As something complex gains popularity in a society, more opportunity emerges for scam artists to prey on the unassuming and unsophisticated. This has happened (and continues to happen) in many industries including but not limited to the financial industry (remember Bernie Madoff?), the mortgage industry and many others. The same is true when it comes to expunging a criminal record. As more states begin to pass laws that enable those with a criminal past to expunge, seal or set aside their criminal record, more companies or people or websites will emerge and many of them cannot be trusted. Here is what you should be looking for when you’re thinking of applying for an expungement:
Make sure that you work with a licensed attorney who focuses on expungements
Attorneys that focus on expungements will have the most knowledge regarding this legal matter and can represent you in court and file all the necessary documents on your behalf. While this may be somewhat straightforward to some, some states will not let you re-file if you mess up on the first attempt for 3 years (Indiana). So, while an expungement attorney may cost some money, it is a worthwhile investment. Having anyone but an expungement lawyer work on your behalf is like letting anyone but an eye-doctor work and care for your eyes.
Make sure that the expungement is enforced with background check companies!
Often times when one obtains an expungement, the attorney who handled it will simply say “Congratulations” to the client and be on to their next case. Even after you successfully get an expungement, you need to make sure your attorney will then enforce this expungement on background check companies. This is super important as many potential employers and landlords use background check companies to search potential hires and lessees. If the expungement is not enforced with the background check companies, it could potentially damage a job or housing application. Make sure your expungement is enforced properly by your attorney!
Beware of scam sites that pose as lawyers!
It takes as little as a couple hours to put up a website and pretty pictures that entice a user to make contact. These sites will use phrases like: “our team of paralegals…” or “our certified expungement processors…” or “our legal service…” While this may entice people to make contact, make sure you’re contacting a licensed attorney! You should read their “About Us” section on their website if there is one or make sure there is a Bar number associated with the website. You can then research the bar number in your state.
In California the link is: http://members.calbar.ca.gov/fal/MemberSearch/QuickSearch
In Oregon the link is: https://www.osbar.org/members/membersearch_start.asp
In Texas the link is: https://www.texasbar.com
In conclusion, just be aware of who you’re dealing with and even ask for a referral.