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 to be aware of fraudulent websites that pretend to be the official ETIAS website or offer “intermediary services”.
According to the British daily national newspaper The Times, the EU has issued guidance after fears that there could be “attempts to mislead applicants 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 commercial intermediary is a mandatory part of the application process,” the guidance reads, claims The Times.
The United States authorities have faced the same 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 for the European ETIAS, SchengenVisaInfo.com reports.
The US Customs and Border Protection agency has warned several times now over websites and e-mail scams that intend to mislead international 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 Electronic System for Travel Authorization (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 the official website of the government and travellers who fail for that, pay an amount several times higher than the ESTA amount.
“They submit to travellers a form 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,” Bajrami says.
So, in essence, travellers do not need such “intermediaries” as they are already doing all the work when filling in the form submitted by the “intermediary”.
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 supposed to take about ten minutes in total.
The system was supposed to become effective in May 2023, but now the EU has postponed the launch of the ETIAS to November 2023. This hasn’t been the first time the ETIAS as the same has happened a few times in the past due to the EU institutions not being able to meet their goals on time.
SchengenVisaInfo.com has contacted the EU Commission’s Migration and Home Affairs regarding the guidance but has received no answer so far.