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Foreigners trying to register online for travel to the U.S. may face phony websites designed to steal their money and information, or spread malware, McAfee warns
If you are a resident of one of the 36 countries participating in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, or know someone who is planning to travel to the United States, beware. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of a relatively new U.S. requirement for travelers from these countries, who register online for travel authorization, and are spreading confusion about the process.
Cybercrooks know that the only way to register for travel authorization is online, through Homeland Security’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), and they have been busy building phony websites designed to take your information and money. These sites prey on foreigner’s lack of familiarity with official U.S. government sites and registration processes.
When McAfee recently did a simple search for “ESTA,” “ESTA form,” or “ESTA online registration” a variety of dangerous websites showed up in search results.
What’s more, incidents of these fake visa sites have escalated over the last two weeks following the government’s announcement that it is enacting a $14 fee for travel authorization, beginning September 8, 2010. Now scammers are asking for credit card numbers and financial information as well as personal details on these fake sites.
To help you stay safe, let’s look at the ways that cybercrooks are trying to trick travelers, and review the right way to apply for travel authorization online.
The Hook: Cybercriminals set up fake websites designed to fool travelers into thinking that they are registering for U.S. travel authorization. These sites mimic the look and feel of the official ESTA site, and some even offer registration in multiple languages. However, these sites have been crafted to steal users’ money, and personal and financial information, or spread malware.
1) Form Filing Services—Some fake sites offer to help travelers complete their travel authorization form, for a fee. This fee can range from $30 to $250, far exceeding the $14 fee you would pay to do it yourself.
While you may actually get your form registered, you should still regard these sites with suspicion. Even if your form is filed, your personal information, such as your email address, credit card information, and travel dates, are now in the hands of cybercriminals.
2) Fake Government Sites—This kind of site is far more dangerous than the form filing services in that they are designed solely to extract your personal information, including your passport number, date of birth, and banking and credit card details.
They may also ask for information normally asked by U.S. immigration, such as for your criminal or medical history, and for details about family members traveling with you.
3) Form Download Sites—In this scam, users are asked to download the travel authorization form. However, these downloads are nothing but malware designed to harm your computer or install malicious software. The actual ESTA site does not offer a downloadable form – you simply fill out the form using an online application.
- Visitors to these fake sites face a series of dangers, including loss of money, identity theft, an infected computer, and even burglary since the scammers know what dates visitors will be away from home.
- Victims may also not be able to travel to the U.S. as planned since they did not get official travel authorization.
- When applying for travel authorization under the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, only use the official Homeland Security site at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/.
- Do not believe any website that offers to file the travel authorization form for you, or asks you to download the form. Only you can only fill out the official form online at the above address.
- Be particularly cautious around high travel times, such as summer vacation and the holidays, since we expect these scams to increase over these periods.
Other tips to stay safe:
- When surfing the web, always use a safe search plug-in, such as McAfee® SiteAdvisor® technology, which warns you of potentially dangerous sites right in your search results
- Make sure to use comprehensive security software, such as McAfee Total Protection™ software, to protect you from viruses, spyware, adware and other emerging threats, and keep it up-to-date
- If you have any further questions about online security, visit the McAfee Security Advice Center at http://home.mcafee.com/AdviceCenter/Default.aspx
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