Filing for immigration status requires a lot of paperwork. Many people get help with their immigration applications. While there are credible services out there to help you file your paperwork, you should know how to spot and avoid common immigration scams. This is especially true if you’re paying for help. It’s important to understand common immigration scams because falling victim to one can hurt you financially and harm your immigration proceedings. The article explains what the most common scams are, how to spot new scams, and what to do if you have been scammed.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
How Can You Spot an Immigration Scam?
Several red flags can help you spot an immigration scam. If a service or individual is offering you a guaranteed application result, you should be skeptical. There are never any guarantees when it comes to immigration applications. Anyone promising otherwise may be looking to take advantage of you. When seeking outside help, always use a trustworthy service. If a company or person does not properly explain their process to you, they may not be reliable. A service should always discuss whether you will be eligible for a certain immigration benefit before initiating any filings on your behalf.
You should also take note of the way a service initiates contact with you. For example, be wary if an unknown service or person reaches out to you by telephone or you receive an official-looking “government” email that is not from a .gov email address. Someone may also ask you to send them payments through services like PayPal or Western Union. All of these scenarios are common indicators that a service may be scamming you.
A reliable service will be transparent about how they intend to help you during the filing process. Typically, a good service will provide reviews from previous users. Be sure to read through these reviews, along with any media coverage of the organization.
What Are the Most Common Immigration Scams?
Several scams have become very common among unreliable immigration services. Some groups target applicants through fake websites and lottery results. Many scams target specific applicants, including students, refugees, and those seeking employment in the United States. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has warned applicants about the following common scams.
Common Online and Email Immigration Scams
Scammers commonly use deceptive emails and fake websites as a tool to recruit applicants for their unreliable services. Scammers often pretend that they are U.S. government officials or ask you to wire money to them. When communicating about immigration services, USCIS will always use an official .gov address to contact you.
Fake Immigration Websites
Many scammers create fake immigration websites to trick applicants. Fake websites often look like U.S. government websites. Some websites offer false or inaccurate information on how to fill out your forms. Others may claim to represent USCIS and even ask you to pay to download USCIS forms. USCIS forms are always free to preview on USCIS.gov.
Diversity Lottery Scams
Other scams target diversity visa lottery applicants. The U.S. Department of State is responsible for managing the diversity immigrant visa lottery. USCIS is not involved in the diversity lottery. If you win the diversity lottery, the State Department will not email you. Instead, they will notify you on the E-DV website. If you receive an email that appears to be from USCIS or the State Department about winning the lottery, a scammer is likely trying to contact you.
Common Immigration Scams Targeting Specific Groups or Immigration Statuses
Certain scams target specific groups of vulnerable people. Refugees, TPS recipients, students, and Afghan parolees are common targets.
Scams Against Refugees
Refugee applicants should be cautious when looking into immigration services. Sometimes, scammers try to convince refugees that they are eligible for a government grant reward. However, scammers will then ask refugee applicants to pay fees before receiving these fake grants.
Other scammers may try to steal money from refugees by impersonating U.S. government agencies like the IRS. The U.S. government will never contact you to request your bank account or credit card information. You should also be wary if someone asks you to pay them with a nontraditional currency like cryptocurrency or a gift card.
TPS Re-Registration Scams
Some scammers take advantage of TPS recipients by claiming that they will file your forms for you. These scammers will ask for money, but they are not qualified to file your paperwork for you. Note that TPS recipients can get reliable legal services for free or at a low cost instead. You should only work with a licensed immigration lawyer or an accredited representative at an organization recognized by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Scams Targeting Students
Student visa applicants should only apply to academic programs at accredited colleges or universities. If you are a student, check the Council for Higher Education’s website to make sure your program is valid. If an unaccredited school says they will sponsor you for an F-1 student visa, this is a scam.
Afghan Personal Information Scam
Afghan parolees in the United States should safeguard their personal information. When you receive communications from what appears to be an official government source, be sure to verify the source. U.S. government email addresses only end in .gov. USCIS does not normally email applicants about immigrant or nonimmigrant visa approvals unless you did not provide them with a secure physical mailing address.
Other Common Immigration Scams
Other scams exploit applicants’ cultural differences and employment prospects. Read on to make sure you’re aware of these final few common scams.
In Latin America, “notario publico” can refer to a licensed attorney. However, notary publics in the United States are very different. A notary public in the United States is someone authorized by their state government to witness the signing of documents. Sometimes, notary publics may mislead immigrants into believing that they can provide legal help equivalent to an attorney on your immigration case. Remember that you should only work with an accredited attorney or DOJ-approved organization when seeking legal advice or immigration information.
You should be skeptical if you’ve received a job offer from overseas by email from a company to which you haven’t applied. Some scammers will ask you to pay them to secure your job offer. Remember that you won’t be able to work in the United States without an employment-related visa, work permit, green card, or citizenship. An employer that claims otherwise is probably trying to scam you.
Paying Money for Connections or Jumping the Line
Applicants may wish to expedite their application process for safety or convenience reasons. However, USCIS does not offer special treatment to certain applicants based on additional payments. If you run into a service provider claiming otherwise or telling you they have “connections” to government officials, you are likely dealing with a scammer.
How Do You Report an Immigration Scam?
You may still be unsure whether you’ve run into a scam. If you wish, you can call USCIS customer service at 1-800-375-5283 to clarify whether a service may be trying to scam you.
If you are dealing with an immigration scammer, you should report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Reporting keeps scammers accountable for their harmful actions and also prevents them from hurting future applicants.
Navigating immigration filings can be complicated, but help is available. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the immigration process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. If our app isn’t a good fit or you just have immigration questions you need answers to, you can speak with an independent attorney for just $24/month through our Ask an Attorney program.