Scandalously, the big search engines are still accepting sponsored ads from scammers trying to dupe travellers to the US into paying vastly more for their US ESTA visa checks than they need to.

The ESTA visa now costs $14 per person and is valid for two years which hasn’t stopped a clutch of online enterprises charging utterly ridiculous sums for spurious extra services such as ‘simple online application form’, ‘PDF confirmation result’ and ‘no foreign currency load fee. Some even claim to speed up applications despite the fact that visitors are told of the result in seconds from the official site.

It’s bad enough that when a traveller enters the search term ‘ESTA visa’ into Google or Bing they get back bogus sites, but a clutch of these are actually sponsored sites, which is to say that Google and Microsoft are taking money from them. Absurdly, at least one of the sponsored sites on Bing is marked by Firefox and other web browsers as a web forgery.

Did anyone at Microsoft check this site before allowing them to become a sponsored link?

Processing should only ever be carried out through the official US government site, which can be found at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/. There is no need to use any other site.

Not only could the user be paying and incredible $50 per person for a visa costing $14, they will be handing their credit card number and passport number to companies they know nothing about. Worse still, many of those applications could end up being useless.

We asked Google to try and filter its sponsored ads more carefully last year when this problem first surfaced, but the scammers have come back again this year and people are still being hit hard for no reason. The Internet is full of complaints from duped users.

It is depressing that the US Government’s whim of raising money from travellers to fund a national tourism push has turned into a con that is not only costing people who want to visit money but actually risking US security. If any of the companies taking money from people on false pretences turn out to have criminal connections, those harvested passport numbers could be used to create fake passports for entry into the US.  No need to guess what that could mean.

Good one guys. Another great day for the Internet.