I was recently duped into paying £20 for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) visa required for travel to the US. You need to apply online for an ESTA visa before you travel to the US, no matter what the reason is for your visit. You’ll even need one if your flights are simply connecting via the US. This applies to everyone and not just long stay visitors.

In my haste to get it sorted, I didn’t use the official US Embassy website which allows you to apply for the visa completely free. Instead I used a website that charged me £20 for the privilege of their “assistance” with my application.  This website wasn’t fraudulent, they were a legitimate company and it was my own fault.  In this case I have put it down to experience and have vowed to be more careful in the future.

However, as I had just given this site a great deal of my personal information, I decided to cancel my credit card and get a new one issued.  This made me think about other methods I could use to protect my identity.  Here are some of my top tips:

  • Buy a shredder and use it on all your old receipts and any documents with your personal details on them.   Also use it on any junk mail which has your address on it.
  • Be wary of opening emails when you don’t know the sender.  Be especially careful if they ask you to provide personal details or bank details – banks will never ask you to do this.  Emails that look like they came from your bank asking for your personal account details/passwords etc. are called ‘phising’ emails. Report these immediately to your bank if you receive one.
  • Sign up and regularly check your credit report. This way you can keep track of your data, which can often highlight any early indicators of fraud before things get out of hand.
  • Change your online passwords regularly and don’t use the same one for everything.
  • Check your bank and credit card statements thoroughly for any fraudulent activity.

And just a reminder, if you are going to the US and you need an ESTA, go the US Embassy website and apply there.  Don’t get fooled into paying for it.

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