Here’s a word of warning to anybody applying for a US travel visa or Esta online.
The top search results in Google are not for the official application forms, but paid advertisements from commercial websites that charge more than five times as much as the government one.
Regular travelers will know this has been going on since at least 2010. A BBC News Investigation has prompted Google to take some of the ads down.
But why not all?
In 2010, the US started charging UK travelers to use the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (Esta) before their visit.
The official Esta website is run by the US Department for Homeland Security, which charges $14 (£10.70) for each Esta.
But there are countless sites that charge more than $80 for the same application. One site advertised on Google charged $99 (£76) per Esta.
Customers may soon get their Esta but pay too much for it with Google earning money in the process.
The sites justify their prices by claiming they offer value-added services with ‘24/7 support.’
‘It’s a fairly simple message from me. Don’t go near them with a barge pole,’ said Guy Anker, deputy editor of the consumer advice site Money Saving Expert.
‘Double check you’re using the official site or you’re going to be paying a lot more than you should.’
Google has responded by taking down some of the ads it says violated its rules
In a statement, it said: ‘We have policies that prevent ads for paid products or services that are available from a government or public source for free or at a lower price unless they offer a clear added value.’
Some of the ads remain on regardless while Google investigates the cases.
What should you do?
Look for the official Esta logo, which is a trademark and can only legitimately be used on the official Esta website. Any money paid the third parties can’t be recovered especially because they follow through on the service they purportedly offer.
Google has said it encourages the public to report advertisements that break its rules.
On why it doesn’t give more visibility to the official Esta website, it said its search results were determined by algorithms.