OAKLAND, Calif. - A massive passport processing backlog is forcing millions of Americans to wait months, while also creating an opportunity for scammers to cash-in on impatient travelers.
Up to two million citizens are unable to leave the country as they wait up to four and a half months for a passport to be issued or renewed.
The delays are being blamed on the coronavirus pandemic and a short-staffed State Department.
Congressman Ro Khanna who represents California’s Silicon Valley describes it as "unacceptable" and says Congress would likely provide funding for resources, if asked.
"Our government needs to be more customer friendly," he said. "It’s the 21st century. It shouldn’t take 6 weeks or 2 months to renew your passport."
Khanna is rallying other members of Congress and co-writing a letter to the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken demanding answers.
"I want more people to be hired to be processing these passports," Khanna said. "I want to see a better efficiency in processing them."
His congressional office used to get two or three requests for help with passports each month. Now, the staff is getting nearly 100 requests.
In some cases, positive results have occurred if paperwork and an overwhelming need is presented.
"In those sorts of medical, humanitarian, life or death emergency situations, we are able to provide assistance," Director of Constituent Services Swapanthi Mandalika-Reeves said. "We insure passports get processed in an expeditious manner."
But fraudsters are also promising the same thing – lightning speed processing – at a cost to your back account or at the expense of your identity.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) says passport scams have skyrocketed.
"The most important this is we have a passport number kind of like a social security number," Alma Galvan with the BBB in Sacramento said. "You want to make sure you’re not giving that sort of information out to someone you really don’t know or someone you haven’t verified."
The BBB offered the following tips to protect yourself from becoming the victim of a passport scam:
- Watch for spoofers pretending to be a government agency. It’s extremely easy for phone calls, e-mails, texts, and even phony websites 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 before you do business with them.
- Any form of unusual forms of payments like gift cards, Bitcoin, Venmo, or other apps are red flags.
- If you have lost money or encountered a scam, report it to the BBB Scam Tracker and help protect other consumers and your community.
It's critical to plan ahead an apply for a passport or renewal at least six months before travel.
The State Department announced in May that U.S. citizens who are currently overseas and whose passports expired in 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.