Common Immigration Frauds and how to avoid them
Updated: Feb 9
Immigration frauds or Immigration scams are quite common both in India and in the US. There are many people who are ready to take advantage of either our ignorance about the system, laws and cultural norms here or our gullibility when it comes to our Immigration status.
Therefore, it is imperative that we do not lose our calm when confronted with such a situation and report such Immigration frauds immediately.
If you have any doubts about whether someone claiming to be from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is an imposter, you should contact USCIS customer service at 800-375-5283.
There are scammers who target immigrants at all steps of the immigration process. Here are some common scams and how you can avoid them.
Notarios Posing as Lawyers:
Immigration forms and Immigration benefit forms are quite complex to fill in the US. A lot of people therefore look outside for help to fill these forms and submit it to the USCIS on their behalf. That’s where these Notarios step in.
What these individuals usually do is advertise themselves as lawyers or Immigration service providers and charge a huge fee to fill, complete an Immigration form and submit on your behalf.
Once they have the money, they either ghost you or will apply immigration benefits that you’re not even eligible for which will create further issues for you in the future.
You can read more about this here
According to USCIS, there are only tw
o kinds of “authorized immigration service providers” who are allowed to provide legal advice about your specific immigration case and communicate with USCIS on your behalf:
Licensed attorneys in good standing: lawyers licensed to practice in at least 1 state. Check list here
Accredited non-lawyer: certain non-profits that are allowed to provide legal services. They should appear in the list here
Resources for finding authorized legal help include the DOJ’s list of free (pro bono) immigration lawyers, this nonprofit directory of legal aid organizations, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association lawyer search tool.
Imposters posing as government officials:
The other Immigration scams is when people reach out to you posing as a government employee either from USCIS or from ICE and threaten you with dire consequences and then get money from you.
When most impersonators come as a USCIS or ICE official, they often call, email, or visit the victim and tell them that there is a problem with their immigration status.
The scammers will then offer to “fix” the problem in return for a fee. The scammers may falsely threaten that failure to pay the fee will result in a visa application being denied, or even in deportation.
While most are only looking for a payment, some even try to get your personal information such a DOB, SSN, address and then use it to steal your identity.
Some of the specific scams are below:
The victim gets a phone call that appears to be from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hotline number or from a USCIS local office number—but the real phone number is hidden. In one version of this “spoofing” scam, the scammer says that he or she is from “U.S. Immigration,” and requests personal information or asks for payment. Remember, USCIS will not ask for personal information over the phone, and DHS never uses its hotline number for outgoing calls.
USCIS will never ask you to transfer money to an individual. They do not accept Western Union, MoneyGram, PayPal, or gift cards as payment for immigration fees. In addition, they will never ask you to pay fees to a person on the phone or by email. You can pay some immigration fees online, but only if you pay through your USCIS online account and Pay.gov.
In an attempt to cash in on the fear of deportation, fake “ICE agents” knock on immigrants’ doors, give them fake warrants, or accost them on the streets, threatening to deport them if they fail to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars. Real ICE agents will not allow you to avoid arrest in exchange for money.
Form I-9 and E-Mail scams:
USCIS has learned that employers have received scam emails requesting Form I-9 information that appear to come from USCIS. Employers are not required to submit Forms I-9 to USCIS. Employers must have a Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, for every person on their payroll who is required to complete Form I-9.
All of these forms must be retained for a certain period of time. Visit I-9 Central to learn more about retention, storage and inspections for Form I-9.
These scam emails come from a fraudulent email address: email@example.com. This is not a USCIS email address. The body of the email may contain USCIS and Office of the Inspector General labels, your address and a fraudulent download button that links to a non-government web address (uscis-online.org). Do not respond to these emails or click the links in them.
Winning The Visa Lottery:
USCIS does not manage the Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) Program. This program is managed by the U.S. Department of State (State Department). The DV Program is also known as the visa lottery.
Visit the State Department’s website to learn more about the program, the requirements to enter, and how they notify selectees. Remember that the DV Program is free, and the State Department will never send you an email about being selected.
Indians are not eligible for the Diversity Visa Lottery
Some websites claim to be affiliated with USCIS and offer step-by-step guidance on completing a USCIS application or petition. Make sure your information is from uscis.gov or is affiliated with uscis.gov. Make sure the website address ends with .gov.
Please remember that the USCIS will never ask you to pay to download USCIS forms. Their forms are always free on their website. You can also get forms at your local USCIS office or by calling 800-870-3676 and order forms over the phone.
Scams Targeting Students:
If you are an international student outside of the U.S. and want to come to the U.S. for education, make sure you are applying to an accredited college or university. Look for your school on the Council for Higher Education web page.
You must have a Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, to travel. After you are accepted into a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school, a designated school official will either give you:
Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status –For Academic and Language Students, or
Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status –For Vocational Students
Schools that are not accredited cannot sponsor you for an F-1 student visa.
Additional information on the Form I-20 is available on DHS’ website studyinthestates.dhs.gov or on our website on the Students and Employment page.
Paying Money for Connections or Jumping the lines:
Sometimes businesses and websites pretend to be immigration experts or say they have special connections to the government. They might also “guarantee” that you can get a visa, green card, or work permit faster if you pay a fee. Remember, USCIS has no exceptions to the normal processing times and no one can obtain these services faster than the usual process.
Spotting an Immigration Scam or Immigration fraud
It actually isn’t that difficult. Here are some tell-tell signs:
The news is too good or too bad to be true: For example, you can get a green card by paying x amount of money or that you will be deported if you don’t pay x amount of money.
Reaching out to you in a way government never would: USCIS will never call you to get any information from you.
Strange Payment methods: Some people may ask for a gift card or an Itunes gift card or some form of other digital non currency payment.
Guarantee you a specific result: Since each case is unique, most attorneys can never guarantee you a specific result. Only a scammer would.
Reporting a Scam:
If you believe that you received a scam email requesting Form I-9 information from USCIS, report it to the Federal Trade Commission. If you are not sure if it is a scam, forward the suspicious email to the USCIS webmaster - firstname.lastname@example.org. USCIS will review the emails received and share with law enforcement agencies as appropriate.