Q: I filed an application with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), using a service on the Internet that helped me fill out the necessary forms and had me send them an electronic check in the amount of the application fee. I submitted the application with a copy of my electronic check. Now I have received a notice from USCIS saying that my application cannot be processed because the required fees have not been paid to the government. Do you know what is going on?

A: Unfortunately, you are the victim of a scam that has been the subject of a warning notice from USCIS.
This particular scam involves having you pay a private company with an electronic check in the amount required by the government. The company then cashes your check. Nothing goes to the government. That is why USCIS returned your application. So you are back to square one, and you have lost the amount you paid to the online business. It is extremely doubtful that your money can be recovered, because such businesses typically are located outside of the United States and will have laundered your money by now.
In general, applicants must be very careful in dealing with anyone offering immigration application support online. Aside from outright fraud, there also is a large risk that otherwise legitimate web sites will contain outdated or incorrect advice. And beware in particular those web sites that are dressed up to look like official government sites, using symbols such as the seal of the United States, the US flag, photos of President Obama, etc. But it is easy to recognize authentic official web sites: they always end in the suffix .gov, never .com, .net, etc.

Note also that all government application forms are free. USCIS forms can be downloaded fromwww.uscis.gov. Never pay anyone for copies of blank forms. And never pay application fees to third parties; these fees always are paid directly to the government in accordance with instructions on the application forms.

The safest course for prospective applicants is to visit one of our weekly legal clinics for a free, confidential consultation with an immigration lawyer concerning any applications that you are planning to file.
Disclaimer: These articles are published to inform generally, not to advise in individual cases. Immigration law is always subject to change. US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the US Department of State regularly amend regulations and alter processing and filing procedures. For legal advice seek the assistance of an IIIC immigration specialist or an immigration lawyer.

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