The United States Embassy in Kenya is warning online applicants for the DiversityVisa lottery that fraudsters are targeting them via phony emails.
The embassy’s Fraud Prevention and Diversity Visa sections have received more than 2,000 complaints from applicants who said they had been defrauded in the past two weeks alone.
Online applications for the 2012 DV programme closed November 3, 2010, and applications for the 2013 programme have not yet opened.
Successful applicants for the 2011 lottery have already received a paper letter. Successful applicants for the 2012 lottery will not receive any direct notification but can check their status later on this year at http://www.dvlottery.state.gov using their designated username and password.
Embassy officials say that although cases of fraud have been detected before, there is particular concern about Diversity Visa lottery fraud since the upsurge that began after the Christmas holidays.
The embassy has sought the assistance of the Kenya police in investigating the scam. The fraudsters are contacting lottery applicants by email, using email addresses that look very similar to those of the US State Department’s Office of Visa Services.
They are addressing applicants as though they have won the lottery and are asking that US$808 (Sh65,448) or US$880 (Sh71,280) be sent to them through Western Union as a fee to process the application of each person.
No fee is required to enter the online lottery for a Diversity Immigration Visa, popularly known as a green card. Successful applicants must pay a fee for a subsequent interview with a US consular official.
“The fraudsters are using what looks like the embassy website. Ninety per cent of the enquiries we have received are from people who are requesting information about these email messages. Some have already paid to these fraudsters, and since this fee is per person in the family, many have lost everything they have with the hope they will receive their visas,” a US Embassy official said Friday.
The actual fee
With each successful applicant required to pay US$808 (65,448) or US$880 (Sh71,280) for an interview, it is feared that the fraudsters could have collected as much as US $880,000 (Sh71 million) from unsuspecting applicants in the last two weeks alone.
The actual fee that the US government charges a successful applicant is US$819 (Sh66,339), and this is only payable to the embassy cashier.
According to the embassy official, the fraudsters are accurately describing the process a successful applicant must follow.
Embassy spokesperson Katya Thomas cautioned Kenyans intending to enter the Diversity Visa Lottery to use www. dvlottery.state.gov when applying and to ensure that they keep their username and password secure.
“This is a mass scam, and many people are falling prey. Some of the visa scams purport to offer air tickets, resettlement packages, job placements and housing, which is not offered by the US State Department. The DV lottery can only be applied for through http://www.dvlottery.state.gov where an applicant can get all the instructions,” she said.
Winning the DV lottery does not include resettlement packages, air tickets or help once one enters the United States. Each applicant is on his or her own.
Online applications are generally made during a 30-to-60-day period between October and November.
This period is likely to be reduced this year to limit cases of fraud.
The US government offers 50,000 diversity visas annually following strict eligibility criteria to citizens of countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.
The embassy website advises that only emails that end in state.gov are genuine and warns applicants to guard their usernames and passwords.