Scammers hitting millions of people waiting for passports, BBB warns

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(NewsNation Now) — Passport scams are on the rise as the processing backlog allowing scammers to take advantage of impatient travelers ready for summer travel.

The Better Business Bureau said scams are increasing as the reported wait time for a passport is between 12 weeks and 18 weeks, even if you pay for expedited processing. That’s because of ripple effects from the coronavirus pandemic that caused extreme disruptions to the process at domestic issuance facilities and overseas embassies and consulates.

“Scammers, posing as passport expeditors are stepping in and convincing their victims for a higher fee they can get quickly get through the processing time, including the initial internal intake of the applications, and mailing,” said Steve Bernas, president and CEO of BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois. “Along with money losses in these scams, passports contain critical personal information that unlocks identity theft for years to come.”

BBB provided a list of tips to protect Americans against passport scams:

  • Watch for spoofers pretending to be a government agency. It’s extremely easy for making phone calls, e-mails, texts, and even phony websites to look like their coming from a real agency.
  • Never trust an unsolicited phone call or email pretending to be the State Department or Passport Agency asking for personal information or payment of fees.
  • Always check out any company with BBB.ORG before you do business with them.
  • Any form of unusual forms of payments like gift cards, wire transfers, even bitcoin are “Tip off’s to the Rip off.”
  • If you have lost money or encountered a scam, please report it to the BBB Scamtracker and help protect other consumers and your community.

The State Department and Department of Homeland Security have already taken steps to ease issues related to Americans abroad with expired passports who are seeking to return home.

The departments announced in May that U.S. citizens who are currently overseas and whose passports expired on or after Jan. 1, 2020, would be able to use their documents to reenter the United States until Dec. 31, 2021. That provision does not apply to travel between third countries unless it is a transit stop.

Rachel Arndt, deputy assistant secretary of state for passport services, said the department is increasing COVID-19-reduced staffing throughout the United States as pandemic restrictions are eased. But she said last week Americans needing to apply for or renew a passport should do so at least six months ahead of when they plan to travel.

“We really encourage folks to apply for or renew their passport at least six months ahead of when you’ll need one to avoid any of those last-minute problems,” she told reporters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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