The United States Visa Waiver Program permits citizens of specific countries to travel to the US for tourism, business, or transit for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa. However, the residents of these countries will still have to apply online for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization in order to be able to enter the US.
Travel Authorization has been mandatory since January 2009 for residents of the VWP who wish to enter the country. The process of applying for an ESTA is very easy and it literally takes a few minutes to complete and receive notice of your approval.
However, since 2010 when the US started charging applicants with a fee for the application, there have been many websites operating around the world by different companies in the name of ESTA, ripping off the applicants by making them pay up to ten times more expensive prices for the authorization, and stealing their information.
The Official ESTA Website
Many other websites are operating under the claims that they are the official ESTA website, which is not true. There is only one official ESTA website, and that is:
Every other website, whether it ends with .com, .org, .us, .esta, or any other, is not official, and does not operate on behalf of the United States government. Remember that all of the US official websites end with .gov.
The official ESTA charges the applicants with a fee of $14.00, which includes a fee of $10.00, collected pursuant to the Travel Promotion Act (TPA), and a fee of $4.00 for administering ESTA.
What are ESTA Scam Websites?
Sometimes it can be hard to notice an ESTA scam website because many of them have managed to create very convincing websites that look pretty similar to the official ESTA website. By posing as the ESTA website they prey on people’s carelessness, often fooling those that wish to apply for a travel authorization.
If the traveler applies through one of these websites, they end up paying way higher prices in order to get a Travel Authorization. More than usually, these websites don’t provide the service that you paid for and don’t submit an ESTA application at the official site at all and they end up taking your money. Usually, these fraudulent websites will send you a certificate after you apply, but when you check it, it doesn’t exist. This means you have lost your money and you haven’t gotten your Travel Authorization.
The other concern is that these websites possess all your information once you apply through them. They have not only your money but also your bank card details and your travel document details. They even know the dates you are planning to leave your home, which is very concerning and another very strong reason to be careful when you apply for a Travel Authorization.
What can I do if I applied through a scam site?
If you realize that you have applied through a rip off-website and not the legit one, you should contact the United States visa information service in your home country as soon as you realize that.
But if you have already applied through an ESTA scam website then the best thing to do is to contact your bank or credit card company for help as soon as you realize that. Let them know that you have used your credit card on a fraudulent website and ask them if they can stop or withdraw the transaction.
These companies claim that they offer their services for those who wish to enter US, helping them with the application process. However, it is hard to see what services such websites provide, as users simply input their passport details and other information, just as they have to do when completing the application form at the official ESTA website.
The third-party company then passes your information to the official website paying the regular fee of $14.00.
Therefore, we advise you that if you have lodged an application via a third-party website, use your reference number to confirm the application with the official US Government site. Check your application information and make sure that it is correct in the system. If there is incorrect information you might face delays when you arrive in the United States.
How to Avoid ESTA Fraud?
The best way to avoid ESTA fraud is by applying only through the official ESTA website https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov. This way you will avoid paying unnecessary processing services and falling for other types of fraud.
Read the information about applying for ESTA carefully and check the requirements and the so you don’t fall victim of providing personal information to scammers when such information is not even required by the US government. You can find more information about ESTA in this article or on the official website.
Please be aware that if you have applied through a third-party company, and they have already applied for you on the official ESTA website, it will be complicated to get your money back. That’s because if the $14.00 charge submitted to the US government is refunded, the ESTA approval will automatically be denied and future applications may also be denied.