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"Beware of ESTA Scams"

1536 Views 5 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  howell811
We're going on holiday in the US in October, for which we need ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) authorization to travel under the Visa Waiver Program. Our current ESTAs run out in September, so we need to renew them.

ESTA applications can be done on line via the US Customs & Border Protection Website & cost $14. I did a search for "ESTA renewal" - the first website it came up with was: ESTA Renewal - not the US government's website, but I thought it might contain a link, so I took a look at it. It took me too a sort of official-looking website, with no indication (other than the URL) that it's not an official site & a warning to "Beware of ESTA Scams". I followed the "ESTA renewal" link where I was offered a "professional processing service", for which they want $59! They do, to be fair, offer "fast service - 24 hour response to all applications" . . . our last ESTA applications took less than 24 hours if I remember correctly. Out of curiosity I looked at their application form; it's the standard US government form minus some of the non-mandatory questions, such as phone number, travel information & address while in the US.

"Beware of ESTA Scams" . . . I'd say charging $45 (their $59 includes the $14 government fee) for doing nothing more than forwarding an incomplete form & implying that they can get an application processed more quickly than it would take if the application were made direct to the official site is as close to a scam as you're going to get without actually doing anything illegal. Nice little earner,though!
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I've never even waited 24 minutes let alone 24 hours for an ESTA. You normally get the application reference number in real time via the e-application.

I agree though - the google results page for ESTA searches has quite a few scams on it.

The global desire to go to the US has generated endless scam ops like this. When my daughter went to work in the US she had to get a working visa and the place that she went to work for insisted that she had to use an administration company to process her visa app ant to formalize her sponsorship (can't blame them - they'd previously been fined for employing someone with faked papers so didnt want the risk).

This was all fine, and the admin company did actually did take a bundle of the bureaucracy out of the process for a fee of about 800 USD, but right at the last minute we were told that her existing global travel insurance (valid for the US, including for working out there and including her line of work explicitly) was NOT acceptable for their programme and we had to take their own "specialist" insurance for 1,000 USD for 1 year or they wouldn't process her. This was too late in the day to re-start without jeopardizing the position she had so we had to swallow it. This company process thousands of non-immigrant visa apps per year so that's a tidy little bit of insurance income..... :eek:

I asked to see a copy of the policy before paying the money to check that the liability limits and coverage were all of the right level, and they were quite miffed that someone actually wanted to see the details and it took several calls before they located the policy and emailed them to me. They guy said he'd never before been asked for them so wasn't sure where to look.... :rolleyes:

So even the official outfits have a scam element to them.
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