EU warns travellers from visa-free countries including the UK about ETIAS scammers
The European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) needs another year to become fully effective, but the European Union authorities are already warning travellers from over 60 visa-free countries, including the UK, to be aware of fraudulent websites that pretend to be the official ETIAS website or offer “intermediary services”.
The new European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), is an electronic authorisation system of the EU for visa-exempt visitors travelling to the European Union or the Schengen Area, with the exception of the Republic of Ireland, which is a member of the Common Travel Area and is something that Brits will have to fill in and pay for from late next year.
According to the British newspaper The Times, the EU has issued guidance after fears there could be “attempts to mislead people into believing that their site is the official channel for submitting an ETIAS application.”
“This may give the false impression that the additional fee charged by the intermediary is a mandatory part of the application process,” the guidance reads.
The US authorities have faced this problem for years now, with websites claiming to be intermediaries for applicants wishing to obtain an Electronic System Travel Authorization (ESTA), which is the American equivalent of the European ETIAS.
The US Customs and Border Protection agency has warned several times over websites and e-mail scams that intend to mislead travellers from US visa waiver countries, into thinking they are official US government websites.
“Officers at US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have noticed an increasing number of third-party sites claiming to help foreign travellers apply for the ESTA,” the agency said in one of the warnings.
According to Besart Bajrami, founder of SchengenVisaInfo.com, the way these scammers work is very simple. They tell travellers they are an official website of the government, and travellers who fall for that, pay a fee several times higher than what the ESTA costs.
“They submit a form to travellers with the data they need to fill in, and then the same data is placed by them on the official ESTA website. Then travellers pay a fee that is three or four times higher than the normal ESTA fee, which is $21,” says Bajrami.
So, in essence, travellers do not need these “intermediaries” as they are already doing all the work when filling in the form they have given them.
Bajrami further points out that ETIAS scammers are preparing to do the same thing once the ETIAS becomes fully effective in late 2023.
To obtain an ETIAS, travellers will only need to go to the official website, which hasn’t been published yet, but the EU has confirmed it will be under the “Europa.eu” domain. Travellers will have to apply for an ETIAS by filling in a simple form and paying a fee of €7. The whole process is expected to only take about ten minutes.
The ETIAS was supposed to become effective in May 2023, but now the EU has postponed its launch until November 2023.