How to Keep Safe When Looking for Immigration Help

Those of us here at the Department of Consumer Protection hope that you are staying healthy and safe. We will all get through this with the help of our friends, family and neighbors, and DCP is here to help as well.

By Catherine Blinder | Translated by Jamal Fox & Alisson Ziza

Those of us here at the Department of Consumer Protection hope that you are staying healthy and safe. We will all get through this with the help of our friends, family and neighbors, and DCP is here to help as well.

Although there are many moments of kindness, generosity and hope as we move through this difficult time, there are still those who will take advantage of people, even now, when we need each other the most.

For several years, we have had the honor of informing Tribuna’s readers about their consumer rights. Many of the scams that we write about can affect your credit, your online safety, your personal safety or your home. But none of the scams we have warned about have the potential of devastating families like notario fraud.

Notarios tell you that they can process your citizenship papers, often promising that they can do it faster and better. They advertise in papers, on the radio, on websites and with posters in store windows. Sometimes, they become a notary public, open an office in a neighborhood, put a sign in the window and wait for people to find them. They call themselves immigration experts, notario publicos or notarios, and their help can hurt you. 

In the United States, a notary public does not have any legal authority. In many South and Central American countries, a “Notario” has more legal authority and is able to conduct legal business. In this country, a notary public has very limited authority, such as witnessing the signing of legal documents.

These are people who prey on their own community. They take only cash, even charging you for blank government forms that are free. They can be very convincing – because they know just enough of the law to make it appear that they know what they are doing. They might tell you that they have a “special relationship” with the government offices that provide legal citizenship advice, or that they “work with an immigration lawyer.”

But they are not lawyers. They cannot, by law, file your petition for citizenship.

Sometimes the help they give you can hurt your chances of immigrating legally. In some cases, their help has created situations in which family members are deported.

Only licensed lawyers or a representative of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) accredited organizations can represent you when you apply for citizenship. An accredited representative is not a lawyer, but they have been authorized by the government to offer immigration advice, and they may represent you. They must work for an organization that is recognized by the government. You can get a list of these individuals and organizations from the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) at the Department of Justice. (  

Working with the proper authorities will also help protect you from those who want to take advantage of you.

A notary public, or even a friend, a teacher or a relative can help translate, or write what you tell them to on forms. But they cannot give you advice on what to say or direct you to the proper forms.

The path to citizenship is hard, and can take a long time, but you have a better chance if you follow the rules and remember the following tips.

  • Don’t go to anyone advertising as a notario publico, or immigration expert.
  • Never give anyone cash for immigration help.
  • Never pay for blank government forms – they are free.
  • Get immigration forms from U.S. government websites or at their offices.
  • Make sure the website ends in .gov – that means it is an authentic government website.
  • Don’t ever let anyone keep your original documents, like your birth certificate or passport. Scammers may keep them and make you pay to get them back.
  • Never file a form before it has been filled out completely, or a form that you know has false information on it. 
  • Never sign a document you do not fully understand.
  • Make a file, and keep copies of everything, including all letters from the government about your application petition.
  • Keep the receipt you will get from USCIS when you submit your paperwork. It proves that they received your paperwork. You will need it to check on the status of your application or petition.

Call USCIS to ask about qualified lawyers near you – 1-800-375-5283.  And, always compare prices.

We have recently been notified of several people in the Danbury area who advertise immigration services in addition to lawful businesses they may be conducting. Please call or email DCP’s complaint line below to let us know about anyone who is not a lawyer advertising immigration help. 

It can be frightening to complain to a state or federal government official, but a complaint to DCP will help not only you, but others who have been victims of dishonest people.

If you or someone you know has heard about a person offering unauthorized immigration assistance, please contact DCP ( or call 860.713.6300).

Also visit for more information on filing a federal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

And remember to Pass it On to friends, family and neighbors!

This article was written by Catherine Blinder, chief education and outreach officer of the Department of Consumer Protection of the State of Connecticut. To learn more about how the Department of Consumer Protection can help, visit us online at