Beware of fraud: how to distinguish a genuine passport program from scam?

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Kristina Ruzhilo 19.11.2018

A demand for citizenship by investment programs is growing every year. Although jurisdictions are setting high investment requirements, the opportunities offered by a second passport compensate the costs. At the same time, the “gray” and “black” document markets are flourishing. What are the dangers of taking part in scams and how not to fall for tricks of scammers?

Grey Market and Black Market Passports: why a fake passport isn’t a good idea

An extraordinary demand for fake passports is observed mainly in Eastern Europe where scammers have more possibilities. Even biometric passports is no match for fraudsters. The reasons for the demand are clear: people are looking for a better life in the EU. So, there are a lot of offers, such as Finnish, German, Czech, Hungarian, Romanian, Slovak citizenship documents.

One of the most popular ways of forging a biometric passport is “buying out” another person’s identity. In this case, a straw person is doing all the paperwork while a client only participates in submission of biometrics and photos.

Another way is taking advantage of the country’s legislation. For example, in Romania there is an opportunity to restore citizenship if an applicant confirms their relation to the state, in particular by providing a birth certificate or birth certificates of third-generation relatives for the period from 1918 to 1940. Those who resided in Transcarpathia during the Hungarian rule have the right to apply for a Hungarian citizenship under the expedited procedure. The fraud scheme is quite simple: for example, a grandmother’s birth certificate is forged, and with the help of this “document” a second passport is obtained.

An average cost of a “gray” passport is € 7,000-10,000. Of course, no one can give you a guarantee that in the end the passport would be issued.

Other ways one can fall for a scam

Do you know that a Mexican passport costs around $ 15,000, and the citizenship of Belize may cost $ 9,000? While the citizenship of Moldova might be obtained for € 5,000. The investment immigration market has recently been filled with individuals who only promise things but do not actually handle citizenship applications. These individuals scam inexperienced and trustful investors by taking money for not quite legal actions.

Let’s set the record straight: Mexico, Belize and Romania do not have official citizenship by investment programs. The only way to obtain the citizenship of these countries is to reside in those countries for many years of residence.

Apart from the above-mentioned states, scammers offer to obtain the citizenship of other countries as well. Therefore it is important to remain vigilant, retain healthy skepticism and notice any warning signs. Promises to arrange everything extremely cheaply, fast and without proper documentation are the tricks of scammers, which may result in serious consequences, up to imprisonment for forgery of documents. What should you do to avoid falling for the tricks of scammers? First of all you should visit the official website of the country of interest to check whether the official passport program is offered by the country.

Legitimate ways to obtain a second passport

For high net worth investors, it is not reasonable to put their reputation, assets and personal freedom at risk to obtain a “grey” or “black” document. At the moment a number of Caribbean and EU countries offer completely legal ways to obtain a second citizenship via citizenship by investment programs.

What are the advantages of obtaining a second passport?

  • Possibility to create “an emergency airfield” in a developed and politically stable country.
  • Visa-free travel. Holders of the second passport may freely cross the borders of more than 100 countries around the world.
  • Second passport for all family members.
  • Ability to comfortably conduct business in the international arena and reduce tax expenses.

EU Passport

So far, only Malta and Cyprus among other EU countries offer to obtain the citizenship without obtaining a residence permit first.

Cyprus. The official citizenship by investment program suggests three options of participation:

  • purchase of real estate (one or several items) for at least € 2 million;
  • investment of € 2 million in a business project;
  • combination of the options – purchase of government bonds for € 500,000 + investing € 1.5 million in other assets;

Practice shows that the first option is the most popular one due to the fact that the investor must be a freeholder of a private residence(ies) in Cyprus worth at least € 500,000. A villa or apartments may be rented out to bring legitimate income. Application process takes up to 6 months.

Malta.The most important thing you need to know about Malta’s immigration program is that the government set a limit on the total number of approved applications: only 1 800 applications can be approved. Experts believe that the limit will be reached in the nearest future.

The duration of the application process is 14 months. The applicants are offered a complex investment option consisting of:

  • investing at least € 650,000 in a special government fund;
  • purchasing government bonds for at least € 150,000;
  • purchasing a residence(ies) with a market value exceeding € 350,000 or renting a residence for at least € 16,000 during 5 years.

The residents of Malta have no right to rent out their real estate but they are allowed to sell the property after 5 years.

Beware of fraud: how to distinguish a genuine passport program from scam? | Migronis

Citizenship by investment in the Caribbean

A second Caribbean passport costs at least $ 100,000, and an application process takes from 3 to 5 months.

So far, five Caribbean countries have official citizenship by investment programs.

Beware of fraud: how to distinguish a genuine passport program from scam? | Migronis

Saint Kitts and Nevis. The country’s economic citizenship program is one of the most reputable in the world. Launched in 1984, it offers two investment options:

  • donation to a special government fund – at least $ 150,000 (the amount is temporarily reduced; the amount of the donation would return to its previous level – $250,000 – in April 2018);
  • purchase of real estate for at least $400,000.

By the way, St. Kitts and Nevis has the region’s highest age threshold for children (up to 30 years) and the lowest age threshold for parents (from 55 years).

Antigua and Barbuda. Becoming a resident of Antigua is possible by donating $ 100,000 (the special offer is valid until October 31, 2018; then the amount would be $ 200,000) to the government fund or by purchasing property on the island for at least $ 400,000. An applicant should not have a criminal record; on the other hand, it is not necessary to have knowledge of English which is the official language of the island. The islands attract wealthy tourists from all over the world due to their developed tourist infrastructure and yachting.

Dominica.The minimum investment varies from $100,000 (donation to a government fund) to $200,000 (purchase of real estate). This passport program is one of the most accessible in the Caribbean for single applicants. Investors from Iran, Iraq, and Yemen are eligible.

Saint Lucia. The possibility to acquire the citizenship of Saint Lucia appeared relatively recently. The program was launched in 2015 and offers two forms of participation to the investors: donation of $ 100,000 to the National Economic Fund or investment in real estate of at least $ 300,000.

Grenada. In order to apply for the passport of Grenada, one should make a donation of $ 200,000 to the National Transformation Fund or purchase real estate on an island for at least $ 350,000. It is worth mentioning that the purchase of property on the island is virtually risk-free as the hurricanes, which severely damaged the economy and infrastructure of the Caribbean region three times in the last few years, avoid Grenada.

Beware of fraud: how to distinguish a genuine passport program from scam? | Migronis

Conclusion

How to insure oneself against the risk of buying a “fake” passport? You should stay aware of warning signs:

  • Extremely low price. You may check the amount of investment one should make to obtain a passport on the official website of the country;
  • Extremely fast. Even in the Caribbean, the application process takes at least 3 months.
  • Extremely easy. One of the mandatory conditions of the state passport programs is due diligence of an applicant and processing of the case.
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