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Watch out for Notarios offering bad tax, immigration advice

Notario-Warning-sign.JPGAs next month's income tax deadline draws near, officials in a number of states are cracking down on tax preparers moonlighting as "Notarios" — people who pose as legal professionals to scam immigrants.

The Arkansas Attorney General's office recently filed a lawsuit against a tax preparer accused of offering to process permanent residency applications for customers under a nonexistent federal law. Oregon's Department of Justice shut down a tax preparer earlier this month for offering unlicensed tax services and immigration advice.

Notarios Publicos in many Hispanic nations are highly trained legal professionals, unlike Notaries in the U.S., who are state-commissioned officials with narrow witnessing duties and much less discretion. But many unscrupulous individuals pose as Notarios and falsely claim to be attorneys or legal consultants to take advantage of immigrants. Notarios commonly charge exorbitant fees for worthless legal advice, often leaving immigrant clients facing deportation and other legal problems without their knowledge. Many states strictly prohibit Notaries from advertising using the title "Notario Publico" or other foreign-language translations of "Notary Public" in order to protect immigrants from scams.

The Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service have been leading a nationwide campaign to crack down on the unauthorized practice of immigration law and are encouraging people to report any taking advantage of immigrants via the FTC's online complaint system.

Notaries should always follow state laws regarding foreign-language advertising and never offer unauthorized advice on immigration matters.

The National Notary Association provides a detailed explanation of the differences between U.S. Notaries and Notarios as well as links to federal resources. Notaries can help consumers by providing the NNA's "What Is A Notary Public" brochure to interested parties.

David Thun is the Assistant Managing Editor with the National Notary Association.

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