At least four websites offering visa services have been found fraudulently posing as being run by the Vietnamese government agencies, cheating thousands of foreigners who applied for visas to the country.
Inspectors with the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) said the sites were registered under several officials' names to acquire the government domain name gov.vn from the Vietnam Internet Network Center (VNNIC).
The four sites busted so far are: vietnamvisa.gov.vn, visavietnam.gov.vn, visatovietnam.gov.vn, and Vietnam-visa.gov.vn.
After successful registration, the sites were handed over to visa service providers who would charge their customers higher than regulated fees, the ministry's online newspaper ITCNews reported on Thursday.
It said the service suppliers would ask customers to pay part of the fees in advance and then acquire visas for them through travel companies.
In many cases, when visa applications were rejected, the sites' administrators did not return money to their customers, prompting the latter to file complaints with Vietnamese embassies in their countries, according to the report.
MIC inspectors, who collaborated with the Ministry of Public Security's department of hi-tech crime prevention (C50) in cracking the case, said they have fined three administrators of the sites a total of more than VND76 million (US$3,500).
It is not known if C50 will press charges against them, ITCNews reported.
The inspectors have also sent letters to the agencies of involved officials, asking local authorities to punish them.
The "ignorant" officials had been "deceived" to register the sites for their acquaintances, the inspectors said.
MIC also needs to order VNNIC to close the websites soon, the inspectors said.
MIC inspectors said the site vietnamvisa.gov.vn was registered under the name of Nguyen Ba Hoang, vice chairman of Dang Xa Commune People's Committee in Hanoi.
The site was run by Cao Van Hieu, son of an official at the commune, and the EVITA Travel Company based in the capital city, to provide Vietnamese visa services online.
Inspectors said the operators received personal information and fees from visa applicants to apply for visas with Vietnamese agencies. Customers would receive their visas upon arrival.
At the time the site was busted, the operators had successfully acquired visas for some 600 people, earning around VND200 million ($9,200).
Hoang was also found to have registered more websites with government domain names, like vietnamtravel.gov.vn, halongbay.gov.vn, and directory.gov.vn, but these were yet to be used.
The site visavietnam.gov.vn was registered by Le Hong Hai, head of Luc Ngan District's statistics office in the northern province of Bac Giang, as a favor for "his daughter's friend" Ngo Duy Bien, the inspectors said.
Bien joined hands with Pham Thi Le Dung, and Ton Kin Company, also based in Hanoi, to run an online visa service.
Nearly 9,000 people had bought the service before the bust.
Duong Trung Tinh, vice chairman of Hai Phu Commune in the northern province of Nam Dinh and who registered the website Vietnam-visa.gov.vn, told inspectors that he was cheated by two unknown men.
He said the men met him in July last year, claiming to be in charge of telecommunications activities in Hai Hau District, which manages Hai Phu Commune.
They asked Tinh to sign and stamp a form for registering the website, saying that it was meant for a survey on local stations facilitating wireless communications.
Inspectors said they have summoned Nguyen Anh Tuan, the site's administrator, for questioning, but he has failed to appear. They said they will continue collaborating with C50 to clarify Tinh's claims.
For the fourth website, visatovietnam.gov.vn, inspectors found that Hoang Tuan Anh, who works for the International Cooperation Department under the labor ministry, had faked the signature of department head Le Kim Dung to complete a form to register the site.
The form also had the stamp of the ministry, they said.They have also proposed that department's authorities punish Anh for faking the signature.
The site was run by Do Son Ha, director of Indochina Treks Travel Company in Hanoi, inspectors said, adding that Ha had acquired visas for 64 customers.
Hieu and Bien were fined VND30 million ($1,300) each, ITCNews quoted the inspectors as saying.
Ha was fined over VND16 million ($740) for providing misleading information about his service, they said.
Hoang, the official with Hanoi's Dang Xa Commune, and Hai with the Bac Giang statistics office are facing punishments for their actions.
According to the inspectors, the cases have showed that procedures and checks regarding the application and provision of government domain names are "lax."
VNNIC needs to review all the registered websites with government domain names and close those that are not being used by state agencies, they said.
Related laws also need to be revised for stricter management, they added.
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