The U.S. State Department has temporarily shut down its online appointment system for passport applicants claiming scammers scheduled appointments then sold them for thousands of dollars to desperate travelers.
Scammers allegedly used bots to schedule appointments which where were then sold in online forums, including Facebook groups like ‘US Passports and Visas,’ SFGate reported. The State Department first learned of the scams in June.
The online system had offered the ability to schedule last-minute appointments for travelers, which were often reserved for travelers in life-or-death emergencies.
A message posted to the State Department’s website reads: ‘We have temporarily removed the online last-minute appointment booking system to ensure our very limited, last-minute in-person passport appointments at one of our agencies or centers go to applicants who need them for urgent travel.’
The U.S. State Department has temporarily shut down its online appointment system for passport applicants
The State Department claims scammers have been booking and selling the appointments for thousands of dollars to desperate travelers
The State Department announced the change in a message posted to its website
The State Department noted that the only way to book an appointment currently is to call the National Passport Information Center on a weekday.
‘We made this change to address the problem of third parties booking all available appointments using bots, and then selling them to applicants with urgent travel needs,’ the message reads.
Officials noted that wait times to reach a customer service representative can be long. Last-minute in-person appointments are still extremely limited.
The State Department noted that appointments that had already been made using online before Wednesday are still valid.
This change only applies to appointments at our passport agencies made through the State Department website, travel.state.gov, a spokesperson for the State Department told DailyMail.com in a statement.
Other online appointment booking systems for passport acceptance facilities have not changed, like the one on the U.S. Postal Service website for in-person appointments at a post office.
In lieu of letting people schedule their appointments online, the State Department appears to be hosting ‘special passport fairs’ across the United States, which was announced on its website on Wednesday.
‘Most events are for first-time customers and children using Form DS-11 to apply. If you are eligible to renew your passport, you should renew by mail,’ the site reads.
For now, the only events that appear to be scheduled are in Van Nuys, California on July 25 and then four events in September in Florida, Ohio, Arkansas and Texas.
The State Department issued 11,711,945 passports in 2020, the lowest number since 2005, according to data on its website.
Americans, including a number of politicians, have blasted the State Department in recent weeks for long processing times for passport applications as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.
It has been reported to take up to 18 weeks for passports to be returned while about two million U.S. citizens waiting to receive their passports.
Last week, the U.S. Passport Agency ended its no appointment walk-in service at its Vermont office after it was overwhelmed by people seeking the documents amid a backlog of 1.5 million requests nationwide, the State Department said.
Dozens of desperate travelers from throughout the Northeast had been traveling to the St. Albans office after getting word people could get passports on the spot and struggling to make appointments at other offices.
The Vermont Passport Agency had been offering appointment slots from no-shows to last-minute customers on its premises, the State Department said in a statement on Thursday.
The agency has ‘discontinued this practice due to unintended safety and security consequences,’ it said.
More than 20 people, including small children, were waiting outside the Vermont office last Thursday despite the policy change.
‘I think it´s unfair that you´re going to change your policy overnight and not notify anybody,’ said Dina Singh who arrived in Vermont at 5:30 a.m. after driving overnight from New York with her husband and their 5-year-old daughter.