Immigration Scams

There are many scammers out there and they’re very creative in the ways that they trick people. This is how to be aware and avoid scams.

First, regarding TPS, there are some re-registration scams. It's a scam because there is no registration process in the first place. TPS stands for Temporary Protected Status. It provides temporary work permission to people whose country has had some sort of infrastructure collapse like Hondurans after Hurricane Mitch, for example. Hondurans, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans & Nepaleses have been renewing their TPS work permits for many years. Recently, Trump canceled the program and it was caught up in litigation before the courts finally allowed the cancellation. Right now we're awaiting the cancellation unless Biden cancels it, and we hope he will do it during his first 100 days.

It’s complicated. There have been scams where an organization that sounds like a nonprofit, or even a lawyer or notary, recommends that people file renewals of their TPS applications, but you cannot renew. You can't file the I-821D and I-765 forms right now. If anyone is encouraging you or a family member to renew your TPS work permit, please wait because you do not want to that anything like that right now, at least until Biden reviews the program.

It’s worth noting that USCIS generally doesn't call people or do any communication that way. There's a form that you can send in with your application to get emails and text messages about the status of your application, but generally, they don't really call applicants.

The only time people ever get calls from immigration is after they've already attended an interview and the officer who interviewed them calls them to follow up. If you have legal representation, they shouldn't call you, they should call your lawyer.

Immigration will never call you based on a pending work permit, biometrics appointment, or for a filing fee. They're never going to ask you for payment ever. They're never going to ask you for payment over the phone. If anyone is calling you, from any agency, social security, IRS, USCIS, DHS, or any federal agency, and they ask you for payment, it's probably a scam. The best way to handle it is to get the name of the caller, get the number that they're calling you from or the number they tell you to call over a voicemail. Get as much information from them as you can because you need to report them. Then you hang up and call USCIS. Call the 1-800 number that's listed on the website that always ends in a .gov.

Most companies end with a .com. Ours for example is Lincolngoldfinch.com, which is a short for commercial. Most universities end with a .edu. That's an educational institution. All governmental websites are going to end in a .gov. So if anyone is calling you from DHS and their website ends with “.com,” that's an indicator that it's a scam. So obtain all of the information from the caller, save the number that they called you from, look up the government agency they claim to be calling from, make sure the website ends in .gov, then call them and ask them to verify. "I got a call that said X, Y, Z," and they will either confirm that they did call you or they're going to say that it was a scam. To follow through, take the next steps and say, "I need to report this scam" because you're doing your part to help the next person who could be scammed into turning over their private information.

Another common scam looks like an email that purportedly comes from the USCIS field office in New Delhi, India, in which they tell people that your visa has been approved and they need money to continue processing.

Again, always look for the .gov in the website address. Remember that USCIS doesn't send approval notices via email. They only send approval notices via the mail or on their official website when you log in. For example, if you're consular processing, you can log in and see what the NVC says. They will never ask you to transfer money. If they send you something about Western Union or something like that, do not do it. If you think it's real, call us! We'll review it with you and help you determine whether it's real or another scam. Anything that asks you to transfer money is a scam.

There are some scams where employers are receiving calls that request the Form I-9, which is the employment eligibility form that you're supposed to fill out for each employee. You're not required to send it out to USCIS. You're only supposed to keep it in your files in case you are asked for it, which is not likely. Anyone that calls and asks you to submit it is doing so under false pretenses. Don't fall for it.

The only way that you, as an employer, get your I-9's audited is by the Department of Labor.

When you're the subject of an audit, you won’t be notified by some random email. There's lots of immigration attorneys who specialize in I-9 audits and they will work with companies even before they have an audit to review because there can be pretty hefty fines if your I-9s aren't accurate. Even though we don't do that, we can always refer out to lawyers who do that if you find yourself as a business owner or as an employer in that situation.

You do not ever pay anything by phone or by email to immigration ever. There are a couple of forms that allow you to file online. You can submit an I-90 online and you can enter in your credit card information, or in some applications you can print out a form to pay with your credit card. Any immigration agency that's asking you to pay over the phone or over email is a fraud.

Winning the visa lottery is a pretty common scam as well. The Diversity Visa is a visa that's available to countries that have low rates of immigration to the United States. So, India, China, Mexico and Philippines are countries that are not able to register with the diversity visa. Someone from Croatia, however, can enter into the Diversity Visa Lottery, and if they get selected, then they get to come into the U.S. as a green card holder. The scam that happens here is in the form of an email. It’s a fake email that pretends to come from USCIS and mentions that people are being selected for the Diversity Visa. The thing to note is that the Diversity Visa is administered by the Department of State.

We have the Department of State (DOS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

DHS oversees the interior of the United States. All that happens inside the U.S. -- Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and all the apprehensions, etc. -- DHS is in charge of, as well as USCIS.

The Department of State is a completely separate federal agency. Overall, it takes care of the consulates abroad, the national visa center abroad, and it processes the Diversity Visa. So if you get anything from USCIS about the diversity visa, that's a clear indicator that it's a scam.

Look out for scam websites too. These are websites that claim to be USCIS and charge money to get you the forms, but of course, all they do is take your money.

You never have to pay money to download a form from the official uscis.gov website.

There's lots of these notario organizations, or these companies that make their websites look like governmental websites so that people think they're paying money for help from someone who's with the government, which they're not. As a general rule, those online services that claim to “help you fill out your form” are fake. You don't get an experienced and qualified lawyer to meet with you, to look at your case, to make sure that you're eligible, etc.

