wedding fraud alert
Learn about and report wedding fraud!
We provide this fraud alert information as a public service. Knowing about scams can protect you and your loved ones; reporting them can prevent others from being deceived.
We hope you find this webpage helpful and we wish you good luck, whatever your situation may be.
WEDDING FRAUD ALERTS
Phone Marriage vs. Proxy Marriage
Marriages for the Incarcerated
PHONE MARRIAGE VS. PROXY MARRIAGE
Do not confuse proxy marriage with phone or internet marriage.
Proxy marriage is a process where a court-appointed proxy represents a party who cannot physically appear to be married. Marriage by proxy for military personnel deployed to active war zones is sometimes available in California and some other states; please see California info here.
Phone, Skype, and internet marriages--where the parties do not personally appear together to be married--are strictly illegal and not legally binding in California or at the federal level, even if a marriage license has been issued. To be lawfully married in California, both parties MUST APPEAR IN PERSON AT THE SAME TIME before the officiant.
We receive numerous complaints about California notaries and wedding chapels, particularly those located near prisons and courthouses (as well as angry calls and emails from proxy-marriage scammers nationwide), all of whom offer cash-only proxy marriages for military, incarcerated, or overseas persons not able to travel to the U.S. for marriage. Such marriages are unlawful in California (and almost every other state) and usually not recognized for federal purposes including immigration, and are subject to invalidation.
That means you'll lose both your money and your married status, and possibly be prosecuted for fraud.
CALIFORNIA NOTARIES AND WEDDING CHAPELS MAY NOT ISSUE MARRIAGE LICENSES TO THE INCARCERATED. Marriages that are fraudulently performed in this way are detected and declared invalid by the State (and the scammer who reassured you everything would be fine no longer returns your calls).
There is a lawful way to marry a person in custody, via a process called "Inability to Appear." Contact the County Clerk in the county of the detention facility to obtain forms and instructions. You can call the Marriage License Division of the Los Angeles County Clerk's office at 800.201.8999 if you have questions about an L.A. area facility, or contact any other County Clerk office in California to inquire about Inability to Appear procedures for that region.
There are some states that permit court-ordered proxy marriage: Texas, Colorado, and Montana (due to scam activity, Montana amended its State Code in 2007 and now requires that one party to a proxy marriage be a member of the armed forces of the United States on federal active duty, or a resident of Montana at the time of application for the license). A few others, like Kansas, have controversial grey areas in their marriage legislation; the laws do not expressly allow or prohibit proxy marriage, so watch out for opportunists who are happy to perform proxy marriages for you without informing you that these proxy marriage are legally dodgy, particularly for those applying for U.S. residency.
Each proxy marriage state has different requirements for identification, health testing, residency, and waiting periods. A proxy marriage may not be recognized by some governments or government agencies even if valid in the state where performed, so please research carefully before you proceed. This is the USCIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services) policy on proxy marriages, and you can click here for more information about the federal concerning proxy marriage and fiance visas.
You are ultimately responsible for making sure your marriage will be recognized in any jurisdiction you are dealing with, and most proxy marriage services are not transparent about the fact that your proxy marriage will likely be disallowed by U.S. Customs and Immigration Services if you attempt to apply for U.S. residency.
MARRIAGE FOR THE INCARCERATED
CALIFORNIA NOTARIES AND WEDDING CHAPELS MAY NOT ISSUE MARRIAGE LICENSES TO THE INCARCERATED UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.
Weddings conducted over the phone or internet are strictly illegal in California and will not be recognized by any government agency. Don't be taken in by the bad notaries and wedding chapels that put your legal marriage status at risk for their own financial gain. They'll reassure you that your marriage is legal and recognized, and will be long gone when the State invalidates your marriage. Don't listen to them; report them to the County Clerk or CA Department of Consumer Affairs instead.
There are authorized County procedures for obtaining a marriage license and ceremony for someone who is incarcerated or in custody. Please contact The Birth, Death, and Marriage Records Division of the Los Angeles Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk at 800.201.8999 to obtain an "Inability to Appear" packet to begin the process or to ask questions about the requirements. Call the main Norwalk office at 800.201.8999 for more info.
Special procedures apply for those in custody; they may NOT use a notary-issued marriage
license to get married. The dentention facility will refuse to honor such a marriage
license and you will be denied spousal rights.
NOTARY MARRIAGE SCAMS
If you want to purchase a confidential marriage license through a notary, there are many scams to be aware of. Unfortunately, a large number of bad notaries issue documents unlawfully, perpetuating immigration fraud, property fraud, and identity theft.
