Every year, when the diversity visa is announced, an army of con artists begins trying to make money off of it. Here’s how to avoid being taken.
Many of the scammers make exaggerated claims: perhaps that they know special tricks that you don't, have an inside line to the State Department, can put your lottery registration first in line, can sneak in more than one registration for you (which is against the rules and will get your entry disqualified), can allow you to register even though your country is not on the list of eligible ones, or can get special attention for your registration -- all at a price, of course.
Paying someone will not help your chances of winning the diversity visa lottery. And there’s nothing about the process that should make it expensive to complete. The U.S. government online registration form itself is free (despite what some scammers may tell you). It’s not terribly hard to fill out, if you know how to use a computer -- it certainly doesn’t require special legal or other expertise.
Avoid any website that offers to submit your application. Many of these sites look like a government website, but they are not. They will typically charge you a fee to “monitor” your application, but you can do that on your own once you’ve submitted your application online. Simply go to the Department of State website at www.dvlottery.state.gov.
In a related type of scam, identity thieves posing as attorneys or legal assistants may tell you that in order to help you register for the diversity visa lottery or a green card, you must mail them your birth certificates, passports, drivers' licenses, marriage certificates, Social Security cards, or similar documents with personal identifying information. These documents are NOT required by the U.S. government for the lottery registration. Although some of them (such as birth certificates) may be required as part of the eventual green card application, you'll only need to send copies to the government, not originals. Any time you send someone an original document, you risk losing it, or revealing personal information that might be used to commit identity theft -- in which the thief gains enough of your personal information to pretend to be you, and then perhaps drains your bank accounts or runs up credit card charges in your name.
Unfortunately, the scams don't stop even after you have registered for the visa lottery. You may receive fraudulent emails and letters from scammers posing as the U.S. government, pretending that you have won, or following up after you truly have won, and requiring you to pay money in order to continue with your application. As a rule, you can dismiss any emails advising you that you've won. The U.S. government doesn't advise winners by email. Instead, you must go to a website provided by the Department of State, at www.dvlottery.state.gov, to find out whether you're a winner. And if you ever receive an email that's supposed to be from the government, make sure the address ends with ".gov."
If you find it difficult to fill out the registration form or attach the required photos, there’s nothing wrong with paying a trusted lawyer or paralegal to help you complete the process. Recognize, however, that that’s the only type of help you’ll be getting, and don't pay any more than those limited services are worth.
If your name is in fact selected in the visa lottery, that's the time to get a lawyer, and show him or her any emails or other correspondence that you receive. The lawyer will be able to help you determine whether the correspondence is from the U.S. government or from a scammer.
The lawyer can also help you with other important parts of the process, such as proving that you have the financial ability to avoid receiving government assistance in the United States, and in preparing your green card application and getting it approved before time runs out or other people use up the available supply of visas.