Attorney at Law

6 Common Immigration Scams and How to Avoid Them

Boruch Burnham, Esq.
November 12, 2023

Immigration offers a pathway to new opportunities for many foreign nationals, but it's also an area where scams and fraudulent schemes are unfortunately common. Falling for immigration scams can cause more harm than just the loss of money. These scams can lead to serious legal problems, like being accused of fraud or unknowingly breaking immigration laws, which can result in numerous negative consequences, including being banned from entering the United States in the future. This guide will highlight six of the most common immigration scams, explain how they work, and provide some best practices for avoiding them. 

1. Email and Phishing Scams

Email and phishing scams have become a common tool for fraudsters targeting immigrants. These scams involve emails that falsely appear to be from legitimate government agencies, like the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the Department of State.

Key Characteristics:

  • Emails may claim to offer updates on visa applications or other immigration services, asking for personal information or payment.
  • Links in these emails can lead to fake websites or download harmful software onto your computer.

How to Avoid Email and Phishing Scams:

  • Official Communication: Remember, government agencies rarely initiate contact via email for personal information or payment.
  • Verify Email Sources: Be cautious of unexpected emails. Verify the sender by checking the email address and looking for official ".gov" domains.
  • Avoid Clicking on Suspicious Links: Do not click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
  • Use Official Channels: For any immigration services or inquiries, directly visit the official government websites or contact official channels.

2. Fake Government Website Scams

Scammers also create fake websites that mimic official government sites. These sites are designed to mislead individuals into paying for free forms, services, or to gather sensitive personal information.

Key Characteristics:

  • These websites may offer to help with visa applications, green card renewals, or other immigration services.
  • They often charge fees for free forms or provide incorrect information.

How to Avoid Fake Government Websites:

  • Use Verified Websites: Always access services and information from official government websites. Look for ".gov" in the URL.
  • Be Wary of Payment Requests: Official government websites do not charge for forms or general information. Be cautious of any site that requests payment for these.
  • Check for Secure Connections: Ensure the website is secure (look for “https” and a padlock icon in the web address) before entering any personal information.
  • Seek Reliable Assistance: If you are unsure about a website's legitimacy, seek help from a trusted immigration professional or attorney.

3. Job Offer Scams

Job offer scams target individuals seeking employment in the United States, often exploiting their desire for work opportunities. These scams involve false job promises and may be linked to fraudulent visa offers or requests for payment for job placement.

Key Characteristics:

  • Scammers may pose as U.S. employers or recruitment agents, offering employment in exchange for visa processing fees or other costs.
  • False promises of H-2A (agricultural work) or H-2B (non-agricultural work) visas are common. These visas are legitimate temporary work visas but are subject to strict regulations and caps.

How to Avoid Job Offer Scams:

  • Verify the Employer: Research the employer and verify their legitimacy. Genuine U.S. employers are registered and can be checked through official channels (for immigration-related employment, employers must be verified through the USCIS).
  • Understand Visa Processes: Be aware that legitimate employers typically handle visa processing and bear associated costs. Employees are rarely, if ever, asked to pay for their visa application or issuance.
  • Beware of Unsolicited Offers: Be cautious of unsolicited job offers, especially if they require upfront payments or personal information.
  • Know Your Rights: Understand the rights and protections provided to workers under U.S. law. Legitimate job offers will comply with labor laws, including fair wages and working conditions.

Note that H-2A and H-2B visas have annual numerical limits and are often for seasonal or temporary work, so being informed about these visas and their requirements can be instrumental in avoiding being misled by fraudulent offers.

4. Legal Assistance Scams 

Immigrants often need help with legal paperwork and understanding complex immigration processes. Unfortunately, some individuals and agencies exploit this need, leading to two common types of scams: Notario Fraud and Document Preparation Scams.

Notario Fraud: In the United States, notaries public do not have the same legal qualifications as notarios in many Latin American countries. Scammers may falsely claim to be qualified legal professionals ("notarios") to offer immigration services they are not authorized or qualified to provide.

