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ESTA ‘Visa Expiration Warning’ Scams

by Brett M. Christensen

If you are travelling to the United States, you are required to apply for and receive an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

Scammers are taking advantage of this requirement by attempting to trick applicants into paying unnecessary fees for their ESTA. There are a number of websites that offer dodgy ESTA ‘services’ and they often try to gain new customers by sending out fake ESTA expiration or renewal notifications like the example included below.

The US embassy in various countries has warned travellers about such ESTA scams. A notification on the US Embassies in Australia website warns:

As of September 9, 2010, a fee of $14USD will be charged to submit an ESTA application. VWP travelers should be aware that unauthorized third-parties have established websites, which charge visitors an additional or higher fee for information and for submitting ESTA applications. These websites are not endorsed by, associated with, nor affiliated in any way with the U.S. government.

You should only apply for your ESTA via the official U.S. Customs and Border Protection ESTA application website, which has the web address:
https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/

If you do a web search for “ESTA application” or similar terms, you may come across various websites that offer ESTA application services. Do not apply for, renew, or pay for your ESTA through any of these third-party websites. Do not click on any links in emails sent from these third-party websites. Apply for your ESTA via the official website and nowhere else.

If you are tricked into applying for an ESTA on one of these scam websites, you will not only be paying unnecessary fees but also be putting your personal and financial information at risk. These dodgy outfits should not be trusted with your credit card details.  And, during the application process, these third-party websites typically collect a large amount of your personal information, including your passport details.  The information you supply could later be used to steal your identity.
Moreover, the third-party ESTA websites may not even correctly submit your application to the US government. If that happens, your ESTA may be invalid and these could delay or curtail your travel plans and cause you considerable problems.  An FAQ on the official US government ESTA website notes:

I’ve been charged more than US $14.00 for ESTA, why?

There are a number of third parties that have established websites that charge a fee for submitting your application on your behalf. If you have used one of these third party sites, we strongly suggest you use your application number to confirm with the official U.S. government site to ensure that your ESTA is in our system. We recommend you do this because we have no way of knowing if the information passed through the third party website to us is accurate. If it is not, you may have a problem when you arrive in the U.S.

 

A typical example of an ESTA scam email:

ESTA Visa expiration Warning !!

This e-mail is in regards to your Travel authorization to USA. The ESTA Visa which you need to travel to The United States of America has expired and needs to be renewed.

Kindly, visit the website [removed] to renew your visa or to put in a fresh application.

THANKS AND REGARDS

APPLICATION TEAM



Importance Notice

After considerable thought and with an ache in my heart, I have decided that the time has come to close down the Hoax-Slayer website.

These days, the site does not generate enough revenue to cover expenses, and I do not have the financial resources to sustain it going forward.

Moreover, I now work long hours in a full-time and physically taxing job, so maintaining and managing the website and publishing new material has become difficult for me.

And finally, after 18 years of writing about scams and hoaxes, I feel that it is time for me to take my fingers off the keyboard and focus on other projects and pastimes.

When I first started Hoax-Slayer, I never dreamed that I would still be working on the project all these years later or that it would become such an important part of my life. It's been a fantastic and engaging experience and one that I will always treasure.

I hope that my work over the years has helped to make the Internet a little safer and thwarted the activities of at least a few scammers and malicious pranksters.

A Big Thank You

I would also like to thank all of those wonderful people who have supported the project by sharing information from the site, contributing examples of scams and hoaxes, offering suggestions, donating funds, or helping behind the scenes.

I would especially like to thank David White for his tireless contribution to the Hoax-Slayer Facebook Page over many years. David's support has been invaluable, and I can not thank him enough.

Closing Date

Hoax-Slayer will still be around for a few weeks while I wind things down. The site will go offline on May 31, 2021. While I will not be publishing any new posts, you can still access existing material on the site until the date of closure.

Thank you, one and all!

Brett Christensen,
Hoax-Slayer