NEWARK – The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs has issued Notices of Violation against four Passaic County businesses that allegedly defrauded consumers by offering immigration assistance services that they are not legally permitted to provide. The businesses cited are known as “Notarios Publicos” and such companies often use cultural confusion to exploit Spanish-speaking consumers in connection with the services they offer. In certain Latin American countries, Notarios Publicos may act as attorneys, prepare legal documents on behalf of clients, and provide legal advice. In the United States, public notaries cannot legally offer or perform these services.
“These businesses allegedly misled consumers into believing that they could provide immigration assistance when they were not permitted to by law,” said Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman. “These businesses ultimately may have hurt those looking for immigration services by delaying their access to legitimate immigration assistance.”
Each of the following businesses this week received a Notice of Violation carrying a $10,000 civil penalty:
208 Washington Place
Passaic, New Jersey 07055
570 Clifton Avenue
Clifton, New Jersey 07011
93 Market Street
Paterson, New Jersey 07505
96 Market Street
Paterson, New Jersey 07505
“The Division of Consumer Affairs will not tolerate businesses that exploit the immigration concerns of New Jerseyans,” said Steve Lee, Acting Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. “We will act whenever vulnerable communities are targeted by frauds and scams looking to take advantage, in order to earn illegal profits.”
Lee also noted that the firms often offered their services for between $600 to $1,000 per client.
Some Notarios Publicos have falsely claimed that they can assist clients in obtaining immigration documents such as green cards or work visas, and claim that they function as immigration consultants.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) notes that Notarios Publicos cannot provide legal advice concerning immigration issues or prepare legal documents on behalf of clients, although many falsely claim they can do so. Only attorneys, or certain other accredited representatives authorized by the federal government, may file legal documents such as immigration forms on a client’s behalf.
To help consumers avoid such scams, and for help in obtaining legitimate assistance, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs advises consumers of the following:
Investigators Murat Botas, Oscar Mejia and Luis Zuniga, in the Office of Consumer Protection within the Division of Consumer Affairs, conducted the investigation. Investigators with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement within the Department of Homeland Security participated in this task force.
Deputy Attorney General Alina Wells in the Division of Law’s Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section, is representing the State.
To report immigration scams, call the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs at 1-800-242-5846 (toll-free within N.J.) or at 973-504-6200.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file an online complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504- 6200.
Check out the Division of Consumer Affairs online calendar of upcoming Consumer Outreach events.