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Warning over ‘bot’ scammers targeting French admin appointments

If you have struggled to find an appointment with your local préfecture to arrange visas or residency permits you might have assumed that they were just busy - but you could be a victim of scammers who book up all online appointments using bots, and then charge people for a slot.

Warning over 'bot' scammers targeting French admin appointments
The scams are relatively unsophisticated but cause great stress. Photo: Nicolas Asfour/AFP

Since most préfectures moved to online appointment systems police have broken up several rings of professional scammers working in this way. 

But it seems that the problem is still ongoing, particularly in Paris and the surrounding suburbs, with official appointments scarce and a plethora of websites and Facebook pages offering ‘one click rendez-vous’ services for anything from €30 up to €400.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, 27, has been trying for almost a month to book an appointment at the Paris préfecture to pick up her completed visa.

She said: “It’s so frustrating, my visa application is complete, all I need is a slot for a five-minute appointment at the préfecture to show ID, pay the fee and collect the completed card, but I’ve been trying to book one since January 3rd and there are just no slots.

“I’m checking the website multiple times a day and still nothing.

“I friend told me that the préfecture puts up the new appointments for the week at one minute past midnight on Sunday, and they had got one my logging onto the website then, but I was all ready at the time, multiple browsers open and ready, but still couldn’t get one.”

The typical MO of the scammers is to use automated bots to immediately book all appointments that a préfecture posts. They then set up a website or Facebook page offering ‘easy rendez-vous’ appointments, alerts on available appointments or ‘one click RV services’ – users are then offered an available appointment in exchange for a fee.

Although some administrative procedures like visas or resident cards come with a fee, the appointment itself at the préfecture should be free.

Another American in Paris told us: “I used the new online service to renew my titre de séjour – it was brilliant, really simple and so much better than having to go down to the préfecture with a huge stack of documents every year – but now I can’t get an appointment to pick up the card, which should be the easy bit.”

READ ALSO 8 online services which make French bureaucracy easier

Another reader told us that it had taken them three weeks to get their appointment, but when they went on the appointed day staff were not busy and many appointment slots appeared to be vacant.

Local authorities periodically post warnings on their websites if scammers are operating in the area, while French media including Le Monde and Le Parisien have repeatedly flagged the problem. 

While the issue is annoying and stressful for many foreigners in France, for those in precarious situations such as refugees the problem is even more acute and can see them losing the right to legal status in France.

In areas like Seine-Saint-Denis, which has a large number of migrants living in the area, many people resort to turning up at the préfecture in the early hours of the morning, hoping to secure an appointment slot when offices open. 

Hannah added: “The whole situation is really stressing me out but I’m aware that I am in a privileged position – my visa is already sorted and I have a job where I can be constantly refreshing to préfecture website. Also I can take time off whenever I finally do get the appointment slot. Other people are not so fortunate and this must be terrible for them.”

Member comments

  1. People setting up bots to procure limited items is VERY common recently. This has been from computer graphics cards, sneakers, to now appointments at prefectures.

    These bots are very advanced and can bypass web based queues and CAPTCHA style detectors.

    Its a big problem for many online marketplaces and now it seems its spreading to disrupt local government appointments.

    The fact is, the people setting these up are terrible people. They prey on scarcity and use technology to leverage it for their own profit. They are no different than the scalpers who bought up masks/disinfectant/other necessary goods during the beginning of the pandemic.

    These bot users and creators have made communities where they share new updates to their software, new products that may have opportunities, etc. For more information on this behavior see,
    https://kotaku.com/creator-of-ps5-and-xbox-scalper-subscription-claims-to-1848377513
    This is reference to the scalpers buying gaming machines, but the effect is the same. Use bots to buy up or reserve limited items then resell it for higher cost.

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LIVING IN FRANCE

France to roll out ID cards app

Technology is being rolled out to allow people to carry their French ID cards in an app form - and could be rolled out to other cards, including driving licences and cartes de séjour residency cards.

France to roll out ID cards app

Holders of French carte d’identité (ID cards) will soon be able to carry certified digital versions of them on their smartphone or other electronic devices, a decree published in the Journal Officiel has confirmed.

An official app is being developed for holders of the newer credit card-format ID cards that have information stored on a chip. A provisional test version of the app is expected at the end of May.

Users will be able to use the ID card app, when it becomes available, for a range of services “from checking in at the airport to renting a car”, according to Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market.

All French citizens have an ID card, which can be used for proving identity in a range of circumstances and for travel within the EU and Schengen zone – the new app will be in addition to the plastic card that holders already have.

Under the plans, after downloading the app, card holders will need merely to hold the card close to their phone to transfer the required information. According to officials, the holder then can decide what information is passed on – such as proof of age, or home address – according to the situation.

The government has not given any examples of situations in which the app would need to be used, but has set out the main principles and the ambition of the plan: to allow everyone to identify themselves and connect to certain public and private organisations, in particular those linked to the France Connect portal.

READ ALSO What is France Connect and how could it make your life simpler?

Cards will continue to be issued for the foreseeable future – this is merely an extension of the existing system.

Only French citizens have ID cards, but if successful the app is expected to be rolled out to include other cards, such as driving licences, cartes de séjour residency cards or even visas. A digital wallet is being developed at the European level – Member States have until September to agree what it could contain.

READ ALSO Eight smartphone apps that make life in France a bit easier

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