The crooks forced the State Department to temporarily shut down online reservations for urgent passport appointments, adding to the frustration of many travelers who already experience long wait times amid a huge backlog of passport applications.
Third-party actors have used bots to book all available online appointments, the State Department said. The scammers then sold the appointments for up to $ 3,000 to applicants with urgent travel needs.
Americans who are expected to travel in the coming months but do not yet have a renewed passport might be out of luck.
“I’m panicking,” Kelsey Renken said. “I’m calling every day trying to get an answer to get the same roundup of, ‘Oh, we can only push a week before we travel.’ A week before traveling, it’s kind of cut very close! ”
Renken and her husband Heston applied for passports in May, but only one arrived. Their non-refundable flight to Mexico leaves in two weeks. Over the past two years, the couple have suffered the heartbreaking loss of a stillbirth and two miscarriages.
“We just need to take a break, to get a mental reset, to celebrate our anniversary,” Renken said.
Renken said $ 3,000 would have been lost if the passport did not arrive before their trip.
The State Department acknowledges it has a personnel problem and is scrambling to fill an extraordinary backlog of passport applications. The current wait time for a passport can be up to 18 weeks.
“During the pandemic, they sent their people home and we currently have over 1.6 million passports pending that they cannot process,” said Peter Greenberg, editor of CBS News.