People are being warned about third party sites that are overcharging for ESTA’s – the document everyone travelling to the U.S this summer without a visa will require.
Falling victim to online scams is nothing new. We have been duped out of our money for years now- but those preying on us are making it harder and harder to tell whether their sites are legit or not, especially when the site comes up in a simple Google search.
The U.S Department of Homeland Security’s ESTA application site has been perfectly duplicated by third parties for some time now, but the sites remain active as the culprits are not technically doing anything wrong.
The websites, which are advertised by Google, charge up to six times more than the official fee for the travel form- which is required by Homeland Security for anyone travelling to the U.S. – and hundreds have fallen for the scheme.
The sites are charging as much as €89 for the application- which should only cost about a tenner.
Joe Carroll, who fell victim to the scam, says that he still feels like “a bit of a dope” for falling prey to one of the sites last November, but it is easily done when the sites have formal looking web addresses; such as www.esta.ie.
“I went online and entered a page titled ‘ESTA Application for Irish Citizens’ on Google. It was the fourth-ranking hit in the search and it all looked very official and secure.” He explained.
“It was very hard to see a fee when I did the application. There was a small checkbox saying something about ‘third party’ but it was confusing and I didn’t take much notice until I went back afterwards and realised I had paid almost 600% more than the official fee.”
Google can advertise the sites because technically the third parties aren’t doing anything illegal, as you should still receive the form.
What may be worrying, however, is that not only are you paying unnecessary fees but also handing over personal details- such as passport numbers, addresses and credit card details- to an unofficial source.
Two of these scam sites remain in Google’s top three hits when ‘ESTA’ is searched.
The official application site, esta.cbp.dhs.gov, suggests people who have accidentally used the third party sites to confirm their application on the official government site.
“We recommend you do this because we have no way of knowing if the information passed through the third party website to us is accurate. If it is not, you may have a problem when you arrive in the U.S.” the Department warns.
The only official link for an ESTA application will contain the .gov domain. You can also follow the link that your airline will send you after booking.
€90 is a lot of pint money that can be used across the pond.