Contributed by City of Portland Office of Economic Opportunity

Immigrants are often anxious about the immigration process, unfamiliar with how the U.S. government works, and unsure whether they qualify for a “green card” or naturalization, and so they are at risk of being targeted by scammers. Some of the scammers come from within immigrant communities, and others come from outside. This is why having a lawyer, or the team from Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP), to help with your case is so important. They can help you to avoid being scammed. In Maine, ILAP is the best resource, and they offer free interpretation for their immigration services. We sat down with Julia Brown, Advocacy and Outreach Director at ILAP, to ask some of the most common immigration scam-related questions. Check out her advice here:

Is it OK to pay a notary instead of an immigration attorney?
No. You should only pay an attorney or an accredited representative to help you with your immigration application. Someone who is not an attorney or accredited representative cannot and should not offer legal advice. And if they ask for large amounts of money in exchange for this “advice,” recognize that as a red flag. There are some FREE alternative options listed below. Work performed by notary publics (sometimes called “notarios”) often results in filing incorrect forms, missed deadlines, or even false claims. This could result in the loss of a case, deportation, civil fines, or criminal charges for filing false claims. If ILAP is not able to help you right away, and you are not an asylum seeker, please check out a newly formed virtual Immigration Legal Aid Clinic with up to 5 FREE legal immigration consultations a month.The clinic was formed by a group of pro bono immigration attorneys and supported by the Greater Portland Office of Economic Opportunity. Unfortunately, these lawyers cannot accept asylum cases. Asylum seekers should consult ILAP.

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How can I tell if an imposter is posing as the government?

The Federal Trade Commission ( FTC ) writes, “You might get a call or an official-looking letter that has your correct name, address, and Social Security number. But there is no legitimate reason for someone to ask you to wire money this way. If you’re unsure whether the message is legitimate, look up the official number for the government agency, office or employee in the letter and call to ask them to explain. Even if you do owe money, you have rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Variations on these scams include people claiming to be with the IRS collecting back taxes, or scammers posing as representatives of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) who target immigration applicants and petitioners.”

Where could I report a scam if I think I have been a victim?
You can report scams to the Maine Attorney General. If you are unsure how to take action, reach out to ILAP or the Office of Economic Opportunity, and we will redirect you to those who can advise you. or with the FTC:

4. Is it OK to not disclose everything to my attorney?
Any information that you discuss with your attorney is confidential. Immigration cases are complex, and your attorney needs to know all the facts to do their job. You should give your attorney as much information as possible so they can strategize correctly and avoid any surprises later.

5. Can I copy/paste any information from my friend’s immigration paperwork?
You should only write information in your immigration application that is true. Never sign a blank form, a form with incorrect or false information, or a document that you do not understand.

If you or someone you know has seen an immigration scam or been the victim of one, it’s important to report it! If you have any doubts about whether someone claiming to be from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is an imposter, you should contact USCIS customer service at 800-375-5283.
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