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The visa scammers

I need an eVisa for India. When I search on Google, I’m offered a choice of websites to lodge my application, including India eVisa (indiaevisas.info), iVisa (ivisa.com), Indian Visa Online (traveldocs-india.com), Indian Travel Consultant (indianonlinetravel.org), E-Visa India (indiatravel-services.com), Handy Visas (handyvisas.com) and Indian Visa Online (indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa). Except for the last one, they’re all unofficial sites that will deliver my e-Visa, but they’ll add a hefty fee to the $US25 ($A39) that the Indian Government charges.

Back in the pre-digital era, obtaining a visa was tedious. You went along to an embassy, high commission or consulate, filled in a form, attached one or two passport photos along with your passport and a week or two later you were summoned to collect it. Over the past couple of decades most governments have begun offering electronic travel authorisations (ETAs) or e-visas, available via an online application. ETAs are quicker to process, cheaper to administer and more convenient for the applicant, but in doing so they have created a business opportunity for scammers.

It’s not hard to knock up a website with a country’s flag and a few iconic images to masquerade as an official visa application portal. While the operators of those websites will walk you through the process and submit your visa application to the relevant authorities, they whack on a hefty administration fee. It’s a trap for the unwary, and many seasoned travellers get caught. In 2018, instead of the official $US14 ($A21.70) fee for a US ESTA, I went through the application process and was close to paying $US95 ($A147.40) before the alarm bells rang.

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