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March 25, 2009

18

Beware of ESTA Scams

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is designed for those seeking to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. While Americans do not travel under the Visa Waiver Program to the U.S. many of their friends and family do. Be aware that on September 8, 2010, a fee of $14.00 was introduced for Visa Waiver Program Travelers registering under ESTA.  The fee includes $10.00, collected pursuant to the Travel Promotion Act (TPA) and a fee of $4.00 for administering ESTA. Please note that there is only one official ESTA website and that is https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov.  Third-party companies who are charging a fee to assist travelers in registering under ESTA are  NOT operating on behalf of the U.S. government.

This is a screen-shot of the real ESTA website.

This is a screen-shot of the real ESTA website.

Visa Waiver Program travelers who are looking for information on how to apply for ESTA should be aware that unauthorized third-parties have established Web sites that charge a fee to provide information about ESTA and to submit ESTA applications on behalf of the VWP traveler. These businesses and Web sites are not endorsed by, associated with, or affiliated in any way with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or the U.S. Government. All U.S. Government Web sites can be identified by “.gov”.

Unfortunately, the Embassy has no control over private companies who wish to offer such services for a fee. Many travelers are alerted to the fact that these companies are not the official ESTA site because the page displayed after searching Google for “ESTA” shows their entries as being a “Sponsored Link”. The official DHS sites are underneath this advertisement, and end with “.gov”.

For more information regarding the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, please visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website at: www.cbp.gov/esta

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18 Comments
  1. Paul Winter
    Apr 1 2009

    Just reporting a website as thousands of other no doubt have already done.

    Though it disclaims any link to the US Government, these disclaimers are either a) at the bottom of the page or b) hidden.

    My son has just been caught and has handed them not only his Passport number, address, date of birth & credit card number, we wonder if there are any steps the US Government can take to have this web site taken down? As it is based in Korea, probably not!

    I applied for mine – free – on the authorised link and only when I asked him why he had paid $45 did the truth emerge!

    Paul

  2. Norman Maciver
    Apr 11 2009

    Why don’t you close down scam sites that charge??

    • American Citizen Services
      Apr 12 2009

      The United States Government does not charge a fee to obtain information about, apply for, or obtain a travel authorization through the ESTA Web site (http://www.cbp.gov/esta). However, Visa Waiver Program travelers who are looking for information on how to apply for ESTA should be aware that unauthorized third-parties have established Web sites that charge a fee to provide information about ESTA and to submit ESTA applications on behalf of the VWP traveler. These businesses and Web sites are not endorsed by, associated with, or affiliated in any way with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or the U.S. Government. All U.S. Government Web sites can be identified by “.gov”.

      Unfortunately, the Embassy has no control over private companies who wish to offer such services for a fee. Many travelers are alerted to the fact that these companies are not the official ESTA site because the page displayed after searching Google for “ESTA” shows their entries as being a “Sponsored Link”. The official DHS sites are underneath this advertisement, and end with “.gov”.

  3. Roz
    Sep 3 2009

    I was charged for a useless printout in Adobe regarding the regulations also I was charged again for an esta (I will use the one that I got free) The next morning the scam site sent me authorization.
    I tried to get my money refunded, but my credit card company tell me that I authorized it, so they will be phoning the two scammers to see if they can get a refund from this bunch of fraudsters.

  4. Gordon & Carol
    Nov 1 2009

    We went to Florida in August having paid £20 for our ESTA registration at http://www.esta-online.co.uk/
    Now in November, http://www.esta-online.co.uk/ is STILL the first link returned when you google “ESTA”.
    Why is this website still in operation? It looks legitimate, and is no doubt still scamming people.

    • American Citizen Services
      Nov 2 2009

      As stated in previous responses to similar comments: Unfortunately, the Embassy has no control over private companies who wish to offer such services for a fee. Many travelers are alerted to the fact that these companies are not the official ESTA site because the page displayed after searching Google for “ESTA” shows their entries as being a “Sponsored Link”. The official DHS sites are underneath this advertisement, and end with “.gov”.