Sometimes they'll issue licenses that are expired or invalid and cannot be used to solemnize a marriage, or perform unlawful marriages for those in custody.
There are sanctions implemented against bad notaries who commit these frauds, but unfortunately there are many ways to work around a sanction. The ol' switcheroo is one method, where a bad notary sends a different unauthorized notary or a non-notary to issue your license.
Los Angeles County requires notaries who issue marriage licenses to renew their authorizations every year. Authorizations are not transferable, so the name of the authorized notary and the name on the notary stamp used on your marriage license should match. The County prints the name of the issuing notary on your marriage license, near where the notary stamp appears.
Be sure the person issuing your marriage license is an active notary with a current County authorization to issue marriage licenses, and that their name matches the signature and notary stamp on your documents, and that the license is unexpired! You can ask to see your notary's drivers license to verify their identity, and call the L.A. County Clerk's office at 800.201.8999 to make sure their authorization is current.
It's against the law to use someone else's stamp to perform a notarization or to issue a marriage license that has been stamped by another notary.
Another notary scam, particularly popular with prison marriages, is to send an attorney or visitor into the prison to obtain signatures for a notarized document. This is unlawful. The notary who issues the license MUST BE PRESENT FOR THE NOTARIZATION; signers must also personally appear and present valid ID. This is true for any notarization in California.
You have the right to ask questions and be satisfied that everything concerning your marriage license is above-board. If you sense something is wrong, contact the L.A. County Clerk's office right away.
Remember: California state law requires that document signers requesting a notarization personally appear before a notary public, and that the signers must sign the document in the presence of that notary public. You've done your part in filling out the required documents truthfully, so be sure you're appearing before an ethical and authorized notary who's doing the same!
You can read the laws concerning notary marriage licenses here or about notarial requirements in general (including Section 8205, which requires notaries sign documents in their own handwriting) here.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO END WEDDING FRAUD
For a lawful marriage to take place anywhere in California:
- The couple must first obtain a valid marriage license by appearing together and in person with valid unexpired government-issued IDs at a County Clerk's office or before an authorized notary.
- For the license to be solemnized, both parties must personally and physically appear TOGETHER before a qualified officiant and present their marriage license and IDs.
- For confidential marriage license issuance through an authorized notary, the couple must sign the marriage license and notary journal under oath in person before the issuing notary. Attorneys, attorneys-in-fact, and notaries whose names do not appear on the marriage license as the issuing notary may not sign the license or obtain signatures on either party's behalf.
Anyone who tells you anything else is probably lying to you. Don't listen to them. Report them instead, so others won't be victimized.
You can help reduce the incidence of document and marriage fraud in California by immediately reporting notarial irregularities to:
- The L.A. County Registrar-Recorder's Office at 800.201.8999
- The Notary Division of the California Secretary of State
If you'd like to report an illegal marriage licensing operation for incarcerated persons (or any other marriage scam) we strongly encourage you to contact:
- Consumer Protection Unit/Financial Crimes Section of City Attorney Mike Feuer's office at 213.978.8100 (for fraud taking place within the City of Los Angeles)
- The Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs at 800.593.8222.
- Additional links for reporting marriage licensing and ceremony fraud throughout California: Consumer Fraud Complaint Links.
To report federal marriage fraud--that is, sham marriages for immigration purposes--you can file online with the Homeland Security Investigations or by emailing them at email@example.com with the subject’s full name, date and place of birth, country of citizenship (if known), a description of the alleged violation, abuse, or suspected fraud, any numeric identifiers such as alien numbers (A-Numbers) or receipt numbers, and any other information that may be useful to investigate the alleged fraud or abuse.Though some people commit immigration fraud for relatively benign reasons, it's also one of the most common ways for criminals and covert operators to enter the country.
The validity of a marriage license that is obtained outside of County procedures can be challenged by private parties, law enforcement, or state agencies. There are lots of criminal hucksters out there who'll offer to do your phone or internet wedding for ready cash; they disappear when you get in trouble down the line. Is it worth the hassle and expense? Think carefully before you take a risk with the legal status of your marriage.
Scammers are clever and adapt their operations to avoid law enforcement detection. These agencies depend on you to let them know when somebody's breaking the law. You have the power to not only protect yourself, but to help prevent others from being deceived.
We believe ethical choices ultimately benefit all people in our society. We trust that with the right information, you'll have the tools to do the right thing for you.
If you have further questions concerning marriage licensing, please email MarriageToGo or contact the The Birth, Death, and Marriage Records Division of the Los Angeles Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk for more details.