We receive a constant flow of former customers of quick and easy expungements merchants. For years, we have heard the sad stories and even some tragic ones. We can confidently say that when you opt for the cheap route, not only are you risking your money, but you’re also risking your false confidence about what they will do for you. The cheap way also puts your personal information and your money with a service that can’t live up to all of their guarantees and snappy promises. Who knows what will happen?
When the unexpected happens with a DIY home project gone wrong, there’s always a fall back – you can call someone to help you fix it. After the job is done, clean up the mess, and you’re on with the rest of your life. Expungement is not one of those things where this strategy will work easily. All you have to do is check the wrong box or miss an important filing and you’ll be back to where you started with no easy solution – and you’ll be out the time and money you spent.
One of the great advantages of the Internet is the access you have to new services and sources of information. You could try to do your own expungement or go to a cheap website service for expungement. But are these options safe?
Dozens of websites will pop up on your first Google search – every one of them, promising “fast, cheap, simple” criminal record expungements. Here’s a surprise: few of them even work under the supervision of an attorney. The rest are run by people who MAY have marginal training. As a result, many of these services often fail to live up to their guarantees and snappy promises. There are no statistics on the rate of failures, but the anecdotal evidence is staggering.
Are you willing to risk your freedom and rights – just to save a buck?
Whether you decide our advice or not, the fact is you are playing doctor with your freedom when you use the services offered by these sites. Your freedom and your money are at risk when you use these kinds of “cheap” remedies.
If you have the time and effort to spend on figuring out the expungement process and the steps necessary to getting a successful expungement, then there are free resources out there to help you to do so. You could start with the local courthouse where your expungement petition will need to be filed. However, the expungement process can be relatively complicated and confusing, and most experts recommend hiring an attorney.
6 Important Things To Look For
From a Professional Criminal Records Expungement Lawyer
There are a bunch of attorneys out there that claim to specialize in expungement law, and make all kinds of claims about the services they offer. Here is a quick list of the scams you should be aware of, and the essential attributes that any expungement attorney you hire should have:
- MAKE SURE THE ATTORNEY IS LICENSED TO PRACTICE LAW
You can go to the about us page on the website, and the attorney should list their bar number. You can check with the CalBar.org to make sure the bar number is valid, and the attorney is okay to practice in California (you can also see any disciplinary actions against the attorney).
- EXPEDITED CRIMINAL DATABASE UPDATING IS NOT TRUTHFUL
Any company advertising a paid service to “expedite the updating of criminal databases” after the expungement process is complete, is not being completely honest with you. Under Federal and California State law, all criminal background check companies must verify the accuracy of all negative information on your criminal background report before they deliver that background report to the requesting party (e.g., employers, landlords, etc.). After the expungement process is complete, your expunged criminal case will not show on any background report ran on you in the state of California, as mandated by Federal and California law. Anyone who charges you to do what is already done for free – automatically, by law – is cheating you.
- BEWARE OF HIDDEN FEES.
You should beware any expungement firm that charges you hidden fees, period. Fees should always be fixed and listed on the website. On many of these online services, you’ll find an asterisk next to the price listed with small print below that outline “fees not included” like filing fees, processing fees, hearing fees – some may even include non-specific clerical fees. Not only are hidden fees dishonest, but they are also often a precursor to more headaches later in the process. And if there are hidden fees at the start, sure as rain, there will be hidden fees at the end. Look for a law firm that is transparent and upfront about all fees and charges you the actual filing fee for the county where your expungement is to occur.
- YOU SHOULD ALWAYS BE ABLE TO TALK TO THE ATTORNEY IN CHARGE (THE OWNER) WITH YOUR FIRST PHONE CALL
Always ask, “Are you and attorney?” If the answer is “No,” keep on searching. You should always be able to speak to the attorney in charge. Expungement is a personal legal process, involving a lot of your private and confidential information. You should demand that you get to speak to an attorney at the beginning of your conversation with any potential law firm you might hire. Why would you want the same level of poor customer service that you might get buying a pair of shoes online (i.e., talking to some customer service rep reading from a script)? Demand a knowledgeable attorney from the moment you make contact with the potential law firm.
- BEWARE OF ANY FIRM CLAIMING TO BE A “NATIONAL EXPUNGEMENT FIRM.”
First of all, larger is not always better. Expungement is a personal matter that requires high-touch, personal service. At least, that what it should be like. The fact is that large law expungement firms that practice on a national level have been known to be about churning through as many cases as they can, often without regard for the quality of the service they provide. Why would you entrust your life to a company where you will be working with a trained customer service representative reading from a script, rather than a knowledgeable attorney?
- CHECK THE BUSINESS RATING WITH THE BBB
Along with the rest of your research, check the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to see if the service provider is listed. If it is, look for the BBB rating. BBB protects your interest and gives you another avenue to resolve any disputes that might arise. A standing recommendation is to find law firms that have been with the BBB for more than 2 years so that there is ample time to develop case history. If the law firm has not been “accredited” for at least 3 years and does not have an A+ rating, then you should move on to the next attorney.