Amrit* applied online for Australian citizenship in early December 2017, for both herself and for her husband.
She called the Department of Home Affairs when she didn't hear back from them for a couple of weeks. When she asked for the status of their applications, she was told that they were never received - and that the website she had "applied from", was probably fake.
According to Amrit, the website "looked very real". In fact, even if you visit now, it asks you to take a 'citizenship eligibility test' before letting you "fill out the Form 1300t", which is the exact form that the Department of Home Affairs requires you to, when applying for Australian citizenship.
What confirmed to Amrit that she had filled out both the citizenship applications on a fake website was the bank confirmation, that the account to which the 'fees' was paid to, was in Barcelona, Spain. There was even an overseas transaction fee debited for both of the transfers.
Overall, Amrit was charged $180 (plus fees) for her husband's application and $160 (plus fees) for her own application - which amounts to almost $350 in lost money. "What's more, these people even issued me a fake receipt for the transaction! They have some cheek!"
But that isn't what annoyed Amrit most. "It's not about the money - I'm upset that a diligent person like me fell for a scam. I feel awful about that. Also, I have filled out personal information in that form, which I do hope is not misused."
"I also feel there should be more warnings for the public, if the authorities are aware of such fake websites and scams. More and more of us are applying for things online now - so the relevant authorities must warn people about scammers more specifically, when they become aware of a scam," Amrit said to SBS Punjabi.
Meanwhile, Amrit has applied for citizenship for herself and her husband at the Department of Home Affairs and is hoping to be naturalised soon.
SBS Punjabi navigated through the website and found that apart from citizenship, it offers forms for work visas, student visas as well as travel visas.
The eligibility test for citizenship doesn't "allow you" to fill the citizenship application if you answer 'no' to questions similar to the one shown here, which lends to the website's authenticity:
But a disclaimer on the website clearly says "it does not provide any legal services but general information and easy-to-use services regarding immigration to Australia. This company is not a government website/agency/affiliate/representative. The Office of the Australian Border Control and the Australian Migration Agents Registration Authority have not endorsed this company."
It goes on to say,"We do not represent any legal authority nor do we purport to act as legal counsel or advisor or any other form of legal representation. Our company provides an automated software consisting of a step-by-step guide, which provides additional information regarding the process of how to correctly complete an immigration form and we only provide technical support in relation to the above. Therefore it is not a substitute for and does not replace legal advice. Clients will be able to request a refund, as long as they meet the requirements stated in the Refund Policy."
In Amrit's case though, she is well aware that no refund will be coming through. But she also hopes that her experience serves as a warning to others, when they apply for citizenship.
Please note, the correct website hosted by the Australian Department of Home Affairs can be viewed by clicking here. The official fees for a citizenship application, as of today, is $285.00
*Amrit is a pseudonym for the SBS Punjabi listener who contacted us with this personal story.