Irish residents have been warned about a widespread visa lottery scam by the U.S. embassy in Dublin.

The embassy has urged people to take particular caution when using third party websites as a source of information for their visa applications.

Reports of fraudulent emails, websites and advertisements offering visa services have increased recently.

The U.S. diversity program offers up to 55,000 green cards annually for people who wish to apply for immigration to the U.S.

It is a free service run by the U.S. Department of State but other fraudulent websites offer a similar service at an exorbitant cost.

The embassy warned that common U.S emblems such as flags, eagles, monuments or official seals do not indicate that they are an U.S. government website.

The only official method of applying for the diversity visa program is directly through the US department of state website.

The embassy warned that under no circumstances should any person send money to an address for participation in the visa lottery.

Entrants for the 2001 visa lottery program can check the status of their entries at until June 30th, 2011.