I’ve been preaching this for years and wrote multiple tips in January warning that if you need to renew your passport like I did, to do it earlier rather than later. With the COVID shutdown, there’s a huge backlog and now there are staffing issues and scammers running rampant.

According to The U.S. Department of State they just shut down its online passport appointment system. “At 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday, July 21, we temporarily disabled the online booking system for Urgent Travel Service to ensure our very limited appointments go to applicants who need them for urgent travel. We will continue to honor appointments you scheduled before 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday, July 21 using our online system. You must call us if you want to schedule a new appointment or change your existing appointment.”

This is going to make it really challenging and expensive for those who need a new passport or who need to renew theirs for international travel in the next few months. According to ABC News, “With online appointments shut down, the State Department is only taking new applications by phone. This way, a representative can instead give an applicant unique confirmation information used to verify that the person who made the appointment is the same person who comes in, a department official told ABC News.

It’s unclear why the department can’t do that online. Callers may need to wait for more than an hour to reach a representative before making an appointment, per the official. “At the moment, demand is greater than supply, although we’re adding more appointments as more staff return to our passport agencies,” that official said. In-person appointments are still extremely limited and prioritized for life-or-death emergencies, the official added.”

Here’s more info.

Some tips from AARP for avoiding passport scams:

  • “Avoid suspicious websites that purport to help you quickly obtain the little blue book. To investigate a site, search its name online with terms such as “reviews” and “complaints” and “scam.”
  • Check out companies using the Better Business Bureau’s website.
  • Be on guard for bad actors pretending to be from a government agency. Never trust an unsolicited phone call or email that asks for personal information or fees and supposedly is from the State Department or a passport agency.
  • And a tip-off to a rip-off: a request to pay using gift cards, wire transfers or bitcoin. None are acceptable for passport fees.”

So, do yourself a favor: Go find your passport and check the expiration date. If it’s expiring within the next year, send it in for renewal now since many countries require that you have at least six months validity left on your passport to enter – even if you’re going for just one night. Here are 10 more passport tips that will save you time, money and headaches.

RELATED: How to Take a Perfect Passport Photo

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