The New Jersey Judiciary has embarked on a public campaign to warn Spanish speaking consumers about businesses identifying themselves as “notarios públicos”, or notary publics, offering to provide legal services when they are not authorized to practice law. This business practice may be misleading and confusing to Latino immigrants, since in some Latin American countries, notarios públicos act as attorneys by providing legal advice and preparing legal documents. In the United States, however, public notaries are not authorized to perform these types of legal services.
While New Jersey attorneys may provide notary services, non-attorney notaries within the state are only allowed to provide limited services for a small fee. New Jersey notaries are authorized to serve as witnesses to the signing of documents and can administer oaths and affirmations, but are not permitted to charge more than $2.50 for these services. There is no special training or certification needed to become a New Jersey notary, nor is any specific knowledge of state or local laws required.
As reported by NJ.com, the Division of Consumer Affairs has cited four New Jersey businesses for allegedly providing immigration assistance services they were not legally authorized to provide. The cited businesses received notices of violation that could result in civil penalties up to $10,000. The cited New Jersey businesses include:
• Universal Tax & Travl [sic] Services Corporation, 208 Washington Place, Passaic
• SGI Professional Services Corporation, 570 Clifton Avenue, Clifton
• Detex Corp., d/b/a “Navarro Tax Services,” 93 Market Street, Paterson
• Martinez Travel Group, 96 Market Street, Paterson
Notarios públicos fraud occurs all over the country and is not a new phenomenon. Typically, these businesses target Latino immigrants claiming to be immigration consultants that can assist them in obtaining immigration documents such as green cards or work visas. Some of these fraudulent notarios públicos take the victim’s money but never file the documents as promised, while others file false information without the immigrant’s consent. Immigrants scammed by a notarios publicos may face financial losses, deportation, and the loss of irreplaceable documents such as birth certificates or passports.
Immigrants should be aware that only attorneys or other specific accredited representatives authorized by the federal government are permitted to file legal documents such as immigration forms. Consumers wanting information about whether an individual or organization is authorized to prepare legal documents such as immigration forms, give legal advice, or represent clients in a legal proceeding can visit the USCIS’ website or call 800-375-5283. Consumers who believe they have been the victim of a notarios públicos can file an online complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs or call 1-800-242-5846.
Spanish speaking immigrants in need of legal assistance can go to the New Jersey Judiciary website and click on the “Español” button at the top of the page to see all of the Judiciary’s online resources that are available in Spanish, including a database of attorneys licensed to practice in New Jersey. Legal Services of New Jersey also offers legal assistance to Spanish speaking residents which include publications written in Spanish.