News / Europe

US Reveals Mass Visa Fraud in Ukraine

Ukrainian passport
Ukrainian passport
A new report by the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Inspector General says organized fraud rings masquerading as travel agencies have taken control of the Diversity Visa program in Ukraine.

The report, released Friday, outlines a pervasive and sophisticated fraud scheme affecting the U.S. visa lottery program as well as the intimidation and extortion of Ukrainian citizens.

The United States awards 55,000 Diversity Visas annually to the citizens of countries with historically low immigration rates to the U.S. They are granted through a random lottery system that does not take into account the applicants’ family relations, professional or personal background.

The fraud rings “buy, steal, or obtain from public sources personal information about Ukrainian citizens,” the report says. 

The OIG does not identify which groups are carrying out the fraud, but says they have a vast impact. The U.S. embassy in Kyiv estimates the groups are entering the names of as much as 80 percent of the population of western Ukraine into the online visa program, and continuing to enter them year after year. This happens often without the citizens’ permission or knowledge, preventing them from entering the visa lottery on their own because the computer system deletes duplicate applications.

The fraud rings then have access to the confirmation number assigned online to the visa applicants, so if the U.S. State Department grants a visa to one of the applicants, only the criminals can facilitate the process.

The OIG report says the criminals then contact the hundreds of Ukrainians selected and demand they sign a contract promising to pay up to $15,000 to get the confirmation number to pursue the immigrant visa application.

If the Ukrainian wants to pursue the visa but cannot afford the fee, the criminals may insist he or she enter a sham marriage with someone who wants to immigrate to the U.S. and has enough money to pay the fraud ring. The criminals might even demand the visa winner get a divorce from their actual spouse and get married to someone else willing to pay.

The extortion does not end when the visa is awarded and the Ukrainian moves to the U.S. According to the OIG, the criminal groups take control of the immigrant’s U.S. social security card and social security number for further exploitation. They also demand the new immigrants pay back the costs incurred by the fraud rings to get them to the U.S. Failure to pay, the OIG, says, has resulted in threats against relatives in Ukraine.

U.S. officials have made efforts to combat the fraud, including changing the interview questions to try to trip up applicants coached by the criminal gangs, but corruption persists.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Yulia from: USA
November 09, 2013 2:11 PM
No wonder I was unable to win a green card in 8 years of playing. So as my mom, my aunt or my sister-in-law. Odds are way down because of a half of Ukrainian being entered by criminals...

The question is: I'm sure that US knows who exactly is involved in this scam - why don't they do something? Or at least change the process for Ukrainian applicants which will prevent scammers from entering unaware people? Charge $2 per application? Apply in person at the Embassy? Apply by mail with a copy of the passport required in addition to online registration?.. Yes, it's probably more work for US consular office but this is fighting the crime we are talking about! And saving poor unaware people from being terrorized by a criminal group! Plus, it might actually decrease the number of cases they have to process when only people who actually want to immigrate will apply.

by: Handy Andy from: Kiev
October 30, 2013 12:07 AM
I would hate to win like that. I would not even enter for free. I studied in USA. Thank you no. Why ?

by: KGB from: UA
October 29, 2013 9:55 AM
This has been going for at least 20 years now.

by: Doug from: Kiev
October 29, 2013 7:39 AM
People from these agencies go around in college dormitories, asking students for their personal information and then entering them year after year - often without their knowledge. If they win, they need to pay:(

by: David from: Kiev
October 29, 2013 3:15 AM
Sounds like something the current Government of Ukraine would do as a favor business for friends and family. There are no rules in Ukraine. This is just one small example of the daily scams that run daily with the blessing of Ukraine's mafia leadership.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs