As any U.S. immigrant already knows, U.S. immigration laws are complex, expansive, and constantly changing. In general, immigrants are at a heightened disadvantage in seeking legal assistance because of their lack of familiarity with U.S. customs, language, and laws. And despite U.S. immigrants’ best efforts to complete the visa process properly, thousands fall victim to immigration fraud every year.
We have already written extensively on immigration fraud and “Notario Fraud in particular, a type of immigration fraud that has plagued the Latino community and many other immigrant groups for decades. Groups such as AILA and USCIS regularly post warnings about immigration scams, but the problem continues to run rampant. And like every other type of scam, immigration fraud is alive and well on the Internet.
How do you spot a company running an online immigration fraud operation? If they are good at what they do, you won’t be able to tell right away.
Here are 7 Red Flags for Online Immigration Fraud:
- Asking you for money to access or download an official USCIS form. These forms are all free and available to the public on the USCIS website. If a website tries to sell you access to a USCIS form, or offers to fill out a USCIS form on your behalf without giving you access to the form, look elsewhere.
- Claiming to be affiliated with the U.S. government but their domain extension does not contain .gov. Only certified government websites should have this notation. Many scams use “USCIS” or other titles of U.S. government agencies in their website URL but they end in .com, .org, .net, and many other generic domain extensions.
- Charging fees to apply or to gain access to the Green Card Lottery (Diversity Visas.) Unfortunately, the Green Card Lottery has a huge problem with online immigration fraud. Often perpetrated by people of foreign countries looking to make money off of their fellow citizens, Green Card Lottery scams will show up as emails announcing you as a “winner who needs to pay to access your winning lottery entry. The Green Card Lottery is free to enter and you will NEVER receive an email announcing if you’ve won. USCIS announces winners on their website, and you must look up your own name to see if you have won. If you get any emails about the Green Card Lottery or Diversity Visas, hit the spam button.
- No U.S. business address, contact info, or relevant accreditations listed on their website. Remember to check and see if your law firm or company is accredited by the Better Business Bureau and by legal organizations such as AILA. They should have a legitimate place of business within the United States listed on their website, since that is where at least part of your case will be processed. Any organization assisting you in your case should have an immigration lawyer or a BIA accredited immigration specialist on staff.
- Refusing to show you the details of your case and/or what they are submitting to the government. Transparency and clear, open communication will be a feature of any quality legal immigration service. Online immigration fraud thrives on the fact that many customers don’t fully understand what is going on with their case and they don’t bother to find out. We have talked to individuals whose lawyers or immigration services company submitted applications with errors like misspelled names because the customer was never shown their own case documents before they were sent to the U.S. government. Your online services provider should have nothing to hide and should be willing to share everything with you online before they ever submit documents to USCIS.
- They make everything about the price, nothing about the service. There are immigration websites that heavily advertise they can beat any price. Take the time to research their services, because sometimes they actually promise very little while taking a relatively large sum of money. $300 may be a small fee for a lawyer to process your visa case, but it is a large amount of money to pay someone to simply fill out a free USCIS form. Make sure you know what you are getting in advance and don’t fall for a low number without researching what it buys you.
- It just doesn’t feel trustworthy. Purchasing immigration services through a website should be like anywhere else you make major purchases online. Most immigration/visa application prices range from hundreds to thousands of dollars at minimum. These services are essential and life-changing, but that does not mean you should feel pressured to buy if you don’t feel right about it. Ask to talk to an employee on the phone, check out online reviews, and even do some comparison shopping to make sure you really know what you are getting into.
If you think you are a victim of online immigration fraud (or any immigration fraud,) visit the immigration fraud page on the USCIS website to report scams and to learn more about how to protect yourself.
Do you have questions or are looking for guidance on how to proceed with your immigration case online? Contact one of our immigration representatives at 855-847-2669.