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Officials caution against fake US visa application websites

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- In light of the coming travel high season over the summer holidays, the Bureau of Consular Affairs (領務局) yesterday warned the public about the prevalence of online fraud relating to U.S. visa applications.

According to the bureau, several fraudulent websites have been illegitimately posing as third- party services for the processing of U.S. visa applications, hoping to mislead Taiwanese tourists who may not be familiar with the English language. Fraudulent websites often feature designs resembling official U.S. government websites, said the bureau. All official U.S. website addresses end with “.gov” and are equipped with a Chinese language option.

The bureau emphasized that Taiwan is currently listed among participants in the Visa Waiver Program of the U.S., and that no further fees or processing is required other than that required by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). For stays of up to 90 days, the ESTA requires incoming visitors to submit their personal information and have their entry into the U.S. authorized in advance. Users of the system are subject to fees of no more than US$14, comprised of a US$4 administrative fee and US$10 payable upon authorization via credit card.

In addition to the loss of money, the bureau warned that visitors falling victim to fraudulent U.S. websites might compromise vital personal and financial information, as well as causing themselves travel delays.

Visitors are advised to review the ESTA application process and consult tutorial videos hosted on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. Visitors may also complete the ESTA process on the website of the American Institute in Taiwan.

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