WASHINGTON, October 30 (RIA Novosti) – An annual US visa lottery has been overrun by scam artists in Ukraine who enter individuals in the sweepstakes without their knowledge and then try to extract cash from the winners in exchange for fraudulent services, according to a US government report.
“Organized fraud rings masquerading as travel agencies have taken control of the Diversity Visa program in Ukraine,” the US State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) said in a recent report, referring to the global State Department lottery for 55,000 permanent resident visas, or “green cards.”
The US government has earmarked 2,000 green cards for Ukraine in 2013 under the program, which aims to boost the number of US permanent residents from countries with low levels of immigration to the United States.
But fraud rings operating primarily in Western Ukraine “have exploited the automated process used to notify applicants that they have been selected” for the program, contacting hundreds of winners and offering them to pursue the green card in exchange for signing sham contracts of up to $15,000, according to the OIG report.
“If the selectee is interested but cannot pay, the fraud ring may insist that he or she enter into a sham marriage with a person who has expressed interest in immigrating to the United States,” according to the report.
The fraud ring also remains involved after the green card winner has moved to the United States, demanding payment “or to work essentially as an indentured servant to repay what is ‘owed’” under the sham contract, the OIG said.
Family members of the winners in Ukraine have been threatened in order to extract such payments, the OIG said in the report.
The scam artists enter the names of an estimated 80 percent of the population in Western Ukraine, the OIG report cites the US embassy in Kyiv as saying.
Registration for the 2015 Diversity Visa program kicked off Oct. 1 and wraps up Saturday at 12:00 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT).