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Watch Out for Notario Fraud!

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed July 2022

There are many people who take advantage of immigrants who do not know the immigration laws of the United States. Be careful before paying a person to help you! In some cases, if the person files false paperwork on your behalf, you could face deportation. Only take legal advice from:

  • a licensed attorney. An “attorney” is a person who has a valid license from a state to practice law.
  • an accredited representative. An “accredited representative” is an individual who works with a recognized organization and has been given permission by the United States Government to help people in immigration court and with immigration agencies. A “recognized organization” is a nonprofit, religious, charitable, social service, or similar organization that has been given permission by the United States Government to help people with immigration court or immigration agencies.

Can a notary public help me with my immigration paperwork?

A notary public is not a lawyer. A notary public in America is not the same as a "notario publico" in Spanish-speaking countries like Mexico. . It is against the law for a notary public to give legal advice or provide legal services. Make sure to ask the person helping you if they have a law license or have been accredited to provide immigration law advice.

Can a preparer or an interpreter help me with my immigration paperwork?

Many people seek help when answering questions on immigration forms or translating documents from or into English.  Anyone can provide this kind of limited help.  However, people who offer help with form preparation and translation should only charge you a small fee and should not claim to have special knowledge of immigration law and procedure.  Anyone who does claim to have such special knowledge, or who does more than simply translate documents or write your answers (in your words) on immigration forms, must be a licensed attorney or Accredited Representative.

How do I know if a person has a license and is allowed to give me legal advice?

  • Ask in what state(s) they are licensed to practice law. Ask to see the license.
  • Call the office that licenses attorneys in that state (this is usually the “state bar association” or the supreme court of that state) and ask that office if the attorney has a bar number and is in “good standing.” For some states, you can check on-line. To find out if an individual is licensed to practice law in Massachusetts and is in good standing, you can call the Board of Bar Overseers at (617) 728-8800 or visit its website.
  • Check online to see the list of people who have been disciplined for providing bad advice or providing advice without a license.
  • If someone claims to be an accredited representative and you want to know if that person is allowed to represent you in immigration court, go to the EOIR Web site and download the PDF file “Accredited Representatives List” or call (703) 305-9029 for information.

What else can I do to protect myself?

  • When you hire a lawyer or accredited representative, insist that they write a contract that lists the help the person will provide and the total cost of their work.
  • Make sure to ask for a receipt each time you pay a lawyer or accredited representative.
  • Never sign a blank application or an application that has information you believe is false.
  • Always ask for proof that your immigration applications have been mailed or submitted to the court or immigration office.
  • If you are not sure that the person you have hired is giving you reliable information, ask another attorney or accredited representative for a second opinion.

What do I do if I think the person I hired has deceived me or is not helping me in the way that was promised?

If you think you have been a victim of immigration fraud, report the scam. Reporting the problem may help your own case and will protect others. Here’s how to report a scam:

  • If you believe that someone is pretending to be an attorney or Accredited Representative, or if you need additional information, call the Office of the Attorney General at (617) 963-2917 or file a claim online.
  • You may also call the Massachusetts Bar Association at (617) 654-0400, if you would like a referral to an attorney.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services provides more information on legal services on its website.

If you think you have been a victim of immigration fraud in immigration court, email the EOIR Fraud and Abuse Prevention Program: [email protected] or call  (703) 305-0470.

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