CHICAGO (CBS) — A City Hall crackdown on immigration service providers, known as “notarios,” found that nearly half of the businesses are violating consumer protection laws, and defrauding immigrants.

WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports, of the 54 businesses visited by city inspectors, 44 percent were not in compliance.

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Adolfo Hernandez, director of the Mayor’s Office of New Americans, said some notarios were found to be charging exorbitant prices, providing unauthorized legal advice, and promising impossible results – such as telling clients they can be put at the top of a list to gain citizenship.

“One of the most egregious things we heard was people – some of these notarios – saying that they could sign you up, so that when immigration reform – if it happens – should it happen, you’d be first on the list,” he said. “Obviously, that’s not something that anyone could promise. Again, these are folks who are taking advantage of people in a very vulnerable position.”

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He said the victims are people seeking to become citizens – whether they’re legal permanent residents or undocumented immigrants – and are unaware of the current laws for citizenship.

“They’re vulnerable to being exploited by these folks who misrepresent the services they can provide,” Hernandez said.

In some Latin American countries, a notario is a lawyer, but in Chicago they’re not always what they claim to be.

“Notarios, what they legally should be doing is just helping to fill out paperwork. Oftentimes what we find – and one of the biggest violations we have found – is that they were misrepresenting themselves as being able to offer legal advice,” Hernandez said. “That’s one of the biggest things we want people to avoid is going to someone like a notario – one of these immigration service providers – for legal advice.”

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Those found to be breaking the law were fined between $200 and $10,000.