There are precious few outfits dedicated to the protection of the consumer—and goodness knows the United States has a long way to go in customer protection with actual legal bite.
So starting back in 2016, we at Frommer's were early cheerleaders of Honest Guide, the Czech-based (but English-speaking) video series that has built a healthy following by exposing and shutting down the rip-off artists who mar Prague's tourist circuit with crooked, fly-by-night money-changing booths.
Honest Guide has expanded into local exploration videos, too, but at its core, it's still a sentinel for travel scams, and its latest discovery is one that every traveler needs to watch out for in our extra-bureaucratic Covid age.
As with most scams, this new one seems simple at first.
Now that pretty much every country requires incoming visitors to report where they've been and where they're staying, travelers are searching online for the correct forms that will allow them to cross international borders. And that's where the door is opened for scammers.
Honest Guide is sounding the alarm over bogus websites that post the entry form (or forms that look convincing) and then charge travelers money for the document. In one case revealed in the video embedded below, travelers were asked to enter payment details to be charged €79 (about US $89).
"Filling out your credit card information number would be a big, big mistake," warns Honest Guide's host, Janek Rubeš. "Here's the thing: The traveler locator form that you have to fill out before traveling to the Czech Republic is completely free and you don't have to pay for it."
Not only are people being bilked out of big money. They're also exposing themselves to further bleeding—because heaven knows what will happen to a credit card number once it's given to the scammy site.
Honest Guide says travelers are falling for the ruse because the scammers are buying ads that promote the rip-off sites. When travelers search for the forms ahead of their trips, the scammers' ads appear at the top of search results, fooling travelers into thinking they've found the best match.
"It puts their link before the official government link, and by doing that, they trick you into thinking you're filling out something official," says Rubeš.
The problem now affects countries worldwide. Honest Guide has detected identical scams for entry paperwork for nations including Mexico, Turkey, and Kenya.
Honest Guide also warned viewers about iVisa.com, a website that charges €54 (about US $61) for a process that might actually be free and fast if it's done directly with the government.
So when you need to do Covid-related entry paperwork, take special care that you're getting the form from the local government, where it should be free. Because of the bogus sites, the correct government-based link may not be at the very top of your search results—it might be a few entries lower.