Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Carmel on the Case: Passport Problems
New rules this year require U.S. citizens to carry passports for many destinations that used to require nothing more than a driver's license. As a result, there's a backlog to get passports. And now questions are being raised about a South Florida company that promises to cut through the red tape. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.
WSVN -- Christine Marozsan's bags were packed, her plane ticket paid for, and the only thing between her and a sick grandmother in Budapest was an expired passport.
Christine Marozsan: "My main concern is I wish I could see me grandmother again."
Carmel Cafiero: "Are you concerned you may never see her again?"
Christine Marozsan: "Yes, yes."
Christine was crying because her flight left the day before.
On board was her entire family, all making a special trip to see her grandmother.
She was left behind after doing business with Passports and Visas -- an internet company that promises to get passports in a hurry.
Christine Marozsan: "I thought using the internet is a new and efficient way to do things."
Christine says she paid $79 and expected her passport in a matter of days -- weeks later -- nothing.
Christine Marozsan: "It was guaranteed in big red bold letters on the first page, 'Guaranteed Service.'"
Al Polizzi: "I can say it is a company with an unsatisfactory record with the BBB."
At the West Palm Beach office of the Better Business Bureau, spokesman Al Polizzi says close to 100 complaints have been logged about Passports and Visas.com.
Al Polizzi: "Basically, non-delivery of what was ordered, indeed the passports."
So I went to the company's Miami office after repeated attempts to reach someone by phone.
Inside, two men were working at a computer, which had the state department's passport site called up.
Carmel Cafiero: "Can you talk to me?"
Employee: "Well, I can have my manager speak with you."
Carmel Cafiero: "Cool, great."
While we waited, I couldn't help but notice the company's telephone lines were very busy.
Christine says it sometimes took her 45 minutes to reach anyone here.
Miguel Cornevaca: "Hi."
Carmel Cafiero: "Hi, are you the manager?"
Miguel Cornevaca: "Yes."
Miguel Cornevaca was familiar with Christine's case. It turns out her passport was delivered the day after 7 News faxed the company asking about her case.
Miguel Cornevaca: "It was delivered yesterday."
Carmel Cafiero: "Yes, but her flight was last week."
Miguel Cornevaca: "Oh."
He blames delays on the government.
Miguel Cornevaca: "Because the passport agency is backed up, we can't do the passports as fast as they say."
Carmel Cafiero: "So why should people pay your company at all then?"
Miguel Cornevaca: "I have no idea -- that's between -- actually, if the owner was here -- he came here to help out on the packages and all the process and everything. And, I don't know, we're just trying to see -- get everything out as fast as we can."
Cornevaca gave me the owner's Atlanta phone number; he did not return our call.
This time of year is prime time for passport applications, and they do get backed up.
But, if you go to the office, you can get your passport quicker.
Ryan Dooley: "Anybody who is traveling within 14 days can come into our passport agency, and they will get a passport provided so that their documentation is in order."
Ryan Dooley is the Assistant Regional Director for the State Department. He says the government accepts applications from several companies that offer citizens faster passport service.
But, he says, you can do the same for yourself -- and that's information Christine Marozsan, no doubt, wishes she had last month.
However, there is a happy ending here.
Once she got the passport, she rebooked, and we caught up with her, as she was leaving for Budapest.
Christine Marozsan: "I would not be standing here if it wasn't for you guys -- thank you so very much."
The delay cost half of her vacation, but the opportunity to be with her grandmother is priceless.
IF THERE'S SOMETHING YOU THINK CARMEL SHOULD INVESTIGATE, GIVE HER A CALL: