Online passport renewals on the horizon. Email scams on TSA program members

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 4 of the February 2022 issue.
Capturing the colorful port of Nyhavn in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 552nd issue of your monthly worldwide travel magazine — marking 46 full years of publication! — where subscribers share discoveries and recommendations along with insights on travel outside of the US.

ITN was the first travel publication to boldly print travelers’ candid comments, including negative experiences about airlines, tour companies, hotels, etc., and we continue to do so, always allowing any company the opportunity to respond and, importantly, fact-checking to the best of our ability.

(Not that errors don’t show up. I just noticed that my issue count has been off by 1 since my August 2020 column. Sheesh!)

In addition to printing subscribers’ trip reports, we pass along news of interest to international travelers. Here are a couple of items that qualify.

President Biden signed an executive order on Dec. 13 that will be beneficial to travelers. It contains two items. One directs the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to investigate ways of reducing airport security line lengths and wait times. Unfortunately, travelers won’t experience anything different at the airport from this order for some time, if ever, since it doesn’t actually require the TSA to do anything other than brainstorm some solutions.

The second item, however, should soon make things easier for anyone renewing their passport. Biden has ordered the US Department of State to implement online US passport renewals.

At press time, anyone renewing a passport could do so only by mail or in person at a passport agency, and, either way, it could take up to 11 weeks. (Applications could be filled out on a computer but had to be printed and mailed in. They could not be submitted online.)

Since the bulk of the time it takes for a passport to be renewed is spent on the actual processing once the application is received by the agency, renewing online won’t shave off that much time, but it will make applying for a passport renewal more convenient.

An applicant will be able to complete the form at home within a few minutes, and if there’s an error or problem — say, some information is missing or a passport photo doesn’t meet requirements — the applicant will know right away and be able to fix it instead of waiting to hear from a passport agency that his application cannot be processed as submitted.

Another benefit is that an applicant will not have to mail his old passport in as part of the process. That should alleviate any danger of an old passport, with valid visas, being lost in the mail.

The executive order did not include a date on which travelers can begin applying for passport renewals online, but it’s something to look forward to.

If you are a member of one of the TSA’s Trusted Traveler Programs (including Global Entry and TSA Pre√), there are a couple of email scams that you need to be aware of.

The first warning comes directly from the TSA, who reported that scammers are using fake email notices to steal money. As described by a TSA spokesperson, a scammer will send an email notifying a Trusted Traveler Program member that it’s time to renew, also supplying a link in the email to facilitate paying for the renewal. Following that link, the targeted traveler will be taken directly to a PayPal page to submit his payment. However, that payment is going to a scammer, not the TSA.

While PayPal is an option offered for paying for membership renewal when renewing on the TSA’s actual website (, it will not be the only option, and an email from the TSA will not link directly to any payment options, only to its renewal site. Any email purporting to be from the Trusted Traveler Program that links only to Paypal should be ignored.

There is a more insidious type of scam out there, however, that could cost you more than just money.

An ITN subscriber wrote in November, “Your readers may be interested in a problem I recently had. In early spring, I got a message that my Global Entry membership was about to expire. I clicked on the provided link to log in, but it wouldn’t take my password. After three attempts, I tried to see if I could change my ‘forgotten’ password but to no avail. Then I completely forgot about it.

“In October, I got another email saying my membership was about to expire. This time, instead of using the link, I typed in the URL for the TSA website, and I was able to change my password. However, I discovered that my Global Entry doesn’t expire until July 2025!”

Though ITN could not confirm it, what this reader is describing sounds very much like what is known as a “phishing” scam.

In a phishing scam, an impostor will send an email that is designed to look like it’s from a legitimate source, sometimes even using a logo from the group being impersonated, such as the seal of the US Department of Homeland Security. A phishing email will ask the recipient to click a link in order to sign into his account with the organization or company. Following that link, the person will be taken to a site that appears to be genuine and asked to type in his user name and password.

