A green card scam is an illegal business scheme conducted by an entity, individual, or attorney for the sole purposes of cheating an immigrant out of money. This is usually done by making false claims regarding how they may be able to obtain a Permanent Resident Card (i.e., a green card).

Green card scams are not the same type of criminal offense as green card fraud. In a case involving green card fraud, it is the immigrant who is the one that is making untrue claims in an attempt to get a green card. Again, green card scams are when an outside party who is not an immigrant tries to steal money from an immigrant by claiming they can get them a green card.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), which is a government agency that oversees various immigration matters, there are a number of ways that persons will try to carry out a green card scam. 

Some examples of how green card scams are accomplished include the following:

  • Scam websites: Be cautious of websites claiming that they are affiliated with the USCIS. If the URL link does not end in .gov, then the website is most likely part of a scam to get immigrants to pay money for a green card.
  • “Notarios Publicos”: “Notario publico”, which is Spanish for a “notary public”), does not mean the same thing in the U.S. as it does in Spanish-speaking countries. In the U.S., a notary public is someone who holds a license to witness the signing of important documents. In Spanish-speaking countries, however, a notario publico is a powerful attorney with special credentials. Do not confuse the two or accept any help from someone claiming to be the latter. They may be part of a green card scam.
  • Job offers: Immigrants should be wary of any companies that are offering work from overseas or via email. If you receive a suspicious email that says you should leave your origin country to come to the U.S., just be aware that it might be a scam. This is especially true if the email asks you to send money in order to get the job offer. 
  • “Jumping the line”: A business or website may hold themselves out as an immigration expert and claim that they have special ties to the government. They may also claim that you can obtain a visa, green card, or work permit faster if you pay them a fee. Thus, it is important to bear in mind that the USCIS offers no quicker ways to receive a green card and does not provide exceptions for anyone. 
  • Payments by phone or email: The USCIS will never ask an immigrant to transfer money to them for immigration fees through mechanisms, such as MoneyGram, PayPal, gift cards, or Western Union wire transfers. The USCIS will also not ask an immigrant to pay money over the phone or by email. Although some immigration fees can be paid online, they will only be accepted through your personal USCIS account.
  • TPS re-registration scams: Never submit any additional documentation or forms until the USCIS updates the official TPS re-registration data for your specific country. You can find updates concerning TPS on the USCIS website.
  • Scams targeting students: If you are an international student who is applying to colleges in the United States, make sure that the school you are applying to is in fact an accredited institution. A college or university that is not accredited will not be able to sponsor you for an F-1 visa. Once you are accepted to a program, you will receive one of two forms:
    • Either a Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status for an academic and language student; or
    • The Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status for a vocational student.

If you believe that you have been a victim of one of the above or another type of green card scam, then you should contact a local immigration attorney immediately. An attorney can advise you on the next steps you should take and can potentially help you recover remedies for any losses that you have suffered as a result of a green card scam.

What is the Most Common Green Card Scam?

As previously discussed, there are many ways that an individual or entity will attempt to cheat an immigrant out of money by promising to get them a green card. However, there is one method that green card scammers tend to use more than others and that is a scam that involves the Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”) green card lottery system. 

In general, persons or entities that engage in an INS green card lottery system scam will typically make some kind of deceitful claim, such as that:

  • They can raise the immigrant’s chances of winning the green card lottery;
  • They have connections to the U.S. government;
  • They need more money to specially process a winning application; and/or
  • They have certain expertise or credentials that are required to submit a lottery application, which will increase the applicant’s chances of winning. 

It should be noted that the USCIS does not have any affiliation with the Diversity Immigrant Visa (“DV”) Program, which is the program that oversees the visa lottery. Thus, the USCIS and/or the State Department will never send someone a letter or email about being selected for the lottery. Immigrants waiting to be selected can review the selection requirements for the Program by visiting the DV’s website.

What are the Consequences of Falling for a Green Card Scam?

Aside from having to pay money for services that do not exist, a victim of a green card scam may get completely disqualified from participating in the green card lottery system. This can happen in situations where a scam artist submits multiple applications to the INS green card lottery system for a single immigrant. 

Additionally, an immigrant can also be disqualified if the scam leads to delays in processing their application. This is because green cards are issued on a first-come, first-serve basis. Thus, submitting extra applications will delay the investigation and review process. 

How Do I Protect Myself from a Green Card Scam?

The most effective way for an immigrant to protect themselves from a green card scam is to stay educated about the process and to know the actual requirements for the green card lottery system:

  • It is entirely free to submit an application to the INS green card lottery system;
  • There are no methods to increase a person’s chances of winning the lottery since winners are chosen at random and only one application may be submitted at a time; and
  • No extra special expertise is required to apply to the lottery system. An individual only needs to follow the instructions, which can be found on the U.S. State Department’s website.

If an immigrant does not understand the requirements or needs more information about the process, they should speak to an immigration attorney for further advice. An immigration attorney can provide ample protection and can make sure that the immigrant is protected from green card scams.

Do I Need an Attorney if I am a Victim of a Green Card Scam?

If you believe you have been a victim of a green card scam, then it is very important that you speak to a local immigration attorney as soon as possible. An experienced immigration attorney will be able to advise you of your rights as an immigrant and can determine whether there are any potential remedies that you can claim to recover for any losses you may have suffered.