By the City of Portland’s Crime Prevention Program
Since the election, the undocumented community may be feeling uncertain about their immigration status. Individuals and families may fear deportation and seek legal assistance. Unfortunately, people facing this situation are vulnerable to Notario fraud.
Notario fraud occurs when individuals represent themselves as qualified to offer legal advice on matters such as immigration and taxes, but do not have the training and certification required to offer these services. In some cases, their fraudulent actions place the victims’ immigration status in jeopardy.
When immigrants seek legal assistance, in many cases they may turn to unqualified sources to help with their immigration case. For example, they may seek legal assistance from a Notary Public, mistaking them for a Notario Publico.
“The title, Notary Public, can be confused with the term Notario Publico, used in Latin American countries for a lawyer authorized to represent clients before the government.”
In the United States, a state-certified Notary Public is a professional who verifies the authenticity of legal documents and acts as an official witness when those documents are signed.
A Notary Public is not authorized to “draft legal records or give advice on legal matters, act as a consultant on immigration matters, represent an individual in immigration court or be paid for such services.” (Oregon Revised Statutes 194.350.) According to Erious Johnson, Oregon Attorney General’s Office, even “deciding what form to use is a practice of law,” and therefore a Notary Public is not authorized to do it.
The title, Notary Public, can be confused with the term Notario Publico, used in Latin American countries for a lawyer authorized to represent clients before the government. Scammers capitalize on this confusion. Now more than ever, it is important for community members to be aware of this problem.
Some of the complaints related to Notario fraud are that the offender:
- Charges fees for forms that are offered for free by the government.
- Does not perform the work promised.
- Uses the wrong forms.
- Fills out the information incorrectly.
- Files for the wrong benefits or ones that do not exist.
- Misses crucial deadlines.
If deadlines are missed, this can affect immigration status. There have been cases where forms filled out incorrectly are considered fraudulent to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which may lead the agency to pursue deportation.
Many victims of this crime tend to trust individuals claiming to be legal professionals because they share the same cultural background and language. Victims often forgo doing research of the person’s qualifications and competency because of that instant connection. The scammers use these connections to prey on vulnerable people.
Victims are often reluctant to report Notario fraud to law enforcement agencies for fear of compromising their immigration status. In some cases the offender may threaten to call ICE on the victim. This fear often effectively silences victims and allows perpetrators to continue their fraudulent practices with impunity.
When you need immigration legal advice, do your research to protect yourself against Notario fraud. Only a licensed lawyer or accredited representative is allowed to provide legal advice for your immigration case. Accredited representatives are not lawyers, but are given permission by the United States EOIR’s Office of Legal Access Programs to represent immigrants on behalf of a recognized organization.
If you would like to hire an immigration attorney in Oregon:
- Contact the Oregon State Bar (OSB) www.osbar.org/public. All lawyers who practice in Oregon must be licensed through the OSB. They have a lawyer referral program to help you find someone who specializes in the area of law that you need help with, such as immigration.
- Visit the American Immigration Lawyers Association website at www.aila.org. They have a search tool on their site to find an immigration attorney.
- Always check lawyers’ membership records at www.osbar.org/members. Look up their names to determine if their law licenses are active and whether they have had any disciplinary proceedings.
If you would like to work with an accredited representative, visit the United States Department of Justice website at www.justice.gov/eoir. Make sure that this representative can represent you in immigration court.
What to do to protect yourself
Do not sign any legal documents that are blank or contain false information. Make copies of all papers prepared or filed on your behalf. Always ask for a receipt when you pay money for services.
If you are a victim of Notario fraud, report it. By reporting it, you may help prevent other community members from becoming a victim of this crime. If you have been scammed out of money, you can report to the police at 503-823-3333. You can also call the Consumer Protection Hotline at the Oregon Attorney General’s office at 877-877-9392 and ask for advice about what to do. They have advocates who speak Spanish.
To learn more about the Crime Prevention Program, visit the City of Portland’s Crime Prevention Program website at www.portlandoregon.gov/oni/cp for English; www.portlandoregon.gov/oni/prevencion for Spanish, or call 503-823-4064.
*This article has been updated. A previous version of this article erroneously indicated that the United States Board of Immigration Appeals was able to grant permission to accredited representatives to represent immigrants on behalf of a recognized organization.