These scammers can charge a small fortune just for providing a form you can get for free elsewhere!
My son Oliver and his old school friend Robert recently decided to go to India.
India loves red tape. And unlike many tourist destinations, which either require no visa or allow you to buy one on arrival, India insists on all visitors arranging visas beforehand. A tourist visa currently costs £92.50 for six months. But if you are not careful, you could spend considerably more.
Paying for visa 'help'
Scam sites can entrap even the most careful. Robert went online to find out how to obtain this passport stamp, putting "India visa application" into the search engine.
Scores of sites came up. Many of these belong to legitimate visa firms which supply the forms, check them and then do the hard work going around consulates. They charge a fee. They are useful for those who need travel documentation fast, who live far away from a consulate, or require several complex visas (as I did when I travelled from Moscow to Beijing by train via Russia, Mongolia and China).
But Robert hit on one that charged him £83 for little more than providing the form for him to print, which is free elsewhere.
What he got for his money
So what did Robert get for his £83 other than a blank form?
He was advised to complete the form and then informed "these need to be presented to the Indian Embassy / Consulate either in person or via post". There is a link to a site which has addresses of all embassies and consulates (strictly speaking the Indian 'embassy',in London is a 'high commission' due to India's Commonwealth membership).
So his money got him nothing that someone with the intelligence of a goldfish could not have worked out for themselves.
Some of these sites inform consumers they have a choice – to pay extra or not. On indianvisaonline.uk.com, which charges £55, the warning comes on the home page rather than buried somewhere. Here, it says it is not connected in any way to the Indian government, and that "the information on this website is available without the charge from other sources".
It says you don't pay the visa "appliacatiion" (sic) fee until you receive and complete the form from in.vfsglobal.co.uk, which happens to be the official Indian government agency for visas. For his money, Robert would get his form checked, but this could only be for omissions and basic errors because there is no way of checking the facts such as his occupation or where he previously lived.
And because all these sites do is to send out a form and ensure applicants fill in all the fields, your fee does not cover delivering the application to the right address or chasing it up in case of a problem, nor ensuring that the passport with its new stamp gets back to the right person. So Robert still has to do all the hard work himself. His £83 went on someone ticking that he had completed the form – very easy money indeed. And if they overlooked a mistake? Tough.
The official Indian visa site offers a clear exposition of the twelve step process and application tracking. It says: "The India Visa Application Centre is officially authorised by the High Commission of India, London to accept applications for all categories of visa except Emergency cases or Diplomatic/Official visas and to return processed passports back to the applicants."
So why pay to go elsewhere?
Save money on your travels: get a credit card with no foreign usage fees
Make sure your holiday doesn't end in disaster – get travel insurance