Fraud in Focus: Recognizing & Avoiding Immigration Scams

By Andrew Soboeiro

From investing money to getting in shape to obtaining a university degree, fraud infects every effort we make to improve our lives and prospects. Immigration is no exception. As immigrants struggle to gain legal status, scammers are waiting to take their money in exchange for false hope and spurious advice, putting them at risk of deportation.

What is Notario Fraud?

While immigration fraud takes many forms, recent years have seen a rise in one particular scam: “notario fraud.” In this scheme, scammers advertise themselves as “notarios publicos,” a term that has a very different connotation in Spanish than its English equivalent, public notary. In the United States, public notaries are officials who witness legal documents, but they are not qualified to offer legal advice. In many Latin American countries, however, a “notario” is an attorney with a law degree.

Notarios advertise themselves to Spanish-speaking immigrants, promising to help them obtain permanent residence or citizenship. They often make bold claims about their ability to get legal status for clients, charging thousands of dollars for the service. Because they lack an understanding of American immigration laws, however, notarios have little hope of actually helping their customers, and in many cases do not even try.

How Does Notario Fraud Harm Its Victims?

Notario fraud would be bad enough if it only swindled cash-strapped immigrant families out of thousands of dollars. Yet its negative impact goes much further, often leading to serious and irreparable consequences:

  • Paperwork Violations: Notarios often do not fill out or file immigration papers correctly. This leaves their clients’ vulnerable to accusations of fraud, harming their reputations and potentially landing them in legal trouble.
  • Deportation: In convincing their clients to file for legal status, notarios cause undocumented immigrants to reveal themselves to authorities. As a result, many people are deported who would otherwise have flown under the radar.
  • Distraction from Real Solutions: Even when they do not get their clients deported, notarios distract them from qualified immigration lawyers. Such lawyers can often find a path to citizenship for even the most challenging clients, but immigrants can’t benefit from this if they spend all their time and money with notarios.

As harmful as notarios are, holding them accountable is no easy task. Victims of immigration fraud are often unwilling to come forward, both out of embarrassment and because they fear that identifying themselves publicly will further raise their risk of deportation. As a result, even notarios who have clearly committed fraud remain in business, confident that their victims have no power to stop them.

Until it is possible to hold notarios accountable, the best strategy is to avoid falling for their scams in the first place. If you or a loved one is seeking legal status, only trust a licensed attorney with a background in immigration law, and make sure they can back up their credentials. With your future at stake, you need to know the legal advice you’re getting is legitimate.

Hannah Vigoda is a licensed immigration lawyer with the experience and training to handle your paperwork correctly. For more information on avoiding fraud and obtaining legal status, contact Vigoda Law Firm today at 919-307-7817.