Common Scams


In certain Latino communities, fraud occurs because of a misunderstanding regarding the authority of a “notary public”, which translates to “notario” or “notario publico” in Spanish. In many Latin American countries a “notario” refers to someone who has the authority to render legal services. Unscrupulous “notarios” who are not attorneys often rely on this misunderstanding to exploit immigrants. Furthermore, they charge immigrants excessive application fees without ever submitting applications to the immigration authorities or may induce deportation by submitting applications for relief for which the immigrant is not eligible for or did not request


Language and cultural barriers make immigrants a target community for deceptive advertising. Misleading advertising makes it difficult for immigrants to access accurate, reliable information and ultimately places immigrants at risk for substantial financial loss.


Fraudulent attorneys (and in some instances non-authorized practitioners) will give assurances that someone qualifies for a benefit without noting the difficulties in the process or explaining the risk so as to give the client the impression they are guaranteed a green card or other desirable result.

Real Life Example
Jesus, an undocumented person from Mexico with more than 20 years in the U.S., heard through the rumor mill about the “ten year visa.” Several of his friends had recently met an attorney who, eight months and several thousand dollars later, got them a work permit. It seemed miraculous: after so many attorneys said no, here was an attorney who said yes. All you need is ten years in the U.S., to pay your taxes, and to have kids who are born here, his friends told him. Jesus met with the attorney who confirmed that he offered the service for $8,000. The attorney told Jesus to bring in evidence of his ten years in the U.S., his paid taxes, his children’s birth certificates, etc. He had Jesus sign some forms in English and then told him to come back in five months. Five months later, Jesus went back in and filled out some more paperwork. In just a few more-months – voila, a work permit arrived.

 What Jesus didn’t realize is that he had applied for asylum. Moreover, the fact he had a pending asylum application is the only reason that he had received the work permit. Since Jesus is not asylum eligible, when the Asylum Office refers his application to an immigration judge, he will be put into deportation proceedings. He learns that there is a defense to deportation that requires having more than ten years in the U.S., but it also has other elements such as proving “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to certain qualifying U.S. citizen relatives – a really high standard. His case is still pending before the Asylum Office and he’s not sure what to do.

 Real Life Example
Jose went to an immigration service provider to apply for DACA. Jose’s application was approved and he received his benefits.   After a few months, Jose’s friend told him that he was able to receive advance parole as a DACA recipient.  Jose consulted with an attorney about advance parole with the hopes of going to Mexico.  After reviewing Jose’s application, the attorney discovered that Jose was actually not eligible for DACA.  When Jose signed the DACA application, the immigration service provider did not explain the terms of application and he was not given the opportunity to review the final application before filing.  Jose was not aware that he had signed a fraudulent application.  Jose is very concerned about the fraudulent DACA application that was filed by the immigration service provider because there are serious consequences that can result from these actions.  In particular, Jose fears that should immigration reform pass in the future or a better form of relief present itself, he might have issues applying given the fraudulent application the immigration service provider filed on his behalf and, worse, Jose fears he could one day end up in removal proceedings due to the fraud.  


This involves individuals who falsely claim to be attorneys, or wrongly suggest that they are able to appear before the immigration agencies or court. They take advantage of immigrants who will unknowingly pay exorbitant fees for their services. Their lack of real qualifications and skills may cause them to miss deadlines or file incorrect and incomplete forms, as well as false claims with the government. Simply stated, by misrepresenting their qualifications, these individuals can have a detrimental impact on the immigrants with whom they work. For example, immigrants who take advice from and work with these individuals may waive their right to obtain legal residency, be unnecessarily deported, or become subject to civil and/or criminal liability for the filing of false claims.


This involves providers who target immigrants belonging to their same ethnic or racial group. Accordingly, they seek to gain advantage over other providers by claiming to identify with the ethnic, racial, national origin or community-based affiliations of the immigrant group.


This involves providers promising to perform services in exchange for money but never doing the work once payment has been made. This scam is all the more problematic because immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants, often do not have access to bank accounts and pay cash without knowing to ask for a receipt.

Real-life example:
Karina learned of a “service center” in the neighborhood that does taxes and also helped her friend obtain a work permit.  A deportation order has recently been issued against her and she is desperate for help. She is also married to a US citizen.  She visits the center and the notario promises to help fight the deportation ordered issued against her, file a family petition on her behalf based on her marriage, and assist her in bringing her son to the United States with a visa. Her son is in Honduras, a country ridden with violence and gang activity and she wants to bring him to live with her as soon as possible. The notario charges $10,000 for everything. Karina makes an initial deposit of $3,000 and several $300 monthly payments to the service center as a membership fee, ultimately paying a total of $4,500. She never receives correspondence from USCIS and the notario stops answering her inquiries as to the status of her case. She still has an order of deportation in her name and her son’s life is at risk in Honduras.


This type of fraud concerns individuals who contend that they know employees at immigration offices who can expedite the processing of their clients applications. Accordingly, they request high fees for this special service, but fail to provide it.