At my office, when we take a case, no matter how simple it is, we do a strategy session after the consultation to review the whole file. We make sure that there's no red flags or problems. The legal assistant prepares the application, but before it's sent out to immigration, we do another attorney review. We do an attorney prep session before the interview, and an attorney attends the interview with our clients. So we're there watching this process all the way through each step of the case. There is so much more than just ensuring that the forms are filled out correctly. That's just a little sliver of a whole pie.

While there are a lot of companies that can help you fill our forms that aren't scams, most of the time they are not a good idea at all. The only time that might be a good idea, is someone who is well informed, has experience with the process and whose case has no complications. If it's a green card or citizenship, you want to have a qualified lawyer who's there with you the whole way through because those immigration processes require an interview and you want to be as prepared as possible.

A common myth is that immigration lawyers just fill out forms, which is so inaccurate. There are some lawyers who only provide that service, but a good immigration lawyer is doing so much more than simply filling out forms.

Notarios

This mostly impacts the Spanish speaking community, because a Notario in Latin America is a very different thing than it is in the United States. In the U.S., to become a notary all you have to do is send off the paperwork to get your notary stamp.

You don’t even need to pass any training or test. You just submit the application, read some rules that you're supposed to follow, and that's it. What a Notary public is supposed to do is certify that the person signing the document is the person that they're claiming to be. So they just verify identity and that's it.

In our office, Fidel Campuzano is a notary public because we need to notarize documents all the time to show that a client actually signed something. So he comes out with a stamp, stamps it, signs it, he gets his booklet, and then the client has to sign his booklet. That's what a notary is in the U.S.

Although Fidel is a very knowledgeable immigration notary public, most Notarios in the United States do not have the education and the knowledge that Fidel does. Most of them don't work at an immigration firm and don't know about immigration cases, but they know that in Mexico, for example, being a notary is like an elevated lawyer. It's like a lawyer with additional training. So the Latinx community is especially vulnerable to Notarios who say, "I'm a Notario, pay me however much money to fill out your forms."

At our office we are constantly cleaning up messes made by those Notarios. Sometimes it gets really bad, where they get people put in immigration deportation proceedings, or they've separated a family for many years, or created huge, significant, impactful problems for families.

It's really a big deal. It's not just as simple as "Oh, they didn't do my N-400 right."

It's more like "Oh, I had abandoned my residency without realizing it. I got to my interview and they denied it. Now they put me in removal proceedings and I'm going to lose my green card all because I saved a thousand dollars on filling out my form.” The biggest scam to be aware of in the immigration process is with the Notarios.

Fidel has had six years of knowledge by working here at our firm and also by working DACA clinics. He has the knowledge to fill out the DACA application with his eyes closed, and yet he still refuses to do it for his friends or someone who asks for his help, because so much stuff could come up. It really is more than just filling out the form and sending it to immigration. Always consult with a qualified attorney regarding your immigration forms.

Criminal stuff and immigration is really weird. Every case type has its own realm and its own network of grounds of inadmissibility. Criminal inadmissibility is different in every state. It's very complex and not something you want to leave in the hands of someone who doesn't have the proper training.

Finally, be aware of scams for social security numbers.

There is a voicemail floating around that says:
"...to suspend your social security number on an immediate basis as we have received suspicious trails of information in your name. The moment you receive this message, I need you to get back to me on my department division toll free number. That is +1 888-952-5554. I repeat +1 888-952-5554. Verify the last four digits of your social security number when you call to better assist you with this issue. Now, if I don't hear a call from you, we will have to issue an arrest warrant under your name and get you arrested. So get back to me as soon as possible. Thank you."

It's such a common scam and they report on the site that people have lost over $10 million with this one scam alone because they panic.

There are some basics you need to know to avoid falling into this scam.

First of all, social security numbers don’t get suspended -- that doesn't happen. Your social security number is your number for your whole life. It never changes. Now, someone may steal your identity and rack up a bunch of credit on your social, which may cause problems with the IRS because they're earning money under your name and you don't claim it when you file your taxes or something similar. However, your social security number will never be suspended. The IRS nor the Social Security Administration will ever ask you for money over the phone. They are not going to threaten to arrest you. They don't do that. If you get a call like that, save their name and the number they're calling from. Get as much information as you can, and then call the Social Security Administration and report the scam.

Our undocumented clients get those calls and sometimes it’s so obvious that it’s funny, but sometimes our clients are understandably disturbed. The whole situation is very infuriating because they’re preying on vulnerable people who are already under siege.

All of these scammers are really good at making themselves sound super scary, authoritative and legitimate.

The key tips for all of these scammers is:
1. Don't send money over email. Don't click on a link in the email, if you get an email. You won't get any mail from the IRS. If you do, open a separate window and type in irs.gov and initiate your own investigation that way.
2. Don't give your credit card number over the phone. Do not transfer any money. No Western Union, nothing. Call us if you get what sounds like an immigration scam or something that sounds scary.
3. Always look for the proper website address. It's always going to end in .gov. If the website ends in .com and they're claiming to be a governmental entity, it is a scam.

What can one do if we've already called these scammers?

If you've already called the scammers, it depends on what information you gave them. If they just have your social security number, there's probably not a whole lot that they can do with it. If they have your social security, your date of birth, your mother's maiden name, etcetera, you probably want to do some preventive actions: You can lock your credit score down, where nobody can open credit on your name or your social security number.

This will be neither fun or easy, but it's a good idea if you've accidentally given your information to scammers. Hopefully you haven't given them money. If you have, you need to initiate an investigation with a law enforcement authority. You can start with your local police and then they may pass you to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. If it's a common scam, they may have a whole unit dedicated to this particular scam and getting money back for victims. If you get anything that sounds scary and you want to talk to us about it, call us at 512-599-8500 and we'll help you figure out what you need to do next.

Remember to share this video so that all your friends and your family can also be informed and know about these common scams!