But the site is not genuine at all. Instead of logging in to the site, the victim may get an error message, and any link provided for resetting a password, while there for show, will not work. All he really is doing by following the instructions is sending the scammer his user name and password, which can then be used by the scammer to log in to the actual website and access the victim’s private information.

With the user name and password for a Trusted Traveler Program member’s account, a scammer can get more than enough information to steal the account holder’s identity. ITN explained all of this to the above-mentioned subscriber, who stated that she felt comfortable having reset her password on the real TSA website.

So how can you protect yourself from a phishing email appearing to be from the TSA or Homeland Security?

First and foremost, check the email address of the sender. Every email address from the TSA and Homeland Security will end with “.gov.” If the email address ends in anything else, such as .com or .net, it was not sent from a US government source.

Likewise, any link contained in the email should be for a website whose main webpage URL has a top-level domain that ends in .gov. One thing to watch out for is a link in the email that DOES have a .gov address but which, once clicked, leads to a different URL, one without .gov, so pay attention not just to the link but to the URL of the final website.

If you’re at all wondering whether an email is a phishing attempt or not, the best advice is to not click anything in the email at all but to sign into your account by directly visiting the website (as the above-mentioned subscriber did) and see if the message in the email is repeated in your account information.

If you do find that you’re the victim of a fraudulent email, the TSA recommends that you contact your local police and also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission’s fraud division (, in addition to contacting your bank and/or credit card issuers if any financial information was shared.

• A CORRECTION to note — In Donna Pyle’s account of visiting Switzerland (Jan. ’22, pg. 12), she mentioned Hotel Testa Grigia, which ITN mistakenly placed in Zürich; it is located in Zermatt. We thank Emily Moore of Greenville, Illinois, for catching that error.

• An OVERSIGHT — In last month’s “Where in the World?” contest, the location of the place pictured in the November “mystery photo,” on page 31 (Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, Denmark), was identified, but we neglected to credit the subscriber who took that picture. The photographer was Skip Carpenter of Coronado, California.

Thanks for supplying the photo, Skip.

Speaking of contests, we’re running a “Where Were You in 2021?” contest. Every participant will have a shot at the prizes in the drawings.

If you are an ITN subscriber, just make a list of all of the countries you visited outside of your own anytime in 2021 (dates not required) and email it to or mail it or a postcard to Where Were You in 2021?, c/o ITN, 2122 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include your name and address in case your name is drawn.

The countries our subscribers visited will be tallied, with the resulting statistics helping to attract potential advertisers (a key element in keeping this magazine going). I’ll share the results — and name the winners of the drawings — in the June issue. The entry deadline is March 31, 2022.

Heading off a few inquiries, I’ll note that Tibet, Hong Kong and Macau all are part of China, and visits to any or all count as only one visit to China. Likewise, a tromp through England, Scotland, Wales and/or Northern Ireland will be counted as a single visit to the United Kingdom.

In our tally, nonsovereign territories will be listed separately from official nations.

ITN readers are among the world’s most traveled. If you traveled internationally last year, tell us where!

Upon renewing her subscription recently, longtime ITN reader Tressie Alvernaz of Lakeside, California, wrote, “Thank you for this wonderful publication. I look forward to reading it each month from cover to cover. Yes, I do read all the ads!

“My late husband and I traveled to all seven continents and well over 100 countries. I have ITN Travel Award certificates hanging on my wall to prove it. I have sent photos for the ‘Where in the World?’ page and have submitted guesses as to the mystery locations pictured there.

“Thank you again for all the hours of enjoyment I have had from reading your wonderful publication. I DO pass them on to others to enjoy.”

Thank you, Tressie, for spreading the word about ITN and for sending in travel photos as well. (We’re always looking for submissions for our “Where in the World?” page. They don’t even have to be “stumpers.”)

With your help and that of all of our subscribers, as well as the support of our advertisers (not to mention the work of a dedicated staff and the selfless largesse of ITN’s publisher, Helen Noble), we’re all fortunate that this travel magazine has continued to be published… during a travel-canceling pandemic! Thank you, all.