Organizations claim that for a set fee, they can guarantee immigrants a visa, green card, or other employment authorization document. They often have immigrants complete applications that they never actually file with the United States government. This slows down the entire process as immigrants await a decision on their applications that will never arrive. 

Real life example

Franco’s employer highly values Franco and tells him that he is willing to submit a visa petition for Franco if he finds a lawyer to process the application and pays all associated fees. Franco is a dishwasher at a local restaurant. Franco hires a lawyer who was recommended by a friend. The lawyer charges a $3,500 retainer fee.  A few months later, the lawyer tells Franco that the Department of Labor has approved their labor certification and charges him an additional $2,000 as a legal fee and $3,000 to cover costs incurred in obtaining the labor certification.  The lawyer sends an “approval” letter from the Department of Labor but Franco never receives anything directly from that agency. The lawyer subsequently tells Franco that immigration has approved the employee petition and charges him another $5,000.  Again, the lawyer sends an “approval” letter from immigration.  Franco waits for months and never receives his green card. When he calls his lawyer, she tells him that he has to continue to wait for the green card.  This goes on for months until the lawyer stops answering his calls and moves out of her office.


Scammers purportedly help immigrants who are clearly ineligible for naturalization or permanent residency status to complete their applications. Not only do they charge a high fee for a false promise, but by submitting these applications, they jeopardize the immigrants’ legal status.

Real life example:

Abioye, a legal permanent resident, saw a notario’s advertisement on TV and called him for advice on how to obtain a green card for his son. The notario advised him to file a 245(i) adjustment of status application so that his son could obtain his green card in the United States rather than travelling back to their country of origin to interview for the green card there. The notario knew that Abioye’s son did not meet the 245(i) requirements and thus could not change his status here. He nevertheless charged Abioye $6,500 to file a frivolous 245(i) application, which was ultimately denied.


Some websites claim to be affiliated with the United States government. These websites charge immigrants for forms that are available free of charge through official government websites. All official websites end in “.gov” and have free, downloadable forms.


Scammers contact immigrants by phone, mail, and/or e-mail claiming to be immigration officials. They claim the immigrants’ legal status is at risk and request personal information, such as social security numbers, passports, credit cards, and bank information. This information is then used to steal immigrants’ identities, establish new credit cards, and access the victims’ bank accounts. In other instances, the scammers claim to be able to expedite someone’s application or extract special favors from immigration authorities.


This concerns individuals who are not licensed to practice law but present themselves as attorneys or immigration law experts capable of providing legal advice and services


Once a year, 50,000 diversity visas (DVs) are available via lottery from the U.S. Department of States. Visa-recipients from the lottery are chosen at random, and only those individuals meeting very specific requirements are eligible. When the lottery opens, scammers target immigrants claiming they can guarantee their selection in the lottery for a set fee.


For a variety of reasons, individuals may threaten to report an immigrant, undocumented or not, to authorities unless they pay a bribe or otherwise perform some service they would otherwise not do willingly.


Scammers promise that for a fee they will sponsor immigrants for employment-based green cards and/or provide them with job training to allow them to work in the United States.


Employment agency scams involve companies that charge a fee to secure individuals employment, and often promise them green cards or other immigration sponsorships as well. Immigrants will pay the fee but get nothing in return.


Since 2012, President Barack Obama has made several administrative fixes to the immigration system in order to relieve some of the burden placed on immigrant communities until for immigration reform occurs. Such announcements included the creation of a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, and, subsequently, expanding DACA and creating a similar program called Deferred Action for Parents (DAPA). As of the publishing of this report, expanded DACA and DAPA are subject to a temporary injunction and on hold pending litigation in federal courts. Unscrupulous providers, however, continue to exploit the confusion caused by the announcements by taking money as advance payments for the applications, or assuring that the programs are in effect – going so far as to promise that a “new law” now permits victims to apply for immigration status that did not previously exist.


An increasing common scam is to offer to help individuals apply for “the ten year case” or Cancellation of Removal, which allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a green card if they lived in the United States for a minimum of ten years before the initiation of immigration proceedings, have no criminal record, and have green card holding or US Citizen relatives who would suffer exceptional or extremely unusual hardship if the person was deported from the United States. Unfortunately, because this case can only be adjudicated through the immigration courts, which currently have years-long backlogs, it often can take 5 years or more to realize a scam took place. The most common scam is placing the immigrant in removal proceedings without explaining the risks (deportation if they lose the case), and/or initiating such a case for a person who has not been in the United States long enough, or does not have the qualifying relatives.


  • Construction companies or other employers hiring immigrants and refusing to pay them, or paying them far below the minimum wage.
  • Housing scams where the same apartment is rented to numerous individuals.
  • Sale of falsely-produced identity documents such as green cards, driver’s licenses, state IDs and social security numbers.
  • Financial and investment scams such as pyramid schemes, fake investment opportunities, or fake bank services.
  • Health care enrollment services by non-authorized individuals.

 For more examples, one source is the report: “Dreams and Schemes in Queens, New York: Immigrant Struggles to Find Work and Get Status in the Face of Consumer Fraud” put out in 2012 by New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) and the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center (UJC).