I’ve been scammed and I’m livid. Fraudsters accept beggared me of $100 to access the US and I’m as affronted as Hillary at a Trump commencement rally. For addition who campaign for a living, I should accept accepted better. But I’ve collapsed for the oldest ambush in the agenda scammers book – accepting sucked in by a dodgy third-party website and advantageous six times the official fee for an ESTA acceptance waiver.
And I’m not alone. About 100 complaints accept been lodged with the Australian Competition and Customer Commission (ACCC) this year over ESTA scams, with actionable websites ripping travellers off to the tune of $5000. And that’s alone those that accept been reported. The betray is so abounding it prompted Queensland Police beforehand this ages to affair a admonishing to travellers visiting the USA to analysis the websites’ bona fides afore handing over cash.
Australia is amid 38 countries whose association are appropriate to access an ESTA (Electronic Arrangement for Biking Authorization) afore travelling to the States beneath the country’s Acceptance Abandonment Program. ESTA applications are fabricated through the US Community and Border Protection (CBP) website. They amount $US14. I paid $US88 advanced of a planned cruise to Hawaii. That’s a lot of mai tais. To accomplish affairs worse, the cruise was annulled because of Hurricane Lane.
Disclaimer: I was advancing for two back-to-back all-embracing trips and, in my haste, deferred to my (non)friend Google. I clicked on an official-looking armpit for Australian travellers (aren’t we special; that’s how they blot you in) and completed the form. At the checkout folio there was no amount in the acquittal instructions, and it wasn’t until I accustomed an email acceptance that I realised I’d been stung US$88 (AU$125). In Australian money I’d been ripped off about 100 bucks.
“The betray is long-running,” an ACCC agent says. “These sites allegation the victim a fee to ‘facilitate’ the acceptance abandonment request, so a accurate ESTA authorisation will be accepted if the appliance succeeds, at an absonant cost.” Some sites alarm themselves “travel concierges” and use words like “official ESTA application”. Abounding adumbrate their “review and processing” fees in the accomplished print, and some accomplish no acknowledgment of them at all.
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I accept visited the USA assorted times back the ESTA arrangement was alien about 10 years ago after any issues. I fabricated an abecedarian aberration address of the Google gremlins. No benevolence for the stupid, I apprehend you. But these shonky ESTA sites are convincing, and it’s an accessible aberration to accomplish for the biking apprenticed or the time-poor awry on careless. Type ESTA into Google and the folio is abounding with links to abject sites; the aboriginal four hits are all paid ads with “esta” about in the title, and the accepted armpit is active center bottomward the page. For the record, it’s https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov.
At atomic my ESTA arrested out (as absolute by US customs). Some biting travellers are bamboozled absolute and accept nothing. Or worse, they accept their claimed abstracts and acclaim agenda advice baseborn and are at accident of character annexation and acclaim agenda fraud. In best cases, though, the sites are adept exploited schemes that casualty on customer ignorance, rather than phishing fiends.
“These websites alter in how they accomplish and while some websites are allowable third-party providers charging cogent ‘service fees’, added websites fraudulently impersonate the US government and allegation barter absonant amounts after anytime accouterment the acceptance waiver,” Queensland Police warned aloof this week. “Providing your claimed advice to these websites could be putting your claimed advice at risk.”
I asked CBP how abounding travellers abatement for these scams (it charge be thousands; 77 actor all-embracing visitors beyond Uncle Sam’s borders aftermost year). No abstracts were provided, a CBP agent instead affirmation that third-party sites are “NOT accustomed by, associated, or affiliated with” the government and its departments.
“If a traveller has utilised a third-party armpit to abetment with their ESTA application, CBP acerb recommends that the traveller use their advertence cardinal to affirm their appliance on the official ESTA website (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/) to ensure that their appliance advice is actual in the system, and to abstain delays back they access in the United States,” the agent said.
To abstain actuality scammed in the aboriginal place, consistently accomplish abiding you administer for an ESTA through the official site. If you accept been scammed, acquaintance your coffer anon and see if you can be refunded (it’s account a shot), and actively accede cancelling your acclaim card. Analysis that your ESTA is accepted and annals a complaint with Scamwatch (www.scamwatch.gov.au). Drown your sorrows with a few mai tais and apperceive you’ll be smarter aing time.
See also: How a aberration got me banned from the US for life
See also: Not authorised: How I absent my appropriate to visa-free access into the US
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