Two years after Kenya introduced online visa applications, cyber criminals are ripping off potential visitors of millions of shillings through copycat websites.
Two fake websites and an e-mail account are being used to hoodwink visitors applying for Kenyan visas online. The websites claim to be intermediaries for visa application, and charge up to three times the official rate of $50 per person.
Kenya's Immigration Department has now put out an advisory against the two websites - www.kenya-evisa-online.com - and e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, which it termed "scam e-visa application websites."
The scam has also come to the attention of the embassies of Egypt, the UK, Netherlands, Malaysia and the US, who have also posted warnings.
The web page at www.kenya-evisa-online.com has already been flagged by Google: "This website has been reported as a deceptive site and has been blocked based on your security preferences.
Deceptive sites are designed to trick you into doing something dangerous, like installing software, or revealing your personal information, like passwords, phone numbers or credit cards.
Entering any information on this web page may result in identity theft or other fraud," an advisory in the Safe Browsing section reads.
Early this year, Kenya's ambassador to the US, Njeru Githae, warned e-visa applicants of counterfeit websites purporting to issue the visa on behalf of the government.
"These fraudulent sites are masquerading as genuine government platforms and have been scamming e-visa applicants. They are designed in such a way that they can be mistaken for the official Government of Kenya e-visa website," said Mr Githae.
The EastAfrican could not reach Director of Immigration Gordon Kihalangwa for comment, but an official who is not authorised to speak to the media said visitors had lost millions of dollars to the scam.
"This is something that we have been grappling with since the e-visa launch last year. We have been waiting for the countries where these sites are hosted to act, but that seems to be taking time. In the meantime, visitors are losing their money to these people," the official said.
The website www.kenyaonlinevisa.com is hosted by Amazon Data Services, a subsidiary of the US headquartered global e-commerce firm Amazon. The data firm is based in Dublin, Ireland, but the servers of the fraudulent sites are spread across the globe, including in the UK and the US. One of the sites, www.kenyaonlinevisa.org, is hosted in Spain and even has a physical address in Barcelona.
The www.kenya-evisa-online.com website is hosted by Name Cheap, a company headquartered in Los Angeles, California.
While the genuine Kenya government site - evisa.go.ke - charges the official fee of $50, the fake websites are charging between $120 and $199, with applicants asked to pay using their MasterCard and Visa cards, which exposes them to further fraud.
The sites then ask the applicants to await for an approval via e-mail, after which they can download and print the e-visa from the e-Citizen account.
"Our Foreign Affairs Ministry is investigating the sites and is working with the US government to arrest those behind the websites. We are doing everything possible to make sure that innocent people, both Americans and other nationals, don't lose their money to these crooks," Mr Githae said.
he fake sites use Kenya's official e-visa logo on their link and prominently display the country's flag at the top of the page.
However, www.kenya-evisa-online.com has now put up a disclaimer saying that it is not in any way a Kenyan government website, but only provides services and assistance at a professional fee of $68, adding that a request can be presented on the official website for a lower fee but without its help and assistance.
The Kenyan High Commission in the UK, and embassies of the Netherlands and Egypt have issued alerts.
"The embassy wishes to inform all clients of the existence of the scam website http://www.kenya-evisa-online.com, which is overcharging customers $120 for normal cases that take three working days to process, and $130 for urgent cases that are processed within one day.
"All clients are warned not to submit any application through this scam website. The government of Kenya will not be responsible for any loss of revenue and unnecessary extra expenditure incurred through that website," the embassies say in their advisories.
The fake sites use Kenya's official e-visa logo on their link and prominently display the country's flag at the top of the page. Other features adopted include a link to the official government website at the top (visit-gov website) to make the website look authentic.