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Common Scams

If you need legal advice on immigration matters, make sure that the person you rely on is authorized to give you legal advice. Only an attorney or an accredited representative working for a Board of Immigration Appeals-recognized organization can give you legal advice. 

The Internet, newspapers, radio, community bulletin boards and storefronts are filled with advertisements offering immigration help. Not all of this information is from attorneys and accredited representatives. There is a lot of information that comes from organizations and individuals who are not authorized to give you legal advice, such as “notarios” and other unauthorized representatives. The wrong help can hurt. Here is some important information that can help you avoid common immigration scams.

Telephone Scams

Telephone ScamsDo not fall victim to telephone scammers posing as USCIS personnel or other government officials. In most instances, scammers will:

  • request personal information (Social Security number, Passport number, or A-number);
  • identify false problems with your immigration record; and
  • ask for payment to correct the records.

If a scammer calls you, say “No, thank you” and hang up. These phone calls are being made by immigration scammers attempting to take your money and your credit card information. USCIS will not call you to ask for any form of payment over the phone. Don’t give payment over the phone to anyone who claims to be a USCIS official.

If you have been a victim of this telephone scam, please report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Learn more about telephone scams and telephone scammers’ techniques by visiting Federal Trade Commission-Telemarketing-Scams

“Notario Publico”

 Image of someone stamping a documentIn many Latin American countries, the term “notario publico” (for “notary public”) stands for something very different than what it means in the United States. In many Spanish-speaking nations, “notarios” are powerful attorneys with special legal credentials. In the U.S., however, notary publics are people appointed by state governments to witness the signing of important documents and administer oaths. "Notarios publico,” are not authorized to provide you with any legal services related to immigration.

Please see the National Notary Association website "What is a Notary Public" for more information.

Local Businesses

Store Front offering immigration helpSome businesses in your community “guarantee” they can get you benefits such as a:

  • Visa
  • Green Card
  • Employment Authorization Document

These businesses sometimes charge you a higher fee to file the application than USCIS charges. They claim they can do this faster than if you applied directly with USCIS. These claims are false. There are few exceptions to the normal USCIS processing times.  Visit our National Processing Volumes and Trends page for more information.

Dot-com websiteswww.uscis.gov in the browser window

Some websites offering step-by-step guidance on completing a USCIS application or petition will claim to be affiliated with USCIS. USCIS has its own official website with:

  • Free downloadable forms
  • Form Instructions
  • Information on filing fees and processing times

Do not pay for blank USCIS forms either in person or over the Internet.

Visa Lottery

Once a year, the Department of State (DOS) makes 50,000 diversity visas (DVs) available via random selection to persons meeting strict eligibility requirements and who come from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. During this time, it is common for immigration scammers to advertise in emails or websites that reference either the:Image of fake email saying you won a green card

  • DV lottery
  • Visa lottery
  • Green Card lottery

These emails and websites often claim that they can make it easier to enter the annual Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, for a fee. Some even identify you as a DV lottery “winner.”

These emails and websites are fraudulent. The only way to apply for the DV lottery is through an official government application process. DOS does not send emails to applicants. Visit the Department of State website to verify if you are actually a winner in the DV lottery or for information on how to submit an application for a DV lottery visa.

INS or USCIS?Old INS seal with an x over it

To this day, some local businesses, websites and individuals make reference to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). This agency no longer exists!

INS was dismantled on March 1, 2003, and most of its functions were transferred from the Department of Justice to three new components within the newly formed Department of Homeland Security. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the component that grants immigration benefits. The other two components are U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

All official correspondence regarding your immigration case will come from USCIS.

Last Reviewed/Updated: 09/16/2013