U.S. Visa Waiver Program Travelers Beware Fake ESTA Websites
September 13, 2010
NTA members dealing with the U.S. inbound market should warn their clients about a new scam impacting the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, the program travelers from the 36 U.S. Waiver Program countries must register through as part of the process of entry into the United States. The scam helps hackers steal personal information.
"The fake programs are designed to fool travelers into thinking they are filling out the real travel authorization forms and by doing so they steal personal information, steal credit card information and/or infect the applicant’s computer with a virus," said the Canadian Institute of Travel Counsellors. Travelers can be turned away when trying to enter the United States if they have filled out a fake form rather than the actual one. The official U.S. Homeland Security site and only place to receive the official ESTA form is esta.cbp.dhs.gov.
Since the U.S. government announced a US$14 fee for using ESTA effective Sept. 8, several fake Web sites have been created to capitalize on the new requirement for travelers to use a credit card to pay for the service. "Searching ESTA on Google produces no less than four front page hits claiming to be the official site," said the CITC. "Some fake sites are taking full advantage of those who are not comfortable filling out a government form by charging fees ranging from US$30 to US$250 to assist in the completion of the form. Adding insult to injury, the fake sites offer a downloadable version of the travel authorization form, which the real ESTA site does not do. The very act of clicking yes to the download allows ‘malware’ to infect your computer with everything from viruses to scanning programs that expose your personal files, leading to identity theft and other crimes."