An agent who was supposed to get me a visa to Saudi Arabia is not returning my passport. He wants me to send him extra money or buy his services, to mail my passport.

I am time constrained, as I have a flight coming up soon. What are my options against this travel agent? Can I call the police for this?

I am American.

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    This would seem like a police matter, though there may also be authorities that regulate travel agents depending on where you are. Are you and the travel agent in the US or another country? – Zach Lipton Dec 9 '16 at 1:42
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    You could also file a complaint with the State of California, which licenses travel agents, though it's unclear to me how quickly or effectively that complaint will be acted upon. Threatening to file such a complaint may prove useful though. Another course of action would be to get a new passport on an expedited basis. You'd have to pay the fee, but it would allow you to bypass this problem. – Zach Lipton Dec 9 '16 at 1:50
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    It's not quite clear to me what the circumstances are here. Did you agree to a set of services with the agent and now he's trying to raise the price? It might help if you describe exactly what happened in more detail. – Zach Lipton Dec 9 '16 at 4:10
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    As you asked him to get Saudi Visa, did he get it? Did he kept his end of deal of getting visa? How much money he is asking for mailing passport? Saudi does not issue tourist or any visa from outside of its borders, all typea of visa process needs to be started from inside Saudi by your sponsor, be it a travel agent for Tourism/Hajj-Travel, or employer if work related. And all these are just electronic visas, you print, and reach Saudi, and they stamp passports there. – DavChana Dec 9 '16 at 8:12
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    Clarifying on some of the questions here - I agreed to a service, umrah visa, and sent him the paperwork and application forms along with my passport. I have a FedEx receipt of my package to him, which indicates it was delivered to him. There was no contract signed for the service. He claims the visa is ready. He says he can ship it to me, as soon as I book my hotel through him. But I already have that taken care of elsewhere. We are talking about a 1000 dollars in hotel stay. I think I will threaten him with the police call - and yeah, agree that the website screams scam. :( – penguin Dec 10 '16 at 15:37

Well red flags first, Haram Tours does not seem to display a Seller of Travel registration number on its website, which is required by California law. Not a good start.

Your passport is property of the US Government, so for them to seize it without a government order is unlawful, even if you owe them money.

What can you do...

Get on the phone to them right away and ask that your passport be returned, politely always works better than shouting demands. Offer to pay shipping costs. Ask them about their Seller of Travel registration number and why it is not listed. Remind them that the passport belongs to the US Government and withholding it is unlawful.

If that fails immediately report the theft / seizure of your passport to the local police and to the federal government: Passport Services, CLASP Unit, Washington DC 20522 (1-877-487-2778).

If they failed to answer the Seller of Travel licensing question, report them via: https://sotas.doj.ca.gov/consumerComplaint.action

While you are talking with the passport services office ask about obtaining a second passport or a replacement passport on an expedited basis. But keep in mind, once your passport is reported as stolen or lost it becomes invalid, (even if found later) and expedited replacement passport can still take a few days to be issued.

  • Also note that expedited passports can be expensive, so it may very well be cheaper to just pay shipping for them to ship you the passport – David says Reinstate Monica Dec 11 '16 at 5:01
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    for them to seize it without a government order is unlawful Also, handing it to them may have been unlawful already (i.e. you handled against the law. Over here (The Netherlands) it stipulates that I'm only allowed to give my passport to certain professionals). Something to check and remember. Not that that justifies their behaviour. – user40521 Dec 11 '16 at 14:04
  • @JanDoggen - Never heard of any restrictions like that applicable to US passports, but one would have to guess that Netherlands law allows companies offering visa processing services to handle a Netherlands passport. And that was theoretically the requested service in the OP. – user13044 Dec 12 '16 at 6:56

I assume here that you did not sign any contract with this agent, since you do not mention that. If you did, please update your question as this would be a very different matter.

You have several options, but before pursuing any of them you need to reach out to the agent in writing and politely ask for your passport for being returned by overnight/priority mail at your expense. You can prepay the priority mail envelope at usps.com and send it to him by mail, or - even better - send an envelope with prepaid label to him inside another envelope.

