Local woman defrauded through ESTA site: report
By Adam Tyrsett Kuo, The China PostTAIPEI, Taiwan -- A woman in Taipei has claimed that she was defrauded out of US$73 by a so-called Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) agency while planning a trip to the U.S., according to local reports.
January 1, 2013, 12:59 am TWN
The woman, surnamed Chang, said that she did a Yahoo search for “American Institute in Taiwan” (AIT) on Dec. 21 and that she clicked on a link for an ESTA application.
After accessing the website, she typed in her personal information and travel itinerary and paid US$73 with her credit card in exchange for a serial number. Chang was told that she would receive a response within 72 hours.
“Afterward, a friend told me that ESTA only costs US$14,” Chang said, adding that she inquired at a travel agency, which gave her the AIT's official Web address. It was then, Chang said, that she discovered the website she had previously logged on to was not the AIT's official website, but a page of a self-proclaimed “agency.” After cross-checking the serial number, Chang was told that the number was “nonexistent,” and that her money could not be refunded.
The page was entirely in Chinese, said Chang, adding that it featured a simple application form and claimed to offer a discount for group applications.
“I checked online and found out that many people have had similar experiences, but they did not report their cases to the police because the NT$2,000 lost was considered a small amount,” Chang said.
ESTA can be Applied for Directly Through AIT: Police
According to the National Policy Agency (NPA), after Taiwan was included in the U.S.' visa-waiver program (VWP) several so-called agencies have emerged on the Internet claiming to offer ESTA services.
These “agencies” do not have the U.S. government's authorization, the NPA said, adding that they have opened an investigation into Chang's case.
The NPA said that since Nov. 1, the date of Taiwan's inclusion in the U.S. VWP, it has received several similar complaints through its 165 anti-fraud hotline.
Many of these so-called ESTA agencies claim that they can confirm and verify the applications of their clients for a price of US$44-60, in addition to the official US$14, the NPA said, adding that one such agency has registered itself under the address of “esta-america.org.”
Being defrauded of a couple thousand New Taiwan dollars is not as serious as losing one's personal information to fraudsters via credit card payments, the NPA stressed.
People who plan on traveling to the U.S. should make sure that they type in the correct address for the AIT's official website (www.ait.org.tw), the NPA said, adding that ESTA can be applied for directly through the AIT.
The Criminal Investigation Bureau said that the IP addresses of the above-mentioned agencies are all registered abroad, but that it will do its best to apprehend the fraudsters through its International Criminal Affairs Section.