Newark – The Division of Consumer Affairs today announced that it has issued Notices of Violation against 28 businesses that allegedly defrauded consumers by offering immigration services that they are not legally permitted to provide.
The Notices of Violation, which seek a total of $326,000 in civil penalties, follow a months-long undercover operation, carried out by the Division’s Office of Consumer Protection (“OCP”). Acting on tips, consumer complaints, and investigative information, investigators visited notary publics, tax preparers, travel agencies, and other businesses suspected of selling immigration assistance services that they cannot legally offer, in violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and/or the Advertising Regulations.
Some of the businesses receiving the Notices of Violation were quoting fees in excess of $1,500 to provide immigration services that, by law, may be rendered only by attorneys or by representatives accredited by the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and working for DOJ-recognized organizations. These recognized organizations generally offer their services for free or for only a nominal fee.
“Today we are reinforcing our commitment to protecting all New Jersey residents, regardless of their legal status, from financial predators,” said Paul R. Rodríguez, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “All New Jersey residents who fall victim to fraud or other unlawful conduct should know that they can safely report the matter to law enforcement. We are here for you.”
The Division’s investigation of businesses unlawfully selling immigration services aims to deter so-called “notario” fraud, in which a notary public takes advantage of Spanish-speaking consumers who believe that they are securing the services of an attorney or someone with special knowledge of immigration law and procedure.
In certain Latin American countries, “Notarios” are attorneys and can prepare legal documents on behalf of clients, and provide legal advice. In the United States, notaries cannot legally offer or perform these services.
In the United States immigration context, so-called “Notarios” who pretend that they are authorized to file immigration forms often leave their victims facing financial losses, the loss of irreplaceable documents such as birth certificates or passports, and possible detention and/or deportation. Some unauthorized practitioners are predators looking for victims to scam. They charge excessive fees or take money for services they have no intention of performing. In other cases, well-meaning unauthorized practitioners can make mistakes, like filing incorrect or incomplete forms or missing a deadline.
Victims often do not learn until it is too late that their paperwork has been filed incorrectly or not at all. These errors can impair their right to immigration relief.
“Regardless of their motives, businesses that unlawfully sell immigration services deprive consumers of competent legal assistance,” said Acting Director Rodríguez. “At a time when immigrant communities feel threatened, it is more important than ever that we prevent unauthorized and unqualified practitioners from exposing individuals to heightened risk of deportation and loss of their legal rights.”
The following is a list of the businesses served with Notices of Violation:
The businesses receiving the Notices of Violation face civil penalties ranging from $6,000 to $16,000. In some instances, persons associated with the businesses are also subject to civil penalties.
For help in obtaining legitimate immigration services, the Division of Consumer Affairs advises consumers to consult an attorney and/or check the following resources:
Investigator Oscar Mejia, in the Office of Consumer Protection within the Division of Consumer Affairs, coordinated this investigation under the supervision of Gregory K. Turner, Assistant Director of Enforcement.
Deputy Attorneys General Monisha A. Kumar and Jesse J.Sierant, as well as Deputy Attorney General/Section Chief Lorraine K. Rak in the Division of Law’s Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section coordinated the work of the Deputy Attorneys General representing the Division in these matters.
To report immigration scams, call the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs at 1-800-242-5846 (toll-free within New Jersey) or at 973-504-6200.
Follow the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office online at Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flicker & YouTube. The social media links provided are for reference only. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office does not endorse any non-governmental websites, companies or applications.