Online Passport Appointments Canceled Due to Scammers
The U.S. Department of State has canceled their online passport booking system due to the proliferation of scammers and bots that were getting appointments, and then reselling them to desperate travelers. On July 21, the government shut down its online appointment system for passport applicants because scammers have been grabbing appointments in order to sell them to desperate would-be travelers for hundreds and even thousands, of dollars:
“We are making this change to address the problem of third parties booking appointments online using automated programs, or bots, and then selling these appointments to customers with urgent travel needs,”
The scammers used bots, a software program, to book all the available appointments at the State Department’s passport agencies, so that no one else could get appointments. Then, the scammers put the appointments up for sale on Facebook groups and other online forums.
New application appointments are now being taken only by phone, and the wait time to speak to someone is now over an hour, and often several hours. In-person appointments are extremely limited and prioritized for life-or-death emergencies.
Due to the pandemic embassy closures and furloughs, passport applications are severely backlogged, often over 18 weeks for a simple passport renewal. Applicants with an urgent need to travel can book an appointment at an embassy for same-day processing, but this has led to the scamming of desperate people who need their passports renewed. Many Facebook groups and online communities have been formed to help travelers find tips and strategies to expedite the passport process, which led to many people either paying exorbitant fees for a free appointment or to being scammed out of money and never getting a real appointment.
The Passport Backlog Elimination Act
Representatives Gerry Connolly of Virginia, Carolyn Maloney of New York, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Tim Burchett of Tennessee introduced a bipartisan bill The Passport Backlog Elimination Act that would require the State Department to submit a plan within 30 days to ensure a processing time of 6 to 8 weeks for normal applications and 2 to 3 weeks for expedited applications:
“Current wait times – up to 18 weeks for routine service and 12 for expedited service – well exceed pre-pandemic levels, and they are untenable for Americans seeking to resume international travel and reconnect with friends and loved ones abroad.”
Illinois Immigration Lawyer
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