Pricewatch query: ‘Was I scammed for Esta payment?’

A reader fears use of site charging too much for US travel authorisation may be ID theft

While third-party sites offering Esta services are bad value, they are not strictly speaking “scams” as those who use them do actually get their Estas.

While third-party sites offering Esta services are bad value, they are not strictly speaking “scams” as those who use them do actually get their Estas.

 

“I have been scammed by a ‘pretend’ Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (Esta) site and instead of paying the official US government fee of $14, myself and my spouse paid the handsome price of $79 each,” starts a mail from a reader called Stephen. “I am more annoyed with myself that I fell for this so easily,” he continues. “However in the heat of the moment, I Googled Esta visa and clicked on what I thought was the official US Homeland Security site for Esta application.”

He says it was not obvious “that I was not on the official website and it was never highlighted during the application or payment process the exact amount that I was authorising payment for which in retrospect makes sense as if I had been flagged that I was authorising payment of $79 I would have immediately clicked that something was seriously wrong”, he continues.

He only realised there was a problem when he checked his credit card statement and saw the two charges for €69 knowing that they should only have been about €10 per application. “When I contacted the site to ask for a refund as they had used duplicitous means to gain my custom, I received what seems to be an automated email (attached) within minutes, which suggests I am not the only one to have this happen as they have a standard response at the ready.”

He says it is not the financial aspect that has him worried. “It is the fact that myself and my spouse have provided all of our confidential info such as passport number, expiry dates, place of birth, mother’s maiden name, father’s name, home address and all of my credit card details.”

Security compromised?

“Could I now be subject to identity theft or has my credit card security been compromised? I am at a loss as to what is best practice here as I have no idea how legit is this company I provided all of our confidential info to in good faith thinking it was an official US government website.”

He goes on to say he and his spouse “did receive email confirmation of our approved Esta applications the same day and I have since verified this on the official website. But then I am left wondering if that’s part of the bigger scam.

“Any help you could provide to put my mind at ease would be great and [would] highlight awareness as I am a fairly tech-savvy 41 year old so these sites must be having a field day with less tech-savvy or older people.”

This is a story we have covered on many occasions in the past.

While third-party sites offering Esta services are incredibly bad value for money and definitely prey on people’s ignorance and/or carelessness, they are not strictly speaking “scams” as those who use them do actually get their Estas, albeit it at a cost many times more than they need to pay. In our experience, when people contact such sites to complain they get their money back and no readers have contacted us to say they have had their personal information compromised as a result of using such sites.

The US embassy in Ireland makes it pretty clear what people need to do.

“The only official US government website to apply for the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (Esta) is: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/. The charge is $14 for any authorised application and $4 for any application that is not authorised. A number of third-party websites will complete your Esta on your behalf and may charge fees that are significantly higher. Travellers should check carefully before submitting any information or payment to a third-party website as the US embassy cannot refund your money or assist you in stopping payment to a credit/debit card company.”