Scammers forced the State Department to temporarily shut down its online bookings for urgent appointments for passports, adding to the frustration of many travelers who are already experiencing long wait times amid a huge backlog in passport applications.
Third-party actors used bots to book all available online appointments, the State Department said. Scammers then sold the appointments for as high as $3,000 to applicants with urgent travel needs.
Americans who are set to travel in the coming months but don't have a renewed passport yet may be out of luck.
"I am freaking out," said Kelsey Renken. "I call every day to try and get an answer to get the same runaround that, 'Oh, we can only push a week before you travel.' A week before you travel is kind of cutting it very close!"
Renken and her husband Heston applied for passports in May but only one has arrived. Their nonrefundable flight to Mexico leaves in two weeks. In the last two years, the couple suffered the heartbreaking loss of a stillborn and two miscarriages.
"We just need to take to get a break, get a mental reset, celebrate our anniversary," Renken said.
Renken said $3,000 will have gone down the drain if the passport doesn't arrive before their trip.
The State Department acknowledges it has a staffing issue and it is scrambling to complete an extraordinary backlog of passport applications. The current wait time for a passport is up to 18 weeks.
"During the pandemic, they sent their people home and right now we're over 1.6 million passports in backlog that they can't process," CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg said.