Top 10 visa scam red flags

Everyone’s desperate to get visas for foreign travel right now – and the process can be daunting. Which is why there are plenty of charlatans ready to offer many promises to make it easier, only to take your money and disappear.

We hear increased stories of visa scams doing the rounds and, although we ourselves do not issue or deal with visas, we feel it’s important that people are aware and alert. It’s so sad when someone thinks they’re all sorted to travel, only to have to cancel everything because they’ve been scammed.

There are only 2 ways to apply for a visa

  1. Through the destination country’s embassy; this will be either online or in person, or both.
  2. Using a reputable third-party visa service or trusted travel agent.

That’s it. Any other options are not legitimate. But how do you know if it’s genuine? A good visa service will be transparent – they will make it clear that they are not affiliated with any government and that they charge a service fee without hidden costs. They will be well-known and have a good track record, they won’t have any red flags, and they will do what they promise.

Here are some of the red flags to look out for:

1. Guarantees

If someone says they can guarantee you will get your visa, this is a huge red flag. There is never a guarantee that someone will get a visa as this is entirely up to the discretion of the country to which you are applying. Nobody can guarantee this, not even embassy staff.

2. Virtual biometrics

This is a new one doing the rounds: someone offers to do all your biometrics via Zoom or similar – for a pretty penny. This is absolutely a scam! It is impossible to do biometrics in this manner at this point in time.

3. Fast track

Yes, some embassies do offer a more expensive speedier option but not all and some have even done away with them for the foreseeable future. Visas for any country take time, more so now with a huge increase in applications colliding with widespread travel industry staff shortages. It is simply not possible to promise a normal holiday visa in a week when everyone else is waiting 4 to 6 weeks or more.  If someone offers to fast track your application for a fee, first check on the official embassy website if this is even an option and, if so, what it normally costs.

4. Big words

Companies that bandy about words like ‘lawyer’ or ‘legal expert’ (for example, ‘Our lawyers will organise your visa for you’) may also be trying to pull the wool over your eyes. You do not need a lawyer to apply for a normal visa! Any time someone tries to feed you a ‘word salad’ with lots of impressive wording but no substance, be on the alert.

5. Claiming a local advantage

Just because a company says they are based in the country for which you’re applying and that this somehow gives them an ‘in’, does not mean they have a special ‘insider’s abilities’ (and who knows if they’re genuinely based there anyway). Most visas for South Africans applying from SA, such as for the UK, are processed right here in South Africa – they don’t get sent overseas and someone living there doesn’t have a magical ability to fix all the problems.

6. Faking it.

If anyone tells you they can improve your chances of getting a visa by putting fake information on the application, run the other way. Not only is this illegal but chances are high that it will not work… and, if you get caught, you may be barred from ever getting a visa again. It’s not worth it.

7. Unsolicited

Got an email or call out of the blue offering to do your visa applications or claiming to be the government letting you know your visa/passport expires? Flag as spam and delete! No government will ever send you emails saying ‘your visa is expiring, apply now!’ or similar.

8. Check the source

Before starting an online application, CHECK THAT IT IS THE REAL DEAL! There are websites masquerading as official sites but which are scammers trying to trick you into giving them money for services they can’t provide or which do not require payment (for example, charging for downloading online forms which are actually free from the embassy). Embassies try their best to stamp this out but there are always new ones cropping up.

In addition, if you receive emails or calls from someone claiming to be from the embassy or governmental department, be on the alert. It is unlikely that someone from any embassy will be calling suddenly to discuss getting you a visa. Check the numbers or email address and compare it to information on the official website.

9. Bank detail questions

Yes, you do need to prove you have a certain amount of money in the bank in order to apply for some visas but nobody should be phoning or emailing you to ask for your banking details or credit card numbers. The embassy website will advise what paperwork you need to provide as proof so check this and be aware that if anyone asks for anything else, it may be a phishing scam.

10. Bargains or hidden costs

Embassies will never put their visa application fees on sale, and neither will independent visa service agencies. A visa is an official document that has a specified cost. A good agency will state their service fee upfront and won’t offer special rates on this. Moreover, they will not suddenly surprise you with hidden costs for things like downloading a form. Deposits or down payments are also a no-no. In a nutshell, you should be paying the flat fee quoted to you for the particular service, and that’s that.

The bottom line is this: If it seems too good to be true, it is. There are no short cuts. Always visit the website of the country for which you are applying to check the requirements and start your application. And, if you feel too overwhelmed to DIY your application, go to a REPUTABLE visa service company like Visas Unlimited or chat to your experienced travel agent to assist you.

Please note: this post is intended to inform and does not replace the advice of a professional visa agency or regulations from governmental agencies and embassies. We are unable to assist with visa applications or advice thereon.

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