"Notario Fraud" is the term for fraudulently presenting oneself as a Notario Publico. Although this does not sound like a spectacular claim, notario fraud can be a serious problem for some immigrants.

The problem comes about because "Notario Publico" translates literally as "Notary Public", something that in an English speaking country seems about as likely a target for impersonation as say, a bus driver. But the problem is because the literal translation is very misleading. In the Spanish speaking world, (and in much of Europe), a Notario Publico is a lawyer, or someone with some legal training, who can help people draft and submit legally valid documents. In most of the English-speaking world, a Notary Public is just a witness who can validate a signature, not the legal validity of the document it is attached to.

The problem arose when people who had received the credential of "Notary Public", which is often a one-day course, translated it literally into "Notario Publico", suggesting they had the authorization to advise people on legal matters. Some of these people were just overeager to help, but others were clearly engaging in fraud. Sometimes they were preying on immigrants, charging hundreds or thousands of dollars for help with "immigration advice" that left their would-be clients broke. For that reason, some states (such as Washington, Oregon and California) have specifically outlawed the usage of the title "Notario Publico", unless the person would also qualify as such in Latin American countries---meaning they have a license to practice law. The American Bar Association also has an information campaign against Notario Fraud.

Although when I first heard about this, it seemed silly to prohibit such seemingly innocuous words as "Notario Publico", but after reading the stories of immigrants having their life savings cheated from them, I realized how serious the words could be.

It is also an unusual experience for someone raised in the United States, who usually sees a casual and informal side of Latin American culture, whose exposure might be limited to telenovelas, lucha libre and having Despacito stuck in their head, to then see how formal and legalistic Latin American culture can be. Lunch at the local Mexican restaurant doesn't prepare one for a culture where the legal traditions go back to Andres Bello, The Napoleonic Code and the Emperor Justinian. When I first got a job in Chile and was told that I would have to get my work contract notarized, I found the idea quaint. But there was nothing relaxed about going to the Notario Publico:it was a very formal and rigorous process, and it makes me understand why Latin American immigrants would end up putting their hopes, and money, in the hands of someone who could claim the title.

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