The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs has cited 28 businesses throughout the state for "notario fraud," or the unauthorized offering and provision of legal services to Spanish-speaking immigrants. Notary publics, tax preparation offices, and travel agencies are among the business cited in the state agency's crackdown on a specific type of fraud that targets Spanish-speaking immigrant communities.
Paul Rodgriguez, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, said in a statement,
"Today we are reinforcing our commitment to protecting all New Jersey residents, regardless of their legal status, from financial predators. All New Jersey residents who fall victim to fraud or unlawful conduct should know that they can safely report the matter to law enforcement. We are here for you."
Businesses, many of which charged up to $1,500 for unauthorized legal services, are facing fines between $6,000 and $16,000. Victims of these businesses have been rendered "destitute," according to state officials. Some immigrants lost critical documents, including passports and birth certificates, to people posing as legal advisors or authorities. Unfortunately, victims are often too afraid of immigration enforcement to report how they've been defrauded. As a result, "notarios" have gone undetected for years, creating an "underground economy."
The Crucial Difference Between Notary Publics & Notario Publicos
In Latin America, a notario is a highly-qualified legal official. They undergo years of post-graduate training and education and are government appointed. While they perform roughly the same services as an American lawyer, they are nearly on par with immigration judges in terms of their power and authority. In countries with notarios, it would be perfectly natural to hire them for your immigration case.
In the U.S., however, notary publics are simply government-appointed witnesses for the signing of documents. They are forbidden from giving legal advice or preparing legal documents; they are also forbidden from charging more than a few dollars to witness signatures. According to the National Notary Association, notary publics "are expected to follow written rules without the exercise of significant personal discretion," i.e. they cannot offer advice on legal matters.
The difference in roles between "notarios" in Latin America and "notarios" in New Jersey gets lost in translation for Spanish-speaking immigrants—many of whom don't know how the U.S. legal system works. Notary publics prey on these people, offering help they're can't provide (at prices they can't demand).
If you've been defrauded by a notario offering legal 'help,' call our New Jersey immigration lawyer. We may be able to fight to get back what you lost while providing the actual legal help you need. Call (800) 909-8129 for a free case consultation. Se habla español.