Southern California advocacy groups are sounding the alarm about scams targeting immigrants and their families.
Their concerns come in the wake of new federal policies aimed at overhauling the nation’s immigration system.
In a November speech, President Obama announced the Immigration Accountability Executive Actions, which are expected to shield about 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Since the process will involve possibly complex applications and paperwork, advocates fear it will create a rich hunting ground for con artists looking for easy targets.
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For years, immigrants have fallen victim self-proclaimed "immigration consultants," who often identify themselves as notaries public or "notarios."
As California Attorney General Kamala Harris warned last week, these predators often charge thousands of dollars for help with the citizenship process, yet often provide no service – then disappear with the applicant’s money.
"We pay extra money to this guy and he say he's going to take care of everything," undocumented immigrant Norma Magallanes told the NBC4 I-Team.
Magallanes hired a notario several years ago to help secure her citizenship after she was caught crossing the border from Mexico into California.
"It was $5,000 and they were supposed to fix everything," she said.
Instead, after weeks of consultations, the man who’d promised to get her a green card took her money and vanished.
It’s a scam that’s all too common. The Federal Trade Commission receives hundreds of complaints about similar tricks every year – and that number is expected to climb as immigrants see new hope for achieving citizenship.
Attorney General Harris advises immigrants to make sure any attorneys they consult are licensed, and that "advisers" are recognized by the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals. In fact, with the government not due to release applications until mid-2015, it’s probably too early to hire anyone.