Then get his reply whether he will or will not do that. Again, you need all this in writing. You can add optional threats to complain/sue if you want.

The reason for this is that you need evidence to prove that he actually possesses your passport in the first place. It is unclear whether you have any such evidence at that moment, and without it he may answer to Court/FBI/whoever that he doesn't know what you're talking about, as he never seen your passport.

Then you have several options, depending on how much the requested amount was - and assuming the requested amount was unreasonable - and how much you are pissed off:

  1. Haggle; ask why the amount is so high. $50 for mailing it back next morning via overnight mail is reasonable, but $2000 is not. There may be an explanation for that, and you might be able to negotiate if you want to.

  2. Send him the requested amount of money, receive your passport, and file the police/FBI complain for extortion. Check with a lawyer before writing your mail if you are going to do this, as some specific wording might be required in your state. This will likely only trigger any attention if the requested amount was large enough; I doubt FBI would care about $100 extorted.

  3. Sue him in a court (after you send him the requested amount of money, and received your passport, or before). Check with a lawyer before writing your mail if you are going to do this (you don't need to retain this lawyer to represent you). There are several options here, and you can do this together with option 2:

    (a). If you want to visit California, you can sue him in a small claims court there. You can ask the Court to award you the reasonable (no private jet) travel expenses. You'll likely have to go there at least twice. You must sue in his county (there are other restrictions as well).

    (b). You can hire an attorney in California, and sue him in a state court there;

    (c). You can hire a local attorney, and sue him in a Federal court in Michigan.

    Keep in mind, that you might win a judgment but this doesn't mean you'd get paid. Especially if this agent is of a dodgy type. This is yet another reason why you need an attorney, who can better assess your chance of recovering anything.

  4. As Zach Lipton suggested, you can try to get a new passport instead. I would not recommend this option, since you'd have to claim your passport as "lost or stolen". Those reports are counted (and your new passport will have a print "this passport is issued as replacement for a lost or stolen passport"), and if you manage to lose another one, you will only get a limited validity passport instead (scroll down to the bottom). Thus it is the least desirable option.

  5. Finally, you can send him the requested amount of money, receive your passport, and do nothing else (maybe write a bad Yelp review for him). Just write this off as shitty experience, and forget about this. If he asked for something like $100, this would probably be the most reasonable option.

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    Do nothing? How does this handle the fact of not having a passport? Great answer up to that final point though. – Wildcard Dec 9 '16 at 9:54
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    @wildcard It feels like do nothing implies just pay his ransom money to get the passport back and keep quiet – user13267 Dec 9 '16 at 12:27
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    This answer is awful. Holding your passport hostage is simply illegal. Period. Full Stop. Do not haggle, do not negotiate, report them to the state department forthwith. For all you know, your passport is already the hands of some criminal intent on some awful thing. – bmargulies Dec 9 '16 at 16:53
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    @bmargulies, It is often better (from the OP's point of view) to pay a relatively small amount to get the passport back and then sue to get the money back (and report to appropriate authorities) rather than immediately trying to start criminal proceedings. Keep in mind that even if the person is arrested the passport may well be kept by the police as evidence of the crime and not returned until any criminal case was completed (months/years). Thus, getting the passport back for a relatively small amount of money might be a good option from the point of view of the OP. – Makyen Dec 9 '16 at 19:17
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    @bmargulies: having personal experience dealing with police on similar matter, I suspect this is the slowest way to get anything resolved, especially through interstate lines. In my case I first heard back from FL District Attorney office three years after I filed the complain. They simply have no resources to timely deal with small amount scams. – George Y. Dec 10 '16 at 0:49

I would tell him he has 24 hours to mail it back or the police will be called. If he doesn't overnight it, call the police and report it stolen.

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    I wouldn't lead off with threats. Ask nicely and try to be cooperative. Telling someone they MUST do something is often the best way to ensure they never do it, even if it's detrimental to them later on. – Machavity Dec 10 '16 at 15:27

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