A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Friday, October 26, 2018

Beware of Impostor Immigration Websites!

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed a complaint against Forms Direct, Inc. and its officer, fining $2.2 million and putting an end to their misleading practices of impersonating USCIS. 

Forms Direct, Inc. charged consumers for immigration form services using websites designed to look like the official USCIS website.  Designs included patriotic schemes of red, white, and blue colors and pictures of the President and U.S. passport. The URLs had deceptive names like uscitizenship.info and usimmigrationcitizenship.com. The FTC claims that these characteristics led consumers to believe they were on official U.S. immigration websites. Many of these websites appeared on search engines such as Google and Yahoo under searches like "USCIS" or "US Immigration". Every characteristic pointed to these websites and services being authentic. No indication was given on these websites that they were unofficial. 

As part of the settlement, the defendants must clearly show on their websites that they are not affiliated with the government. Their consumers must also file the completed immigration applications and pay the filing fee themselves. The $2.2 million fine will go toward refunds. 

Those looking to apply for immigration benefits should be wary of such fraudulent services. Some paid hundreds of dollars and disclosed personal information before realizing the websites were not officially U.S. Immigration. Many of the deceived were those seeking to apply for I-90 green card extension or N-400 naturalization. Consumers should also look out for their family members who may be new to the U.S. immigration system and unfamiliar with the website.

Unfortunately migrants and foreigners are targeted by scammers because they are usually less familiar with the American system and the English language. Similarly, many immigration consultants, notaries, paralegals, etc., would prey on migrants who desperately need help from somebody who speak their languages. These unscrupulous individuals would advice them to file frivolous applications such as requests for asylum.  Because these applications are not truthful, they will inevitably get denied by the U.S. government.  Denial of applications can and will lead to the placement of the applicant in removal proceedings.   At the end, these immigrants could end up with a deportation order.  Even if they subsequently become eligible for a green card, (e.g., through marriage), their applications will be denied because of the prior deportation order. 

Individuals who need legal advice should consult with a licensed attorney who has experience in the subject matter. A general practitioner usually is not trained to handle complex immigration matters.  Similarly, it would not be wise to hire a divorce attorney to file your H-1B petition.  Given the current stringent immigration policy, one cannot afford to make a wrong move. 

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