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Be aware of online visa lottery scams - tell tale signs

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As many are aware, a couple of months ago the State Department sent out tens of thousands of notification letters to applicants in the 2012 annual visa lottery, telling them they were selected to receive a coveted green card.

The notices went out in error, however – several Irish were notified and subsequently lost a court case to have their cases processed – and the State Department announced that it would notify new winners on or around July 15 of this year.

Scammers took note, of course.  One of the “winning” notifications last week was sent to Evelyn Tiernan, a writer for our sister website Irish Central, who couldn’t contain her joy at finally realizing her American dream.

The email, which looked very authentic, came on Department of State letterhead and informed her that she’d been one of the lucky ones.  She’d be entitled to health insurance, an apartment . . . but better act quickly and wire a sum of money to the U.S. Embassy in London to secure her place.

Any time the word “wire” and “quickly” appear in an “official” email, however, you can pretty much discount its authenticity. It took a few minutes to figure out that the notice was fake, but how many people out there who received similar notices jumped for joy at the chance of a green card, and sent the wired money through to the bogus receiver anyway?

Evelyn wrote about the experience for Irish Central.  Here’s what she said in part, and let her words be a cautionary tale.

“This morning I saw my future flash in front of me. I opened an email from the U.S. Department of State telling me I am one of the 50,000 winners . . . I had been selected by a computer from the 12.1 million entrants.

“My heart raced. Is this really happening? My dreams of living in New York are finally going to come true!
I examined the email again. It looked very official, with the same logos as the U.S. State Department website www.state.gov. I’m wondering is this real or just a very good Photoshop job?

“I read the email again. It said, "U.S. government helps you with the accommodation and offers you Health Insurance (Freedom HSA Direct Individual Health insurance for one year), dwelling (apartment in any city you prefer, one bedroom for three months), a guaranteed job (in the field that you are currently qualified so you can start working even from the first week you arrive in the United States and get paid as U.S. citizen.) and education  .

“This sends alarm bells ringing. The U.S government is going to not only give me an apartment for three months and offer me health insurance, but are guaranteeing me a job also? This can't be real.

“I read on. They explain to me that I must pay a $819 diversity visa fee, that “this is the only fee a winner needs to pay throughout the entire relocation process.” It also adds that accompanying family members may be included in the program and their visas will be provided at the same time with mine - however the fees must be paid per person.

"The fees must be paid using Western Union money transfer and will be processed by the U.S. Embassy in the United Kingdom,' the email reads. 'After you find a Western Union agency you need to go with cash money, an identity card and send the payment to the U.S. Embassy agent address in the U.K."

“As soon as I saw that I was to pay the fee through Western Union I knew again something was amiss.  I knew this must be a scam, but the email looks so real.

“I visited the official site of the Department of State to see what it says about the DV Lottery. It reads, ‘The Department of State, Office of Visa Services, advises the public of a notable increase in fraudulent emails and letters sent to Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) program (Visa Lottery) applicants.

“It adds, ‘The Department of State does NOT notify successful DV applicants by letter or email.’

“This is when my heart drops.”

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