Avoiding passport scams this travel season

The Federal Trade Commission and the nonprofit Better Business Bureau have put out alerts to consumers, warning about fraudulent passport renewal services. As summer travel is in full swing, here’s what you need to know about these scams. 

Fraudsters have been advertising themselves to help U.S. citizens renew their passports, often trying to appear legitimate and impersonating governmental entities. Frequently, these phony services appear at the top of search engine results, sometimes even ahead of the U.S. State Department’s official passport renewal page. At best, these schemes inflate the costs associated with the renewal process, with the middlemen pocketing the difference. In other instances, fraudsters can take their victims’ money and personal information and run—leaving the individuals without the promised services.   

Consumers that arrive on one of these pages might see options to apply for a new passport, apply to renew a passport, or to schedule an appointment with a passport agency. Despite the Department of State offering these services for free, scammers will charge junk fees to fill out the applications, submit the applications, or to schedule an appointment for you—if they do it at all. They also might promise faster approval times or sooner appointment availabilities, all of which would be false. 

Keep your money secure and your information safe when applying for a passport by remembering the following tips: 

  1. Don’t pay to submit passport renewal or application forms. There is a fee for the passport itself, but it is free to complete and submit the forms. 
  1. Don’t pay to schedule an appointment with a passport agency. Similarly, there is a fee for receiving a new passport, but an appointment with a passport agency is free. 
  1. Go directly to https://travel.state.gov for passport services. Don’t pay for services or provide personal information to webpages that don’t end with .gov. The Department might not accept forms or appointments sent through a third-party. 
  1. Plan passport renewals and applications in advance. Typically, processing times take a couple months. The State Department’s latest processing estimates can be found here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/how-apply/processing-times.html 
  1. Only the State Department can expedite the passport process. Avoid third-party services generally, but especially if they claim to have faster processing times. 

If you encounter one of these frauds, file a report with Fraud.org here and notify the State Department by emailing PassportVisaFraud@state.gov. 

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