Avoiding Notario Fraud

Avoiding Notario Fraud - The practice of immigration law generally, and immigrants specifically, seem to be targets for a wide-variety of cunning fraudsters and scam artists colloquially known as “notarios.”  Notario, Spanish for notary, includes anyone who is not authorized to practice immigration law, but does so regardless.  This is especially true at times when new immigration policies are announced or when immigration reforms are discussed by the Congress and other politicians.
Here are a few tips for avoiding and combating immigration fraud:
(1)  Seek out attorneys licensed in a U.S state or territory or representatives accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA);
(2)  Avoid individuals who label themselves as “immigration consultants” or “immigration service providers”;
(3) Use your gut
(4)  Rely on friends and family members for advice and referrals; and
(5)  Report fraud if you have been victimized
Seeking Out Attorneys and Accredited Representatives
The law is very clear.  Only attorneys who are licensed in a state or territory of the United States or representatives who have been accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals are allowed to represent individuals and companies before the U.S. immigration agencies.  There are no exceptions to this rule.  Your pastor, insurance agent, or friend cannot represent you.  Neither can a notario.
To represent you, an attorney does not necessarily have to be licensed in your state, the state where the immigration court or office is located, or even the state where they practice, but you need to make sure they are licensed in a state or territory of the United States.  If you are not sure, ask to see their license.  If they express doubt about showing you their license or other credentials, that is a major red flag and you should consider looking elsewhere.
You should also expect to sign a representation contract with your attorney.  The contract should outline the rights and obligations of both you and your attorney over the course of representation.  If your representative does not wish to enter into a contract, that is another major red flag.
Another consideration is determining whether the attorney participates in the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).  While no guarantee of quality, AILA membership is not free and does show a certain determination on the part of the attorney to remain informed and educated about immigration law.
You can also check with the bar association of the state where the attorney claims to be licensed by calling the association or perusing their website.
Another useful tool is the AILA's "Immigration Lawyer Search.  Not every qualified immigration participates in lawyer search, but it certainly does not hurt to look.
It is worth the extra effort to investigate your potential immigration attorney before moving forward.
Remember that any person seeking to represent you who is not a licensed attorney or accredited representative is breaking the law.
Avoiding the Wrong Service Providers
Sometimes the best way to identify a scam is by considering how the representative refer to him or herself.  Most attorneys will not hold themselves out as "notarios públicos," "immigration consultants," "immigration service providers," or other similar titles.  They will not list as one of their practice areas "preparing immigration forms."  Look for titles such as immigration attorney, immigration lawyer, or immigration representative.  While not a guarantee of quality, it may help.
Your gut is probably correct
If someone tells you something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  If an individual is advertising to help you under some "new law," promises to "fix your papers," in a ridiculously short amount of time, or otherwise says something out of line with what most others in the community claim, you should run; not walk, run.
Likewise, if someone makes you feel uncomfortable, or tries to pressure you into doing something "right now," it is advisable to seek counsel elsewhere.
What’s in a Reputation?
Who have your friends and family members turned to for immigration help?  Remember that if the community is largely complaining about the services offered by an individual, there is a good chance the individual is offering poor services.
It is surprising how many times individuals have said, “I knew I should not have gone to such and such person, but I did anyways.”  If all you hear about a specific representative is that he or she provides substandard service, you should probably stay away.
Report, Report, Report
In the event you fall victim to immigration fraud, remember to report the fraud to your local authorities.  In addition, several organizations, including the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the Federal Government and state bar associations have published important information with regards to reporting fraud.
If the fraud goes unreported, no action can be taken to properly identify it and stop it.
Countless individuals have seen their cases destroyed by immigration fraud.  In many cases, the damage has been irreparable.  Do your best to avoid the fraud in the first place, but if you do fall victim, make sure it does not go unnoticed.
Originally published on the website of Bogart Immigration Law, LLC

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