Recently, the blog received a cheery request to post a link to a site that promised help with immigration paperwork. The site looks official and trustworthy, both in the name of the site. It even comes up first in a google search on immigration forms.
The site does disclose that the forms can be downloaded for free from the government and that the government may charge additional fees. So what does this site offer? They say that they will make your application easy and error free.
Sounds good? Sure – which is why it’s important to double check if the site is legitimate. Unfortunately in this case, there’s many complaints that describe the site as a rip-off and a scam at the site’s Consumer Affairs page. Entry after entry notes that they have paid fees for what would be free directly from the government and gotten little to nothing in return. Clients report that the company is unresponsive to complaints and unwilling to give refunds.
Here are a few of the comments:
“I thought I was on the legit site for the Immigration Dept. Their company is the first one that comes up when you search for Immigration. Their site looks exactly like the legit Immigration site. When I paid, I thought these were the fees for getting my citizenship. They charge you for using a form on their site that you can get for free from the legit Immigration Department. They charged me $189.00 for nothing.”
Signed up for a green card for my wife and self. They charged us 2 x $159.00 because of separate filing. Did not know that these same forms are available on the Govt. website without having to pay the Immigrationdirect.com website. Try to call and complain without getting any credit for these credit card fees. Besides, paying 2 x $450.00 each to the official U.S. government immigration service. We did not know that we were had until our interview last week by the US Immigration Service when we ask why we also had to pay www.immigrationdirect.com. They advised us to file with the state of Illinois legal aid to recover the excess fees paid. Fraudulent use of the false U.S. website is falsely having been charged.
How is this possible? This looks just like the real thing… This must be against the law or something.. This people have my SSN, my ALIEN # and almost my credit card #. I said almost cuz I wasn’t ready to file it yet… I filled up the app. Was asked to pay $149 for my green card. I went to put my money into my bank then I got a phone call from Immigrationdirect… I didn’t answer but I got voice mail :-/ very strange: Like since when immigration will call you back ha? Well this voice on my voice machine offered 25% off the original $149 fee for my green card… Now this is when I stop doing anything and start to put things together… Don’t fall for it, it’s not real website. Go directly to immigration in your town but just to be clear, something has to be done with this website. This is not good!!!!
When a site seems official and offers a much desired short cut, it can be all too tempting to skip the due diligence we’re likely to do when we ask friends about a new brand or read reviews about online merchants. Yet when the stakes are high this double checking is even more important. That’s when you have the least to lose to people who are trying to take advantage of you for their own profit.
Though this particular site does include a fine print disclosure that the forms are available for free elsewhere, the small print is for their protection – protection from lawsuits and refunds – and not for yours.
And when it comes to official U.S. government forms, look for “.gov” websites – they’re not always easy to navigate and there may be fees when you file – but the forms themselves are nearly always available for free.
Also, a huge thanks to Ellen Kroeker for the initial background on this site and then working all the way through this post with me!