Document Preparation Scams: These scams involve individuals or agencies that charge high fees to help with immigration paperwork, often without delivering the promised services or providing incorrect and harmful advice.

How to Avoid Legal Assistance Scams:

  • Seek Authorized Professionals: Always seek help from authorized professionals. In the U.S., this includes licensed attorneys or representatives accredited by the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).
  • Verify Credentials: Check the credentials of anyone claiming to offer legal advice or services. This can be done through state bar associations for attorneys or the EOIR for accredited representatives.
  • Be Wary of False Promises: Be cautious of anyone promising unusually quick results or guaranteed success in immigration cases.
  • Understand Your Rights: You have the right to receive a written contract in a language you understand. Make sure it outlines the services to be provided and the fees charged.

Remember, accurate and legitimate legal advice is crucial in immigration matters. Relying on unqualified individuals can lead to serious legal consequences, including the denial of immigration benefits or even deportation.

5. Visa Lottery Scams

Visa lottery scams target hopeful participants in the U.S. Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV Program), often with misleading promises and false information.

Key Characteristics:

  • Scammers may falsely claim they can increase the odds of selection in the DV lottery or notify individuals they have "won" the lottery, often requesting payment for their services.
  • Some may ask for fees under the guise of securing a visa or facilitating the entry process.

How to Avoid Visa Lottery Scams:

  • Official Application Process: The only legitimate way to apply for the DV Program is directly through the official U.S. Department of State website during the designated entry period.
  • Legitimate Assistance vs. False Promises: While third parties, including qualified immigration attorneys, can legitimately assist with the application process, be wary of anyone promising increased chances of selection or guaranteed success. The DV lottery selection is a random process, and no one can influence the outcome.
  • Check Application Status Officially: Winners are not notified via email or phone. Entrants must check their status online through the official DV Lottery website.
  • No Advance Fees for Winning: Beware of anyone requesting payment to "claim" your DV lottery win or to secure a visa.

Understanding DV Lottery Assistance: Immigration attorneys can provide valuable assistance in ensuring that your application is correctly submitted and adheres to the program’s requirements. However, remember that their role is to assist with the application process, not to influence the lottery outcome.

If you encounter or suspect a visa lottery scam, reporting it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Department of State can help protect yourself and others.

6. Guaranteed Success Scams

Guaranteed success scams in immigration exploit the complex nature of immigration procedures by making false promises of certain success in various aspects of the immigration process.

Commonly Targeted Immigration Assistance Areas:

  • Visa Applications: Promising guaranteed approval of visas, including work visas (like H-1B or L-1), family-based visas, or tourist visas.
  • Green Card Applications: Assuring success in permanent residency applications, whether through family sponsorship, employment, or the DV lottery.
  • Asylum Claims: Claiming a guaranteed grant of asylum requests, despite the highly individual and complex nature of these cases.
  • Deportation Defense: Offering guaranteed success in stopping deportation or removal proceedings, regardless of the individual's legal situation.

Falsely Guaranteed Outcomes:

  • Expedited Processing: Misleading claims about the ability to speed up application processing times with immigration authorities.
  • Favorable Legal Decisions: Promising positive outcomes in immigration court or with USCIS decisions.
  • Influence with Officials: Claiming to have special influence or connections with immigration judges, USCIS officers, or other government officials.

How to Avoid Guaranteed Success Scams:

  • Recognize Unrealistic Promises: Understand that immigration processes have specific legal criteria and no outcome can be guaranteed.
  • Seek Reputable Legal Counsel: Consult with licensed immigration attorneys or accredited representatives for honest and professional advice.
  • Verify Credentials and Claims: Check the qualifications and track records of any immigration service provider.

Whether you’re applying for a visa, seeking permanent residency, or dealing with other immigration matters, the right attorney can be your best asset. Through AAL’s directory, you connect with many seasoned immigration attorneys who are well-equipped to guide you through each step of your immigration journey, ensuring you make informed decisions and stay protected against scams.

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