Notario Fraud

Public Education Tools


Source: University YMCA Flickr


Public education is one of the most effective tools used to combat notario fraud since it can prevent the fraud before it happens. Existing public campaigns attempt to inform the public that notario fraud exists and how to identify and prevent it. In the case that notario fraud does exist, other campaigns aim to inform victims of the rights and options that are available.

Public education around the protections that exist for non-citizens when they report fraud could be more exhaustive. Many successful notarios use extortion to prevent clients from reporting misconduct. For example, the notario could threaten a dissatisfied client with deportation if he or she reports the notario to the authorities. Extortion qualifies as a crime under the U-Visa program, which grants temporary status to victims of certain crimes who come forward and help law enforcement. In addition to just knowing that they are protected, advocacy programs could help non-citizens improve their expectations for proper representation. Many may not report fraud, or even be aware of it, because of low expectations for the effectiveness of the legal system informed by their experiences in their countries of origin. (Georgetown 2013)

The literature emphasizes the importance of remaining culturally sensitive to clients when designing a public education campaign. Immigrants often use notarios because of perceived comfort or familiarity, as they may be from the same country or have the same ethnicity as the client. If prospective clients are made aware of additional, culturally-sensitive legal options, they may be less inclined to use notarios and will seek out attorneys or BIA-accredited legal service providers. There are public education campaigns designed for specific nationalities, such as the partnership between the Mexican Embassy and the United We Dream campaign created in response to the July 2012 announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.

With the use of social media on the rise, and access to technology increasing throughout the United States even in low-income areas, use of online tools for education campaign can be especially useful. Web-based resources such as United We Dream and Stop Notario Fraud are accessible to the public and provide information on consumer protections, legal help for fraud victims, and general legalization and citizenship information. Additionally, state governments and the non-profit sector should connect with constituents using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

An essential educational objective is to teach applicants for legalization the proper roles performed by The greatest marketing opportunity is to highlight the distinct activities that can be legally performed by an attorney, an authorized immigration consultant, and a notary public. Would-be clients should have a simple, readily available reference on what each can and cannot do in immigration proceedings and the American legal system more broadly.

In addition, there is a need for basic consumer education on how to seek legal services.  Many applicants for immigration benefits are engaging in a complex legal process for the first time in their lives. Learning to take simple precautions such as asking for a provider’s qualifications, getting a detailed account of the services to be provided and agreeing on fees in advance can avoid a great many problems.


Public Education Campaigns

1.     Promotion of other services in the community:

There is a need to show that other service providers exist besides individuals who describe themselves as notarios. The strong presence of these unlicensed practitioners in communities makes it difficult for other agencies to compete, especially when they have less access to funds.

2.         Consumer education:

Given the extent of potential fraud in immigration-related services, prospective clients should be advised to proceed cautiously whenever they seek legal help. Public education campaigns should emphasize the need to keep a record of appointments and the submission of documents, copies of documents, contracts and receipts. All of these things may serve as evidence in a court of law.

Joanna Kabat, Master of Public Administration
Emily Reisner, Master of Public Policy


Editorial manager:
Anna Fischer
anna.fischer [at]
Program Coordinator, Tomas Rivera Policy Institute
University of Southern California

3.     Protection of victims of fraud:

If fraud does occur, many non-citizens are unaware of the protections they are granted to assist investigations of criminal activity. Disseminating knowledge about the U-Visa program, which protects victims of certain crimes who work with law enforcement to investigate criminal activity, for example, would empower more unauthorized immigrants to report fraud.

About this project

The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, a university research center with the mission to address the challenges and opportunities of demographic diversity in the 21st century global city, has produced these featured digital publications using the USC Media Curator, an online publishing platform designed to bring together innovative research from across the University of Southern California and beyond. This project curates research relevant for immigrant service providers on the topics of Access & Use of TechnologyAccess & Use of Financial ServicesNotario Fraud, and Driver's Licenses for the unauthorized.


Photo Courtesy of Chicago News Tribune

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