  5. Vic Hartley
    Feb 16 2010

    I was also fleeced of 2x$49 by a very genuine looking site. (https://esta-assistance.us/home-esta.html) . Despite protestations to the contrary there must be something the US DHS can do about such sites proliferating.

    • American Citizen Services
      Feb 18 2010

      Vic – As previously stated in several posts, the Embassy has no control over private companies who wish to offer such services for a fee. For your future reference, the official DHS sites end with “.gov” and can be reached through the Embassy’s own website, london.usembassy.gov

  6. Iain
    Mar 3 2010

    I too have just discovered I’ve been scammed. While I appreciate that US government has no control over these private companies; I do feel it could be doing more to publicise this scam. I’m sure that they could come to some arrangement with Google and other search engine providers to ensure that the official site (or even just some kind of warning) appears at the top of any search results – ABOVE the sponsored links. I just googled “ESTA application” and the word ‘scam’ didn’t appear until page 10 of the results. Surely the most powerful government in the world could persuade google to do this on their behalf?

    • American Citizen Services
      Mar 4 2010

      Iain – The Embassy has no control over private companies. The official ESTA site is available from the Embassy website and can also be reached directly from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency website, http://www.cbp.gov/esta. Please note that all websites relating to services offered by the U.S. Government end with .gov

  7. Bede Etherington
    Mar 25 2010

    Hi,

    The loss of money, although irritating, is of minor concern. I am far more concerned that I have unwillingly given a third party my passport details. Now that i will be applying, for free, what guarantee do I have that these details will not be used by a nefarious third party?

    Yours,

    JBE

    • American Citizen Services
      Mar 30 2010

      Bede – The Embassy has no control over private companies. We regret that we are unable to offer you any guarantee as to the safety of your details. You may wish to visit the Embassy’s Visa Services Blog, which has more information about registering under ESTA and what to do if you have been scammed.

  8. Sam
    Mar 27 2010

    I fell victim to one of these scams although I haven’t paid anything yet. It was at this website http://esta-online-registration.com/ My problem was that I was already at the airport trying to check in when I was first made aware of this new esta process. I was adamant that I didn’t need this as I have a Visa but the check in clerk insisted that I needed it. So I went to apply online and as I was in a hurry I didn’t pay particular attention for security details on the website that came up when I googled it. On the website mentioned you first enter your details. When you submit, it says you will be emailed a reference number which can take up to 72 hrs. you will then use the reference number to submit a payment, I think it was $25. This was when I became suspicious as I was sure you wouldn’t need to make a payment, when I returned to the check in desk they confirmed this so I tried again, this time finding the correct website. So I haven’t been charged by this scam site, I still haven’t received this confirmation email and they don’t have my credit card details. However they do have all my passport information which leaves me feeling slightly uneasy, does anyone know if they can use these details fraudulently, or are they just hoping that I may still make the payment?

    Appreciate any feedback

    Sam

    • American Citizen Services
      Mar 30 2010

      Sam – More information for those concerned that they have been targeted by a fraudulent website is available from the Embassy’s Visa Services Blog.

  9. Peter
    Oct 7 2010

    Thanks for all the replies. However, the weblink referred to on the embassy’s own homepage (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/) now indicates a 5 step process, step 4 of which is now ‘make a payment’. It might be good if the screenshot above was altered to recognise this.
    My understanding is as follows: $10 for ESTA authorisation and $4 for a processing fee, based on legislation passed in March 2010. Is that correct? Or is this too from a scam page?

    • American Citizen Services
      Oct 12 2010

      Peter – Thank you for your comment. This blog post has been updated to reflect the fee changes.

  10. stephen fletcher
    Dec 6 2010

    In August I applied for Esta authorisation and was approved. I have suddenly 4 months later received an email saying my authorisation expires within 30 days and i should visit a websit to reapply… Is this a scam? I thought that Esta authorisations were valid for 2 years.

    • American Citizen Services
      Dec 9 2010

      Stephen – This does sound like it could be a scam. You can always visit the official U.S. Government website for ESTA, https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov, to check the status of your ESTA registration. Approved ESTA authorizations are valid for 2 years from the date of approval or the expiration date on your passport, whichever comes first.

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