Los Angeles County Takes Steps to Protect Immigrants from Notario Fraud

At 3.5 million, Los Angeles County has more immigrants than any other county in the nation. Profiting off the County’s foreign-born communities through a scam called ‘notario fraud,’ individuals posing as licensed attorneys are cashing in on immigrants who want to establish U.S. residency or other legal immigration status. In response, today the Board of Supervisors approved a motion, authored by Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, that will support State legislation that strengthens consumer fraud protections for immigrants and their families who seek immigration services.

“Today, Los Angeles County is reiterating our commitment to protect all County residents from financial predators who target immigrants who seek U.S. residency,” said Supervisor Solis. “County residents who fall victim to this fraud lose hundreds or thousands of their hard-earned dollars to unscrupulous scammers, and in many cases, victims also forfeit all chances of gaining U.S. residency and end up facing deportation. LA County will not stand idly by. We will protect, serve, and defend all of our residents, regardless of their immigration status.”

In some Latin American countries, “notarios públicos” have similar educational training and professional duties as lawyers. In the United States, however, a notary public can only witness signatures and translate forms, but cannot dispense legal advice. Many notarios in the United States, though, operate beyond their scope of practice.

With their familiarity of the County’s immigrant communities, these non-certified “notarios públicos” market themselves to immigrants—often targeting undocumented immigrants—as a more affordable and reliable option to expensive, licensed attorneys. Often notarios speak an immigrant’s native language to gain trust with an immigrant community. Scammers often incorrectly fill out important paperwork or fail to complete forms altogether. Some also over-charge their clients or steal their money. Victims fear deportation if they speak up, or may be unaware that they can take legal action.

When LA County resident Imelda Miranda Martin wanted to help her two sons establish legal residency in the U.S., she turned to notario Oswaldo Cabrera. A U.S. citizen, Miranda Martin trusted Cabrera after a friend recommended him. But, she grew uneasy when he began immediately pressuring her to pay up to $15,000.

“He charged me $1,500 for each son just to open their cases, and he demanded that I pay him $4,000 each right away to continue their cases, or he would charge me $6,000 each,” said Miranda Martin, 71. “I was able to save and borrow only $4,000. I had to decide which of my two sons to help. Soon after I paid him, I learned that Mr. Cabrera was arrested for defrauding many people like me.”

Cabrera was sentenced to five years in state prison for defrauding immigrants. After Cabrera’s prosecution, Miranda Martin recouped $4,000, but she worries about the fate of her two sons who still lack U.S. residency. Miranda Martin has sought help from the County’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs.

“We want all County residents defrauded by notarios to be reassured that they can safely report their cases to us. The County offers free services and can connect fraud victims to appropriate legal aid providers,” continued Supervisor Solis.

In addition to supporting statewide legislation to protect immigrants from notario fraud, Supervisor Solis’ motion directs the Office of Immigrant Affairs (OIA) to launch a Countywide outreach public awareness educational campaign for immigrants and their families in a culturally sensitive and linguistically competent manner so they learn how to identify, prevent, and report fraud in immigration services. The motion also directs OIA to consult with academic institutions to conduct surveys on immigration fraud, and to organize workshops for immigrants and their families who have experienced fraud in immigration services.

Today’s action marks the 35th immigration motion Supervisor Solis has authored to protect, defend, and fight for the rights of immigrants since the 2016 presidential election. Her efforts include a $3 million dollar contribution to the LA Justice Fund and the creation of the first-ever County Office of Immigrant Affairs. To view a complete list of actions, please click here.

Contact: Rosa Maria Santana, Deputy Communications Director, rsantana@bos.lacounty.gov or 213-359-0795

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