on their immigration status. In some cases, victims lose out on a few hundred dollars. But more often, the scam causes the victim to hand over thousands of dollars, important original documents, and leave them facing deportation.
Protect yourself by staying informed. In this article, we’ll walk you through the nine most common immigration scams, the red flags you should look out for, and what to do if you’ve been scammed.
Nine Common Immigration Scams
In many Spanish-speaking countries, a notario público is someone who has the qualifications to practice law. However, in the United States, notary publics are not licensed to practice law and have little to no training in immigration and visa procedures. US notary publics are people who are appointed by state governments to witness the signing of important documents and administer oaths.
Some scammers will take advantage of the difference in job roles and will misrepresent the services that they can provide, such as charging for legal advice or document preparation.
According to USCIS, there are only two kinds of authorized immigration service providers that are legally able to provide you with immigration law advice and representation:
- Representatives accredited by the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) and working for EOIR-recognized organizations; and
- Attorneys in good standing who are not subject to any order restricting their ability to practice law.
Diversity Visa Lottery scam
The Diversity Visa Lottery is a visa approval program run by the US State Department that randomly selects “winners” from countries of low immigration rates. It is free to apply, and the applicants must be from a region that accounts for no more than a sixth of all immigrant admissions to the US in the last five years.
Scammers will take advantage of the applicants by contacting them via phone or email claiming to be from USCIS or the US State Department and will request money to “process the application.” In reality, the application is free, and the US State Department will not contact you with the news of your selection. The only communication you may receive from the US government is an email to remind you to check your status on the Entrant Status Check website.
Victims of this scam will be contacted over the phone by someone claiming to be from USCIS, US Immigration, or some other official-sounding entity. Scammers can alter caller ID through a technique called “spoofing,” which can hide the real phone number of the scammer and instead, display a government entity, like the US State Department. During this call, the victim may be asked to provide personal information to verify or correct their files or to make a payment.
USCIS will never call to request personal information or any type of payments through Western Union, MoneyGram, PayPal or gifts cards. If a fee or information does need to be updated, you will be contacted by mail. You are able to make some necessary payments online, but only through your USCIS online account or Pay.gov.
Websites claiming to be affiliated with USCIS will offer processing services or expedited paperwork for a fee. Legitimate sites should end in .gov, and USCIS forms are available for free on their website. USCIS does not charge a fee to download forms.
Keep an eye out for websites promising expedited processing or the promise of a visa. Your visa process cannot be expedited unless specific instructions are given on the uscis.gov website. Do not trust any sites that guarantee you will receive a green card or any other visa. All decision-making authority regarding visa status belongs to USCIS, and any other guarantees are false.
The main government websites with official visa information and free forms include:
- US Embassy and Consulate websites – https://www.usembassy.gov/
- Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs – https://travel.state.gov
- Diversity Visa Lottery Website – http://www.dvlottery.state.gov
- Department of Homeland Security – https://www.dhs.gov/
- USCIS – US Citizenship and Immigration Services – https://www.uscis.gov/
- US Customs and Border Protection – https://www.cbp.gov/
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement – https://www.ice.gov/
- Department of Labor – https://www.doleta.gov/
TPS Re-registration scams
Forms required to apply for temporary protected status are free and available on the USCIS website. Some false websites may provide you with the forms or promise to file necessary paperwork for a fee. The USCIS website states, “Do not pay for or submit any form until USCIS updates official TPS re-registration information for your country. Stay updated at uscis.gov/TPS.”
India immigration scam
Those wishing to emigrate from India may fall victim to an email scam sent from the USCIS New Delhi Field Office or the Department of State in India. These emails often claim that you have been approved for a visa or they are requesting money for processing. USCIS will never contact you via email concerning your immigration status or for payment requests. Also note that USCIS emails will always come from a .gov email address.
Form I-9 scam
This scam targets US companies with foreign employees with an email requesting Form I-9 information. The emails usually come from “email@example.com” and may contain USCIS or the Office of the Inspector General logos and a download button. Employers are not required to submit Forms I-9 to USCIS but must have one on file for every employee who is expected to complete one.
If you receive this email, do not respond or click on any links within the email. Forward the email to the USCIS webmaster or report it to the Federal Trade Commission.
Job offer scams
Job offer scams usually involve a suspicious email from a company you’ve never communicated with and the condition that you must first pay for processing or immigration fees to accept the job. It is highly unlikely for any US employer to request money for visa processing fees, and in most cases, if the job offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
You can check the legitimacy of the offer with an internet search using the company name, email address, or phone number with the word “scam.”
Scams targeting international students
For an international student to travel to the US and obtain a student visa, an accredited US college or university must be able to provide the international student with a Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. Schools and programs that are not accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified cannot sponsor an F-1 student visa, despite any claims to the contrary.
Without proper research, some students could pay fees to an unaccredited school in the hopes of studying in the United States. Before applying, check that your school of choice is listed on the SEVP certified list.
Visa consultants make false claims that they work directly with USCIS to help improve your visa chances. They often charge expensive fees for their services. In some cases, they may record fake information on your immigration documents to get you any type of visa, regardless of your eligibility. For example, a visa consultant may submit an application for an asylum visa on your behalf regardless if you meet the application criteria. Falsifying immigration documents can ruin your chances of ever receiving a visa or lead to deportation. USCIS does not work with visa consultants in any capacity, and they cannot improve your visa chances.
Always contact a reputable immigration attorney who is licensed to provide you with legal advice and representation regarding your immigration status. To find a qualified immigration lawyer in Oklahoma, or throughout the United States, visit the American Immigration Lawyers Association website.
What to do if you’ve been scammed
The US government and USCIS work hard to stop scammers. However most frauds and scams go unreported. Victims are often scared of reporting for fear that they will be deported or that the complaint will negatively affect their visa status. Reporting an immigration scam does not change your status, and it can often be done anonymously.
If you are a victim or know someone who is, you can report it to your state authorities and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC’s Complaint Assistant can walk you through submitting a report with the option to post anonymously. The website is available in Spanish and English.
If you receive a suspicious email, do not respond or click on any links within the email. Forward it to USCIS.Webmaster@uscis.dhs.gov or firstname.lastname@example.org for further investigation. Keep in mind that official emails from USCIS and other US government entities will always end in .gov.
USCIS will never ask you to verify your information through a phone call or an email. Any payments that you may need to make can be done in person at the US embassy or consulate office at the time of your scheduled appointment. Protect yourself by using caution regarding any dealings with non-governmental companies that claim to offer visa assistance.
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