Internet scammers in Hong Kong are using fraudulent e-mails and letters to pose as the US government in an attempt to extract payments from applicants of the Diversity Immigrant Visa programme.
Those receiving the e-mail are told they are one of 50,000 winners selected in a random computer draw from 12.1 million entries registered under the programme. Recipients are asked to pay a visa processing fee of US$819 to complete the procedure and told the fee must be paid using a Western Union money transfer.
The scam has become more prevalent in recent months with the general public receiving the e-mails as well as those registered.
The programme is a United States congressionally mandated lottery scheme for receiving a permanent resident card. It is also known as the Green Card lottery and is administered on an annual basis by the Department of State. Fifty thousand permanent resident visas are given annually to people from countries deemed to have low rates of immigration to the US.
'Applicants should check the status of their applications through the 'entrant status check' at www. dvlottery.state.gov, as they will not be notified of the result by mail or e-mail,' said US consulate spokesman Matthew Dolbow.
The Office of Visa Services in the department said there had been a big increase in fraudulent e-mails and letters sent to the programme. It said all applicants should be familiar with information about scams provided by the Federal Trade Commission. Applicants were also encouraged to review the rules and procedures.
A State Department statement says: 'If payment is made to a non-governmental source, this payment is not received by the US government and does not apply toward visa processing. Sometimes these costs are for information or forms that are otherwise available for free on official US government websites.'
Imposter websites and e-mails also cannot provide the services they advertise and for which they require payment.
These services can only be obtained from US government entities, such as the Department of State, a US embassy or consulate, or the Department of Homeland Security.
The only official information about the programme is found on US government websites ending in '.gov', such as http://travel.state.gov  or http://www.dvlottery.state.gov . The only official way to apply for the programme is through the Department of State website during a limited registration period. Applicants will not receive a notification letter from the US government and must check their status online.