Planning a Trip to Europe? Beware This Online Scam Targeting Tourists
If you’re making plans to travel internationally, there’s a lot of things to think about. Are your travel documents in order? Is your hotel or vacation rental booked? What’s your plan to stay safe? Are you going to have fun and see everything you wanted to see? If you think about someone stealing from you, you’re probably thinking about someone pick-pocketing you while you’re overseas or breaking into your house while you’re gone. You’re probably not thinking about scammers fooling you into paying for a fake travel permit. But that’s exactly what’s happening. There’s a lot of confusion around the European Union’s new ETIAS travel permit. And if you don’t know what’s up, you could send your money – and your identity information – straight to a scammer.
What is ETIAS?
ETIAS is a travel permit that adds an additional security pre-check for travelers coming to certain European countries. It’s not classified as a travel visa, for two reasons. First, it doesn’t guarantee entry. Border security will still check your other paperwork. Second, it’s much faster and easier to get than a visa. You don’t have to visit an embassy or provide any official paperwork. You just have to fill out a form and pay a small fee, and most applications will be approved within 10 minutes.
If you are a national of one of sixty visa-exempt countries (including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) and planning to visit one of thirty European countries, you will need this permit. (See the full lists of countries here). However, there are exceptions. If you hare a citizen or permanent resident of any of the thirty countries that require ETIAS, you don’t need the permit at all. And it’s also not required if you’re only there in transit – if you’re flying from the US to India and have a layover in Germany, for example, you won’t need it.
The application process will be digital. You’ll provide your personal information, passport data, trip itinerary, and some other information into an online form. If you’re between 18 and 70 years old, you’ll have to pay a €7 fee – the permit is free for anyone younger or older. Your information will then be checked against EU databases. In most cases, you’ll have the approval in less than ten minutes.
Why Scammers Love ETIAS
Scammers are using the ETIAS travel permit because it doesn’t exist yet! It was originally supposed to launch in 2021, but it’s been pushed back several times. Currently, the EU estimates it will start in mid-2025. This confusion has created a great opportunity for scammers.
If you’ve heard this permit became a requirement in 2021 and didn’t hear that it was pushed back, you’ll expect to apply for it in order to go on your trip. But because the new launch date is so far away, there’s no legitimate application site available yet. Even if you wanted to, you can’t apply for an ETIAS permit. But scammers have set up fake websites that look official. If you’re expecting to go through the permit process, it may not occur to you that this official-sounding website is really stealing your information.
All this confusion around the process has created a lot of misinformation online. Even people who aren’t trying to scam you could be just misinformed. And scammers are great at tricking Google. They can get their scam websites to rank even higher than the official European Union website. If you Google information on ETIAS, chances are good Google will direct you straight to a scammer. And if you don’t know the permit process isn’t active yet, it’s easy to fall for it.
What Scammers are After
Scammers don’t do anything that they can’t profit from. So what are they getting out of tricking you into filling out a fake travel permit application? It turns out, quite a lot!
First and most obvious, there’s money. The EU has already announced that it will cost seven euros for anyone between the ages of 18 and 70 to apply for the permit. This fee will go towards funding the ETIAS program. If scammers can trick you into paying the fee on the fake application, they get your money.
But it’s not just the €7 fee they’re after. Fake application sites also add additional fees. From charging for children and elderly people to adding additional “entry fees” and “intermediary fees” that won’t exist on the real permit, they can bring the cost per fake application to triple or more what the real application costs. They are great at making it sound like these fees are a legitimate and required part of the application. And when you enter your credit card information to pay for these massively inflated fees, not only do they get the money – now they have your credit card information.
The ETIAS application also requires a lot of personal information – your name, date and place of birth, address and contact information, passport number, education, employment information, criminal history, and more. If you submit all that to a fake application, a scammer now has enough data to easily steal your identity and open new accounts or lines of credit in your name.
How to Spot Fake ETIAS Applications
Right now, it’s incredibly easy to spot fake ETIAS applications – because they all are. The real application isn’t available yet, and the current launch date is over a year away. So if you find an ETIAS application anywhere, it’s a scam.
But what about in the future, when the travel permit is active and required for your European vacation? You can watch for fake applications by watching for the usual signs of fake websites and scams. Beware of urgency, threats, spelling and grammar errors, and unoffical domain names. Official EU websites never end with .org or .com – they always end in europa.eu. You can also get the most recent information about this travel permit on the EU’s official website about it, europa.eu/etias. If in doubt, always check this website for the most accurate information.
The permit process will allow third-party intermediaries to fill out the form for you. That includes travel agencies and other services. But since the process includes sensitive data, it’s important to consider who you’re giving your information to. Also think about how much you’re willing to pay. The permit itself will cost only €7 per adult applicant. But third parties will charge additional fees to make it worth their time. For the cheapest, most secure option, fill it out yourself at europa.eu/etias.
If You Filled Out a Fake Application
If you’re in the process of planning a trip to Europe and realize you filled out a fake ETIAS application, take steps now to limit the damage. First, lock down as much as you can. Cancel the card you used to pay for the fake permit and inform your bank it was compromised. Freeze your credit. Then change the passwords on all your accounts to something long, random, and unique. (A password manager can help.) Turn on two-factor authentication (sometimes called multi-factor authentication) for every account that offers it. To be extra secure, also change your security questions.
Next, review your accounts for compromise. Go through the statements and charges on every financial account. Report any unauthorized ones to your bank. Also get a copy of your credit report and review it for new accounts or changes you didn’t make. You can report anything you find to the credit reporting agency.
Finally, report the scam. If you’re in the US, report it to the FBI through IC3. If you’re in the UK, report to Action Fraud. Every country has its own law enforcement agency that will investigate. Save any evidence you have of the scam. That could be the website’s URL, a screenshot of the page, the confirmation notice it sent you, or anything else you may have. Store that information in a safe place in case law enforcement needs it for a future investigation. By report it, you can help law enforcement take on these scammers and make travel safer for others.
- Easy Prey Podcast
- General Topics
- Home Computing
- IP Addresses
- Networking Basics: Learn How Networks Work
- Online Privacy
- Online Safety
You’ve probably seen them somewhere. A sign by the road, an ad on a billboard, or even…[Read More]
Student loans came out of their forbearance period and payments resumed towards the end of last year….[Read More]
A virtual kidnapping call can be terrifying - that's why it's important to be prepared in advance.[Read More]
If someone asked you if you want the messages you send and receive to be private, you’d…[Read More]