In some Latin American countries, a notario is a lawyer. In others, the title denotes someone who holds public office. In the United States, however, a notary is simply someone legally empowered to witness and certify documents and take affidavits and depositions.
These two words and their respective descriptions are causing major headaches for Spanish-speaking immigrants, according to Debora Wagner, managing attorney for Colorado Legal Services in Greeley, Colo., because notarios are preying on the misunderstanding between these two words.
“They are giving legal advice, taking people’s money and not helping them with their immigration cases,” she said. One notario went so far as to claim she worked for Colo. Sen. Bennett’s office.
Whether you’re renewing a Green Card, becoming a citizen or trying to choose the right forms, immigration issues can be complicated and it’s important to do things right.
In the United States, people who call themselves notarios charge exorbitant fees but will not help you and in fact may hurt your efforts. Some charge for blank government forms, say they have a special relationship with the government, or guarantee to get you results. Some might even promise to get you a winning slot in the Diversity Visa lottery or guarantee temporary protected status – if you pay a fee.
Immigration scams are illegal. If you or someone you know has seen an immigration scam or been the victim of one, it should be reported to the FTC
or your attorney general
The BBB, in partnership with the FTC, offers the following tips to avoid notario scams:
• Don’t go to a notario, notario público or a notary public for legal advice. In the United States, notaries are not lawyers.
• Never pay for blank government forms. They are free and available at uscis.gov/forms, by calling 1-800-870-3676, or by visiting your local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office.
• Get correct immigration information from U.S. government websites. Some scammers set up websites that appear as if they are run by the government although they are not. A legitimate government website address ends in dot gov (.gov).
• Don’t let anyone keep your original documents, such as your birth certificate or passport. Scammers may keep them until you pay to get them back.
• Never sign a form before it has been filled out, or a form that contains false information. Never sign a document that you don’t understand.
• Keep a copy of every form that you submit, as well as every letter from the government about your application or petition.
• You will get a receipt from USCIS when you turn in your paperwork. Keep it! You will need this receipt to check on the status of your application.
If you need help with immigration matters and don’t know where to turn, you can visit http://www.justice.gov/eoir/probono/probono.htm
to see the list of immigration lawyers in your area who don’t charge or who charge low fees. You can also call USCIS at 1-800-375-5283 to ask about lawyers in your area.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association
also maintains a list of lawyers available to help for a fee.
If you want to determine if someone is a lawyer or if a lawyer is in trouble for breaking the rules, visit your state's Bar Association
website or visit the U.S. Dept. of Justice for a list of lawyers not allowed to practice law.
For more information about scams against immigrants, in English or Spanish, visit the FTC