Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans living outside the country and needing to apply online for the recently introduced e-passport should be wary of fraudsters masquerading as employees or agents of the Registrar General’s Office.
The fraudsters, who are said to be mostly active in South Africa where there is a huge Zimbabwean community, are said to be using social media platforms with fake websites, Facebook pages and WhatApp numbers with official-sounding names to fleece passport seekers of their hard earned cash.
Zimbabweans can now apply and pay for the newly-introduced e-passport online and this has seen the emergence of the fraudsters who are claiming that they can facilitate the issuance of passports and other national documents.
But the Government has recruited no agents to either issue or obtain any national documents on its behalf. These documents include passports, IDs, birth certificates and drivers licences among others.
The fraudsters, some of whom have been identified in South Africa through the platforms that they have been advertising from, have duped several people of thousands of United States dollars and South African rands through such practices.
Most charge from US$200 and above.
Some of the platforms being used are known as Makombe Passport Official Facebook page, Zimbabwe Passport and ZSP Permit Renewal Facebook page, Express E-Passports for Zimbabweans Abroad Facebook page, 24Hr Zimbabwe E-Passports Facebook Page, WhatsApp number +263781279790, Zim Passport in SA Facebook page and Zim Passport Online Facebook page. Others are https//zimpassports.online/index.html: firstname.lastname@example.org, landline +263 242 792751, Capitec Bank, Account number 1653729757.
None of these are the official Zimbabwe Government websites that are used for legitimate passport requests.
In an advisory note, the Zimbabwe Embassy and its consulates in Cape Town and Johannesburg said it had come to their attention that these platforms who were advertising on social media. After checking with the Registrar General’s Office in Harare the platforms have been denounced as scams.
“It has come to the attention of the Consulate that there are adverts circulating on various social media platforms, originating from unknown scammers and fraudsters purporting to be employees and or agents of the Zimbabwe Government’s Civil Registry Department, falsely promising online facilitation of the e-passport and other national identity documents such as IDs, birth certificates, drivers licences,” reads part of the statement.
The Consulate said these scammers and criminal elements continue to heartlessly fleece unsuspecting applicants of their hard-earned cash.
“The Consulate wishes to categorically state that these bogus individuals and platforms, including anyone claiming to provide online Zimbabwe documents application DO NOT represent the Zimbabwe Government’s Civil Registry Department or Embassies and Consulates.
“As such, our revered nationals should dismiss these fraudsters with the contempt they deserve,” reads the advisory note.
“The old machine-readable passports remain in use until their expiry date. The introduction of the e-passport does not in any way affect the validity of already issued machine-readable passports. New e-passport applications can only be done in person at the Civil Registry Department in Zimbabwe.
“The Consulate will continue to process applications for machine-readable (old) passports using the old system until further notice. A separate public notice will be issued once the mission is ready to migrate to the new application system,” further reads the statement.
To avoid being conned, Zimbabwe nationals have been urged to use official communication such as the Ministry of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage (Twitter handle: @Moha_Zim, contact details on +263 242 702 295-9 and +263 242 708 384) and the Zimbabwe Consulate Cape Town (+27 21 461 1994-5; +27 84 829 0441; +27 84790 9230 or Email; email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Other official sites, addresses and numbers are the Zimbabwe Consulate: Johannesburg (Facebook Page: Zimbabweconsulate Boeing Road Bedfordview; Twitter handle: @Zimbabweconsulatejhb; WhatsApp +27 82 82 49435, Phone +27 11 615 5879 or +27 11 037 3400; Email email@example.com or website www.zimbabweconsulate.co.za.
Meanwhile in another latest development, Zimbabweans can now apply and pay for the e-passport online as the booking system has now gone live.
The online passport application system is capable of serving 20 people every 20 minutes.
Applicants using the online platform pay US$120 for an ordinary passport and US$220 for an emergency document. The website expresscentrezw.com, readily gives instructions on available booking schedules.
It also gives an applicant further instructions to complete the application process.
An Express Passport Office Centre has since been opened at the Registrar-General’s Office in Harare to specifically handle online applications.
It is believed that the process of applying and collecting a passport can be done in 48 hours compared to seven days for those who apply in person.
Our sister paper the Sunday Mail this week interviewed the manager of the Express Passport Office Centre, Mr Terence Mutemararo, who said that the online application system sought to eliminate congestion at passport offices.
“When the e-passports were launched last year, it was made clear that they will be two categories of applications: One with a seven-day turnaround which we started with and now we have introduced the Express Centre that issues passports in 48 hours from the time of applications,” he said.
The Express Passport Office Centre is considered convenient to the elderly, persons with disabilities and those who need emergency passports.
“The main purpose of the Express Centre is to bring convenience to those who need emergency passports. There are a lot of people that might be working but their time is limited, so they can simply book a time and get the passports at their earliest time of convenience.
“The major purpose of the online booking is to de-congest this place and make sure that people come at their accorded time slots. It is capable of serving 20 people per every 20 minutes given the number of booths we have and the number of people serving inside,” he said.
The online booking system will also be decentralised to other parts of the country as well as in the Diaspora for collection of the passports, officials say.
Acting Registrar-General Mr Henry Machiri was also quoted saying everything was on course to ensure e-passports were obtained in all the country’s 10 provinces by the end of June.
Bulawayo offices are being refurbished and people will start applying for e-passports in the country’s second-largest city in a few weeks.
“In terms of Bulawayo, the technicians are working flat-out and before the end of this month Bulawayo will now be issuing e-passports,” he said.