The ESTA scammers fooling visitors to AmericaWednesday, 13 March 2013
|The genuine ESTA site... fourth on the list.|
My friend is going to America soon. Sigh.
I've been reminding her to do her ESTA for about ten weeks now. Each time I say it, I can tell by her glazed expression that she has already forgotten, before the words are out of my mouth.
It is a pain, to be frank. In the most basic of terms, it means you're pre-applying for entrance to the US under the visa waiver programme. Really, it means you're paying to do so. You fill out all of your details online, tell them that you have no plans to kill the president or undertake some serious smuggling, and you're done. It's a bit of a bastard, because you actually get no real confirmation that it's been accepted, and it's of course no guarantee of entry. But you have to do it before you travel.
I kind of wanted to be nearby when she did fill out the online form, because she has a tendency to... well, do the wrong thing. She'll miss a button, or not submit a form properly, or something. She also believes EVERYTHING that she sees online.
When she finally got around to filling it out today, she looked up from the iPad and said
"€54? Jesus, that's a lot."
"Wait wait wait wait. It's not €54... hand it over."
Despite the link she clicked on looking very legitimate, it wasn't the official ESTA site of the US government. It was, however, the first that came up on the Google search, because of its Google Ad placement. Underneath, below 3 other ads, was the official one.
Now, my friend is a bit thick, but really, that's a very easy mistake to make. You google ESTA, and up it comes. Without really thinking, you've put €54 into the hands of some cowboys.
The real ESTA costs $14. That's a hefty difference in price. And there are a million other 'agency' sites like that popping up, all with official sounding names that will trick plenty of people.Their fees don't come up until you've entered all your information.
There is no need to go through an agency for this. The form is filled out in seconds. And in case you're worried that it takes away the chance to give joke answers to a stern immigration officer in the states, panic not! They ask you all the same questions when you're over there.
Actually, I can't even joke about that. They TERRIFY me. What gets me through every time is a reference to the Brady bunch. The first time it happened, I thought I was in trouble.
A po-faced officer looked at my passport, and looked at me.
"Brady, huh? I see you have a sister."
"Uh... no, no sister. I think. Do I? No."
"No, I defini.... OH. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!"
They weren't as creative since then. I usually just get "Like the Bunch, huh?" and I burst into hysterical peals of laughter, during which they wave me through.
If you don't have a surname that doubles up as a 70s sitcom, then I'm afraid I can't help you. All I can do is tell you the genuine website where you can get your ESTA...
And don't pay more than $14, you hear?