Don’t let your American Dream become a nightmare: Three tips for avoiding U.S. immigration fraud
When it comes to the most important decision of your life, emigrating to a new country, do you know the warning signs of a scam?
According to the Federal Trade Commission in the United States, there are between 400 and 700 reports of scams targeting would-be immigrants each year — and that number may be just the tip of the iceberg. Many, if not most, victims of immigration scams don’t report them and the real number is almost certainly in the thousands each year.
Ghost consultants or scam operators with no recognized credentials can prey on well-intentioned immigrants with the bad luck of trusting the wrong advice. They may make impossible promises (like improving their odds in the visa lottery), charge fees for things that should be free (like U.S. immigration documents), and even add false information or documents to their application. Sometimes they’ll even add unrelated people, claiming they are family members!
These scams can have consequences that go far beyond losing some money. The U.S. government routinely refuses to issue visas to people who have lied on immigration forms, no matter how long ago, and innocent mistakes can have the same consequences as intentional fraud.
Falling prey to an immigration scam could cost you a lifetime of opportunity. Here are three tips that can help you avoid becoming the next victim.
- Choose the right immigration law firm or representative. According to the FTC, “only an attorney or an accredited representative working for an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) can give you legal immigration advice.”“If you need legal advice about your immigration status, you need to speak with an attorney.”So how do you find a good immigration lawyer? Look for established law firms with a real world presence, and check that the lawyer is a member of the professional association in their state or area.
- Read all forms, contracts and agreements thoroughly before signing anything. If something appears complicated, ask for a second opinion. A legitimate attorney or representative will never pressure you to sign something right away.
- Pay close attention to any fees or charges. Fees are usually payable to the embassy or consulate at the time of your appointment. The U.S. government will never ask you to pay fees in advance by cheque, money order or wire transfer. Likewise, all necessary forms are available online for free.
There are people out there who will take advantage of language barriers, complicated processes and the eagerness of applicants, only to steal their money and leave them with nothing but empty promises. But even well-meaning friends or family members can give you bad advice. And the consequences for such a mistake can be just as disastrous as falling victim to a scam.
The easiest way to protect yourself is to get legal advice about your immigration situation from an experienced attorney. As always, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.