FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – After processing a record number of passport applications this spring, the Tarrant County Clerk’s office issued a warning Thursday, June 17 about businesses offering to speed up the process.
Clerks are hearing almost daily from customers who paid a fee to a third party thinking it would fast track their application.READ MORE: 3 Dead After Crash Involving Two Speeding Vehicles In Dallas, Police Say
In some cases they received nothing more than directions to the closest county office.
The potential problem has surfaced as travel resumes and wait times for new passports can be 10 weeks according to the clerk’s office.
The U.S. State Department website says routine service can take as long as 18 weeks.
Expedited service can potentially shorten the wait to four to six weeks, for a $60 fee.
However, the overnight service previously offered by third party couriers has not resumed following a change in passport operations during the pandemic.
Stefan Abraham wasn’t aware of that when someone referred him to a business called Sameday Passport and Visa in Arlington. He needed a passport for a family trip to Mexico in July, but found it would be two months before he could even get an appointment at his local post office in Grand Prairie.
Abraham said he was skeptical of the nondescript office, and the way the employee simply flipped through his already completed application, but he was eager to have his documents in time to travel.
“After we wrote our checks and everything, that’s when they told us ‘ok it’s not going to be in a couple days, it’s going to be four to six weeks.’ So that’s when my mom and me were like, what?” he said.
He said he paid $149, plus another fee for pictures, and was told to go to a county office to complete the process.READ MORE: Texas Experiencing Another COVID-19 Surge
Once there, he realized he realized he hadn’t been moved to the front of the line.
“One of the workers over there, said no you don’t have to sign in, you can walk in. It’s free. So I’m sitting there, I’m like, wait a minute.”
The picture he had paid for, was also unacceptable he said, and the county office had to take it again.
An employee at the business Tuesday, who said his name was Pasha, said customers are told upfront they are paying for application assistance, since the courier service is not available.
They are not told, he said, that they will receive their passport any sooner than by using a local office.
Asked why some customers had reported paying different amounts of money, another employee said some customers asked for more information or details that necessitated different charges.
Clint Ludwig, the chief deputy in the clerk’s office said passport applicants should know there is no need to pay a third party to schedule an appointment at their office. The county clerk and Arlington Police encouraged anyone who suspected they were a victim of fraud to report what happened.
Ludwig said passport applications started to increase around Spring Break this year, and never slowed down.
In April the five county offices processed 4,649 applications.
They did another 4,375 in May.MORE NEWS: Administrative Court Judge Orders Mask-Wearing To Enter Dallas County Courthouses
With long wait times across the country, offices have processed applications for residents of Florida, Indiana and Pennsylvania, as people visiting North Texas take advantage of available appointments they may have to wait for in their home state.