With the surge in travel demand from the country, visa applications submitted for various countries are at volumes higher than ever before.
With this increased demand for visa application appointments, scammers pose as employees or associates of the organisation; or touts who promise an early appointment at an additional cost to embezzle job-seekers and innocent customers alike.
Here are some of their common modus-operandi highlighted in a statement by Hariprasad Viswanathan, Head – Sub Saharan Africa, VFS Global, particularly in the digital space:
Viswanathan explained that it is important for applicants to bear in mind that appointment lots are offered online based on the volume of demand or forecast and in conjunction with the Embassy’s own internal capacity planning.
Once scheduled, they are recommended to be at the Centre 15 minutes before the appointed time to avoid missing your slot. We strongly advise all applicants to be careful of touts and fraudulent parties who falsely promise early appointment bookings in exchange for payment, Viswanathan stated.
According to him, touts could also reach out to customers via chat apps, offering simple assistance such as booking an appointment slot to apply for a visa when appointments are available online on a first-come-first-served basis completely free of cost.
The service fee, he stated are charged for applicants are duly approved by the respective client government and is made either through cash deposit in the nominated bank account or through EFT/Card online.
“This is depicted on our platforms like the customer-facing websites for the understanding of our applicants with an official receipt issued if service is availed. Service fees vary for each country and are dependent on the different services provided, to offer applicants an enhanced visa application experience.
“Applicants may visit our website for more details on service fees and charges for optional value-added services. Please note that services like Premium Lounge are an optional service for applicants for an additional fee to enhance their overall application experience and are not mandatory,” Head, Sub Saharan Africa, VFS Global stated.
Phishing, he said is a commonly used fraudulent attempt to acquire personal & sensitive information such as passwords & credit card details, through digital means by misusing official credentials.
Considering the presence of imposter sites, he stated that it is important to be mindful to never share your personal information on an ‘HTTP’ website to begin with. Always look for websites that begin with ‘HTTPS’ when you are likely to seek or share information.
Another technique used by a scammer is to trap unsuspecting aspirants with the false promise of overseas settlement, he stated.
“An all-too-frequent strategy involves a scammer using new software and other technology to clone official web pages of companies like VFS Global and mask their phone numbers, so it appears that the call has indeed come from an official line.
“The victim is then asked to verify the number on the official website, leading him/her to further believe the caller. The initial call is backed by fabricated job offer letters and official-looking documentation sent via email. To show acceptance of the job offer or immigration opportunity, the email states that the individual will have to make an up-front payment and share personal information to take things forward.
“With the presence of location pins and information on popular social media and search platforms, many such fraudsters create a fake presence using the company credentials like logos, official name etc. and include their contact details in the details provided on these pages that deceive genuine travellers who mistake these details as the official presence of the company,” he said.
According to Viswanathan, here are some warning signs that indicate a scam:
• Scammers usually request advance payments to personal bank accounts with the threat of visa application rejection or deportation.
• They seek personal information under the pretext of re-validating information in the application.
• Emails about job offers or immigration are sent from fabricated email IDs, usually via commonly used personal email accounts (Gmail, Yahoo.co.in, etc.).
• Pixelated and out-of-proportion logos are used on fabricated documentation (such as job offer letters and contracts).
• All communication stops with the scammer once payment has been made.
Furthermore, one must be very careful in what they share, like their passport or visa application numbers via public domains on the internet or social media platforms such as Twitter or Facebook, as scammers are constantly on the lookout for such information.
On student visa application, he stated that during student season, which typically starts in mid-May and goes on till September, the rush for visas is high, especially for Australia, Canada and select Schengen locations.
Thus, it is important for students to be wary of miscreants looking to take advantage of this peak demand period.
He advised students to exercise caution when being approached by third-party entities who pose as visa service providers, promising an appointment or favourable visa decision by misusing our company’s name or otherwise.
He also stated that students should also conduct proper due diligence and vet the details of the educational institutions that they intend to study at.
“Given the unprecedented pent-up demand for outbound travel from Sub-Saharan Africa, it is advisable to apply for visas as early as possible to avoid falling prey to such grey operators,” he added.