June 18, 2024
Moncia Vaca, an attorney with the FTC, describes the scams that someone can come across while in the immigration process, how to avoid the scams, and how to report them.
Hi, I’m Monica Vaca, an Assistant Director with the Federal Trade Commission.

What scams can happen in the immigration process?
Well, the most common scams that we see are people who offer to provide immigration services but they are not authorized to provide those services. They will charge you a fee for doing that, but they will often bungle your paperwork. Sometimes they will pretend to be lawyers. Sometimes they will call themselves notarios to convince you that they are able to provide that assistance to you. The other type of scam that we see are fake government websites. These are websites that look legitimate, but they are not legitimate. Their website addresses do not end in .gov, and these people cannot help you. And then the third type of scam that we see are the individuals and businesses that charge you money for free government forms. You should not be paying money for free government forms.

What is a notario or notary public?
In Latin America, the term “notario” refers to a highly specialized lawyer. In this country, notarios or notary publics are not lawyers; they are not authorized to provide you with immigration services, and you should not be paying them a fee to do so.

What happens to people who get scammed?
The people who get scammed will, of course, lose the money that they have invested. Whatever fees they have paid will be gone. But, more importantly, for a lot of people, their immigration status can be jeopardized. By filling out the wrong form, by missing a deadline, by having incorrect information on a form, a person’s immigration status can be put in significant jeopardy.

Who can help you with the immigration process?
The immigration process is complicated, and so it’s worth investing some time into looking for the right kind of help. Look for a lawyer – preferably an immigration lawyer in good standing. You can also look for an accredited representative at a recognized organization. These folks will charge you fees for their services, but there may be organizations in your area that can provide you with free or low-cost assistance.

How can you find help?
You can find help with immigration services by going to ftc.gov/immigration. Start there. That will give you links to many places you can go to look for the right people.

What should you do if you see a scam?
If you see a scam, please report it to the Federal Trade Commission. You can report it at ftc.gov; you can report it in English or Spanish.
We know that some people are nervous about providing too much information, but people should feel free to provide whatever information they feel comfortable providing.

What are the most important things to know?
The most important things to know are, first of all, notarios are not lawyers. Do not pay them for immigration services. Second, if you see a scam, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov. Third, go to the FTC website for assistance in finding somebody who can help you. Go to ftc.gov/immigration.


The Federal Trade Commission deals with issues that touch the economic life of every American. It is the only federal agency with both consumer protection and competition jurisdiction in broad sectors of the economy. The FTC pursues vigorous and effective law enforcement; advances consumers’ interests by sharing its expertise with federal and state legislatures and U.S. and international government agencies; develops policy and research tools through hearings, workshops, and conferences; and creates practical and plain-language educational programs for consumers and businesses in a global marketplace with constantly changing technologies.

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