Councilman's bill takes aim at 'notario' fraud

Posted: March 07, 2014

Saying that impostor lawyers are stealing "thousands of dollars" from immigrants, Philadelphia City Councilman Dennis O'Brien will introduce a bill Thursday aimed at stopping the practice known as " notario fraud."

The word notario is referenced because in Latin American countries, a notario publico is a lawyer.

O'Brien's legislation would establish regulations for licenses, public disclosures, prohibited acts, and penalties.

"These [scammers] have no credentials," said O'Brien. "They steal thousands of dollars from people who are trying to find a legal means to citizenship. When they are defrauded, they become subject to deportation."

Adding insult to injury, he said, many scammers "are the same ethnicity as the victims."

In December, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services panel of experts, which met at the agency's West Philadelphia regional office, said "the wrong help" when filing for green cards and other applications most certainly "can hurt."

They said immigrants are vulnerable to rip-off artists who dispense unlicensed legal advice and charge fees to obtain application forms that can be downloaded free.

O'Brien's legislation, which would amend the city's ordinance on "businesses, trades, and professions," would prohibit anyone who is not a licensed lawyer, or previously certified by the federal Board of Immigration Appeals, from giving legal advice on immigration matters.

Penalties could result in fines and 90 days in jail.

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