I wish I had read your recent article on copycat websites. I have just fallen victim to one over a recent Esta application. When I applied for my first one, five years ago, I am sure such sites did not exist – or maybe I was just lucky to avoid them. This time I thought I had selected the official website, so it was quite a good fake. I have certainly learnt my lesson. Having paid $99 for “assistance”, which I did not need (when the cost of the Esta is only $14), is there any way I can get some, or all, of the overpayment back?
YB, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Under the terms of the Esta visa waiver programme, all Britons entering the US are required to apply online at least 72 hours prior to travel and pay a $14 fee. Since April 2016, you also need to hold a biometric passport with a built-in chip. Unfortunately, you have been duped by a copycat website which offers services from government departments or local government, such as paying congestion charges, applying for passports or the European health insurance card … but is not official. Although they are not illegal, they often – as you found – charge a substantial premium for the same service as the official website. They trap the unwary by looking uncannily like the real thing and often appear at the top of internet search results. They justify their fees on the fact they check documents but you are eligible for a refund as you were misled
However, there are illegal, fake websites which simply take the money and leave consumers with nothing to show for it. At least you did get your Esta. Under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act you are eligible for a refund for breach of contract, but your transaction is below the £100 limit. Talk to your credit card company and explain what has happened.
To help others, report this website to Action Fraud, online or (if you are in the UK) on 0300 123 2040. It is interested in any of these websites where they are charging for more than just the basic service … fraud or not. It will then be passed to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to see if it can be used as part of a police investigation.
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