Websites target immigrants
Some websites charge considerable fees for visas and other documents that can be obtained directly from the government at less expense.
This post comes from MSN Money contributor Mitch Lipka.
Passport applicants, immigrants and visitors to the U.S. are being targeted by a collection of websites that appear to be official government sites and are charging sizable fees -- on top of routine government charges -- to submit applications for visas and other documents, the watchdog site SiteJabber reported.
The biggest issue with the sites is how they create the illusion they are official government sites, rankling consumers who have used them, SiteJabber founder Jeremy Gin told MSN Money.
"On SiteJabber, we've increasingly seen an unfortunate trend of consumers being victimized by the deceptive marketing tactics of websites that appear to be associated with the U.S. government but, in fact, are not," Gin said.
An example is USPassportOnline.com, which is panned by SiteJabber users and received an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau. The site, which says it is a passport expediter, charges $99 to $299, including a nonrefundable $45 "reservation fee," and an additional $30 for shipping.
Additionally, the site us-immigration.com has led to complaints from consumers who say they confused it with an official government site and spent $149 to $189. The BBB also has issued an alert against the company that operates the site, American Immigration Center, because "consumers feel the website is misleading and it gives them the impression they have accessed a government site. Consumers then realize that some of the charges incurred are for the processing and filing of forms and not actual government fees."
Such sites, which tend to come up prominently in the results of Web searches for various immigration and travel forms, do typically have disclaimers that they are not official government sites, but they are not always easy to spot.
Because concerns with these types of sites have continued to crop up, the U.S. State Department posted a warning about them along with a bit of advice for anyone who needs government travel documents.
"Some websites and emails try to mislead customers and members of the public into thinking they are official U.S. government websites," the State Department says. "These websites are designed to appear official, and often have images of the U.S. flag, U.S. Capitol, White House, or Statue of Liberty. What these websites and emails are missing is the '.gov' suffix on their addresses. Remember that anything that does not end with '.gov' should be considered suspect."
More on MSN Money:
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- 6 scams aimed at the elderly
- How to spot a lottery scam
- Charity scam heats up Florida politics
- Top 10 consumer complaints
- Top 10 scams of 2012
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Mitch Lipka has been warning people about scams and shining light on questionable business practices for more than 20 years. Mitch, the consumer columnist for The Boston Globe, has also been a reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and AOL. He won the 2010 New York Press Club award for best consumer reporting online and was honored in 2011 for his reporting on child product safety.
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