LOS ANGELES - The U.S. State Department reported on Wednesday that it temporarily suspended its online passport booking system after it says scammers used automated programs or bots to sell appointment slots to customers with "urgent travel needs."
"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," the State Department said in an update posted to its consular affairs website.
The agency explains that fraudulent third parties were using automated software to spam the passport booking site in order to secure available appointments, causing heavy site traffic and preventing people from booking their urgent passport-related appointments.
This spamming of the website from bots made the agency unable to determine which requests were fraudulent and which were legitimate.
"We are making this change to address the problem of third parties booking appointments online using automated programs, or bots, and then selling these appointments to customers with urgent travel needs. We are not affiliated with any third-party appointment booking services, and we do not charge a fee to make an appointment," the update added. "Third parties booked all available appointments within minutes of the appointments being posted online which prevented many of you from making urgent appointments, and made it difficult to determine whether your appointment was legitimate or fraudulent."
The State Department assured customers who submitted requests before the temporary shut down that their appointments would be honored. If you scheduled an appointment before 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday, July 21, the State Department urges you to call their customer support line in order to update an existing appointment.
Additional staff has been added to handle the increased call volume of incoming customers in hopes of reducing wait times, the agency wrote in its update.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.