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Archived from our former blog, The Beacon.

Don’t Be Fooled by Copycat Immigration-Help Sites

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When you go online to download and fill out immigration forms, ensure that you know the difference between official government websites and websites run by private businesses.

Government agencies use “.gov” in their Web addresses, while private businesses do not.

You May Think You Paid the USCIS Fee, When You Really Didn’t

Some private websites that charge to prepare immigration forms mimic the look and feel of official government sites, leading users to mistakenly believe they are dealing directly with the government and paying USCIS fees. Many copycat sites add to the confusion by charging applicants the same amount for preparing an immigration form that USCIS charges for filing that same form.

As a result, some applicants have sent forms to USCIS without submitting the filing fees. These applicants mistakenly believed they had paid the USCIS filing fee when they paid the private firm for preparing the forms.

In fact, USCIS has received applications with copies attached to them of cashed electronic checks that the applicants submitted to private businesses. Contrary to what the applicants believe, these electronic copies are NOT proof of payment of USCIS fees. And when filing fees are not paid, USCIS cannot process these applications and instead must return them.

We encourage you to carefully check any website that offers assistance in filing immigration forms—and to clearly understand what services you are paying for.

Remember: You are NOT paying the USCIS filing fee when you pay a private business for help with preparing forms. Be particularly wary of paying for help from any Web page that claims to be an “official” site or that mimics the look of a government site but does not have “.gov” in its Web address.

You can always visit our website, www.uscis.gov/forms, to download our forms FOR FREE and to learn how and where to file forms and submit filing fees to USCIS. Be sure to read the instructions that accompany each form.

For more information on how to avoid immigration services scams and identify who is authorized to provide legal advice, please visit www.uscis.gov/avoidscams and see our blog post on Green Card lottery email fraud.