How to choose an immigration attorney and avoid fraud

Immigration fraud is, unfortunately, a common phenomenon, very often immigrants get hooked on scams when looking for a lawyer. We’ve put together some tips on how to choose the right lawyer, check his or her license and history of violations, if any.

To avoid being scammed by lawyers and people impersonating them, you should take the following precautions:

1. Ask for the lawyer’s full name and state bar license number. Before hiring a lawyer or paying any amount of money, look up the lawyer on the website of the state bar where he was allegedly licensed to see if his license is valid and if there have been any violations on his part.

Websites and phone numbers of bar associations in the states with the highest number of Russian-speaking immigrants:

California – 800-843-9053 or visit the website.
New York – 212-428-28-00 or visit the website.
New Jersey – 732-214-85-00 or visit website.
Florida – 1-833-FL1-WELL; 1-833-351-9355 or visit Web site.
Illinois – 312-726-8775; 800-678-4009 or visit website.
2. If an attorney represents you on immigration matters, make sure he or she is licensed to practice that type of law. For lists of attorneys, including immigration attorneys, who have been disbarred (and not reinstated to date) or disciplined by the U.S. Department of Justice, go here.

3. Put the contract in writing and require receipts for payments you have made. These documents can be used as evidence in court if necessary. Moreover, swindlers usually avoid signing them, so the lawyer’s refusal to formalize cooperation should alert the client.

Be extra cautious if you are asked to pay in cash and not to the account of the office or organization. If you do decide to pay in cash, be sure to request a written receipt.

5. Do not hire anyone to represent you who threatens to report your immigration status to federal authorities if you do not pay them.

6. Keep a documented record of your interactions with your attorney. If you did not pay from your bank account and cannot get a statement, keep a cashier’s check; get a receipt from the lawyer, as well as an invoice detailing the services rendered to you (you are entitled to demand it). And keep all these documents until the issue with which you went to a lawyer is resolved.

Where to go if you have been the victim of a scammer posing as a lawyer

People who have been the victim of immigration fraud can file a legal complaint with the bar association of their state. There is no charge to file a complaint, and you do not have to be a U.S. citizen. The bar will not ask complainants about citizenship or immigration status. The complaint form in most states is available not only in English, but also in Russian.

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