If you’re looking for immigration help, you might run across what look like government websites – but are actually from companies pretending to be part of the U.S. government. The FTC’s recent settlement has some lessons on how to protect yourself.
What’s the settlement about? Forms Direct, Inc., also known as American Immigration Center, set up websites that looked like official U.S. government sites. They had names like “us-immigration.com” and “uscitizenship.info,” used titles like “U.S. Immigration,” and showed pictures of American flags, the U.S. Capitol or the Statue of Liberty. The company’s search engine ads showed the name of the government’s immigration agency, “USCIS.” For fees of $120 to $300, it said, you could use its sites to file green card renewals, citizenship applications, or other immigration forms.
But these were not government websites. Fees went directly to the company. Plus, you still had to pay the government filing fees – and, sometimes, you even had to file the forms yourself.
Thanks to the FTC’s settlement, the company now has to say clearly that it’s not affiliated with the federal government. Plus, it must explain that you’ll still need to file your forms with the government – as well as pay any applicable fees. And that’s not all: under the settlement, the company will pay $2.2 million, which will go back to consumers.
How you can you avoid scams targeting immigrants? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
• Recognize real U.S. government websites. If the site’s address ends with.gov, it’s from the U.S. government.
• Never pay for blank government forms. You can get free immigration forms at uscis.gov/forms or by calling USCIS at 1-800-870-3676. There may be filing fees, but the forms themselves are free.
• Don’t use a notario público for legal advice. In the U.S., notaries are not lawyers and are not allowed to give you legal advice. To find a free or low-cost immigration lawyer, check out this state-by-state list from the U.S. Department of Justice.