CIS Warns about Copycat & Misleading Websites
The unauthorized practice oflaw (UPL) has been a problem for many years. Unsuspecting clients pay large sums of money for legal services, often to members of their own nationality. These range from advice as to what benefits to request, filling out immigration forms, to preparing applications based on false information. Most of the time the victims do not read or write English, trusting completely the "immigration consultant" or"notary" with the content of the forms. This is especially true in cases of employment authorization and requests for political asylum. At best, the customer loses the money paid; at worst, (s)he ends up in removal proceedings before an Immigration Judge.
Within the past year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) has made an effort to educate the public about the dangers of hiring a consultant or notary to process immigration benefits, at the same time giving advice on how to protect oneself. The challenge of protection has grown more difficult with the growth of the Internet and computer use.
This month the CIS and U.S.Department of State (DOS) has each issued its own notices of various online scams targeting the immigrant community. The CIS is warning about copycat websites that mislead the user into believing that (s)he has reached a government office. CIS points out that government sites use .gov in their addresses: www.uscis.gov . So ,stumbling onto a site that is anything else should sound an alarm. For example, www.uscis.com, www.uscis.org, www.uscis.info or www.uscis.net are false and should be avoided. The same is true of DOS sites. The only true government address is www.state.gov . Anything else is misleading.
One of the scams charges to fill out forms online. In an underhanded tactic, the site charges a fee identical to the filing fee of the form. This leads the customers to believe that they are paying for the CIS filing fee. They do not discover that they have been victimized until the CIS rejects the applications, informing them that a filing fee must be paid.
A second recent scam involves the Diversity Visa (DV) green card lottery system. One of my clients recently sent me an email notification that appeared to be from the DOS, informing him that he has won the lottery. The notice instructed him to immediately mail in the visa fee of hundreds of dollars in order to secure his visa. Initially, I was surprised because the client never told me that he had registered for the lottery. It also seemed strange that the notice was sent by email. Neverthelss, I was pleased that he was so fortunate. I then looked at the website more closely and saw that it was a .com site. His joy was short lived. He then confessed that he had never entered the DV lottery. A week later, the client received the same notice. This time it came from an address that ended with .gov.org . This was even more misleading as the address actually contained the required .gov, albeit at the end of the address.
Most distressing to the client was that his name, address and telephone number became available to the fraudulent site. He was fortunate though that he passed the information to me for review. I fear that many others were not so lucky.