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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Visas: The scam Fake invitations are sold outside Western embassies

Every day they can be found at the U. S. , French and German embassies, working the lines, fleecing the scores of Russians who dream of starting a new life in the West.

They are a new breed of opportunists operating a small-time visa scam in which they sell applications for entry visas to foreign countries and forged invitations for Russian exit visas to would-be Russian emigrants.

Business is thriving. Consular officials at three Moscow embassies said this week that both scams are on the rise.

"It started out about a year ago with a few forged invitations", said a consular officer who requested anonymity. "Most of them were obvious. Now we see about 500 false documents a month, and they have improved".

The officer attributed the increase to stringent French government requirements for invitations. "It is getting more difficult now to obtain invitations in France", she said.

An employee at the U. S. Embassy's visa section said that the going rate for such forgeries was about 900 rubles.

"It probably happens more in Moscow than in many other cities because applying for a visa is a relatively new phenomena here", said another informed U. S. diplomat who asked not to be identified. "The key issue is that the requirement for an exit visa is a Russian requirement".

Next January, when a new law goes into effect, that prerequisite will be erased and there will no longer be a demand for phony invitations. But in the meantime, the visa speculators ply their trade.

A spokesman in the consular

administration section at the Foreign Affairs Ministry acknowledged there are "groups of people selling counterfeit invitations to visit the West".

"Everyone knows that it is going on", he said, asking that his name be withheld. He said he knows of no plans to correct the problem.

Another common scam involves application forms for entrance visas to Western countries.

Typically, the swindlers work the entrances to embassy visa sections, offering people in line 100 rubles for each application. They then resell the forms for as much as 500 rubles to Russians who do not realize that the forms are free.

"I've confronted these guys several times. They get belligerent and deny that they are doing it", said a U. S. Embassy official who handles visas. "They may leave for a short while, but they don't stop".

The U. S. Embassy hands out about 300 free applications every day between 9 A. M. to 10 A. M, the official said.

The German Embassy is experiencing similar problems, according to press secretary Enno Barker.

"The questionnaire for a German visa is free too, but there are people selling it in the vicinity of the consular section", he said.

Forged invitations are also common. "Our visa officers filter them out readily. We have stringent requirements", he said. The invitations must be original documents that are in German and have certified signatures.

In spite of the precautions, the problem is not going away. "It has been plaguing us for more than a year", Barker said. "It appears to be a flourishing business. There is nothing we can do - we feel powerless".

Outside the U. S. Embassy, the American visa official pointed to three men loitering in different areas near the embassy's entrance on Tchaikovskogo Ulitsa. "They have been working the lines there everyday since March", he said.

Nearby one of the militiamen posted at the embassy watched the crowd as one of the racketeers stood 10 meters from him making his sales pitch.

"The militiamen don't do anything", said the U. S. official. "And it's exasperating. It detracts from the legitimacy of the process. It puts the U. S. and other embassies in a bad light in these people's eyes".