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Fraud Alert: Watch for and Report Potential Legal Fraud in Response to Recent Fires

-Editorial

The State Bar of California is warning the public to watch out for and report potential fraudin response to the recent fires across the state. As a result of California’s ongoing fires, many people may wish to seek legal advice for various reasons, including insurance disputes, seeking Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance, employment issues, landlord tenant disputes, consumer fraud, and more.

In the border region, for instance, there are many so-called “coyotes” who promise to be experts in immigration without being that, and take advantage of people in need of legal advice, defrauding them by making false promises, when many of them have no legal professional training in the US, nor are they experts in law, lawyers or qualified people to carry out legal immigration procedures.

Neither should you trust the so-called “notaries” on the northern border, since a notary in the US is not a lawyer, as it is in Mexico. A notary public in the USA is a person who can only have a high school degree and has taken a long weekend course that prepares them for a passing exam that qualifies them to put stamps on legal documentation required in court or for other legal proceedings with some government agencies, but in no case is a qualified person to provide legal immigration advice.

Immigration law is very complex and evolves continuously. Those qualified individuals must continuously study the changes in the laws and update themselves to know the most recent changes and be able to provide their clients with accurate advice. You should not trust a person who is not qualified to offer this kind of important services.

Important things to know:

California law prohibits lawyers or others acting on behalf of a lawyer from:

  • Soliciting clients at an accident scene, at a hospital, or on the way to a hospital
  • Soliciting clients who, due to their physical, emotional or mental state, may not be able to have reasonable judgment about the hiring of an attorney
  • Seeking clients by mail unless the letter and envelope are clearly labeled as an advertisement
  • Promising a particular outcome from the legal representation

In the wake of the fires, there is also the risk of victims being approached in person, by mail, email or other means, by people posing as attorneys. Consumers must carefully check that people offering legal services are legitimate and licensed to provide such services.

The State Bar, which regulates the practice of law in California, cannot represent clients or refer them to a particular attorney. But in order to ensure public access to legal services, the State Bar of California has contacted local county bar associations to coordinate legal services for victims of California’s recent fires. If you need a lawyer, contact the local bar association lawyer referral service in your area, or call the State Bar of California at 415-538-2250 or send an email to LRS@calbar.ca.gov to obtain the names of certified lawyer referral services.

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