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,
    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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BREXIT: Could France let Brits stay more than 90 days without a visa?

For British second-home owners and people who enjoy long stays in France, the post-Brexit 90-day rule has come as a rude shock. But is it likely that a deal could be struck on this and would that even be legal for France to do as a member of the EU?

A silhouette of a couple, carrying an umbrella, as they walk along the Promenade des Anglais, in Nice, France.
How the visa waiver could be changed for Britons in France. Photo by Valery Hache / AFP

Since the start of 2021, Britons who do not have a carte de séjour residency permit or a visa have only been allowed to stay in France for 90 days in any 180-day period. 

There’s more on the range of visas available here.

READ ALSO ‘Not too complicated but quite expensive’ – getting a French visa as a Brit

It has come as a blow to thousands of UK nationals, who enjoyed up to six months a year in France in second homes, but now they must plan their time carefully to not fall foul of the law.

READ ALSO How second-home owners can properly plan for their 90-day limit in France

In neighbouring Spain, authorities in Valencia have called for Schengen rules to be suspended for Britons who want to spend extended periods there. Regional president Ximo Puig said he wanted “Brexit to be as Brexit-less as possible” and asked Spain’s Tourism Minister to “facilitate the visa situation” and “correct the restrictions” Britons now face.

French regions don’t have the same level of autonomy as those in Spain, but could France effectively change European rules at a local or national level?


France was a founder member of the EEC, which later developed into the EU, in 1958, and was also one of the five founding countries of the Schengen Zone in June 1985. The implementation of the agreement in France started at the end of March 1995. The UK joined the EEC in 1973 and never signed up to join the Schengen Zone – which is concerned with the free movement of people.

France had already signed bilateral travel agreements with Canada (1950), South Korea (1967), United States (1949), Israel (1969), Japan (1955), New Zealand (1947), and Singapore (1985) before formally adopting Schengen.

According to the official journal of the European Union, this allows countries that had these deals in place before joining Schengen to “extend beyond three months an alien’s stay in its territory in exceptional circumstances or in accordance with a bilateral agreement concluded before the entry into force of this Convention”.

But 90 days was the limit of pretty much all bilateral agreements between European nations and third countries, with the exception of those with diplomatic passports in some cases. 

In short – France didn’t have a bilateral agreement with the UK prior to joining Schengen and even if it did, this wouldn’t necessarily mean Brits could easily extend their stay past 90 days. 

Could a new Franco-British deal be signed?

It would be nice, wouldn’t it? The 90-day rule is an EU rule and – in theory – it is possible that France and the UK could come to a separate bilateral deal. 

The UK operates the 180 day rule, where people can spend 180 days per year in the country without a visa or residency and they don’t have to divide them into 90-day blocks.

This has raised hopes that a similar deal could be put in place for France and several campaigns have pushed for this.

However, the UK government has never raised this officially and publicly as an issue and – given current relations between the two countries are slightly scratchy – it seems that any changes to the current rules are far from imminent.

READ ALSO Can Brits living in France spend more than 90 days in another Schengen country?

Under current rules, is it possible for Britons in France to get an extension past 90 days?

An extension of the 90-day rule is possible, but only in exceptional circumstances.

In France, an extension of the Schengen visa can be granted to an applicant for very particular reasons – such as a case of force majeure or a humanitarian reason that means you cannot immediately return to your home country without incurring serious danger to yourself or your family. Be warned though, this more usually refers to countries where a war or humanitarian disaster has broken out.

READ ALSO Warning over fines for people who overstay 90-day limit in France

Alternatively, an extension may be granted for important personal problems, such as the need to treat a life-threatening illness. The extension of the visa, if it is granted for this reason, is usually subject to a €30 administration fee.  

The EU is preparing to launch ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) at the end of 2022. 

This doesn’t change the 90-day rule but it does mean citizens of visa-free countries including the UK will have to apply for authorisation every three years at a cost of €7, and also makes it easier to monitor the 90-day limits.

Is a deal between the two countries possible?

Anything is possible, but this would fall into a very grey legal area. 

On the one hand the EC states that “Member States may make specific arrangements in bilateral agreements. General exceptions provided for by national law and bilateral agreements shall be notified to the Commission”.

But on the other hand, “common measures on the crossing of internal borders by persons and border control at external borders should reflect the Schengen acquis incorporated in the Union framework”.

All things considered, the EU’s stance will probably be the deciding factor.

France is an EU big hitter and its current president is strongly committed to European ideals, making it unlikely that France would want to undermine EU principles in this way. Of course, domestic and international politics can change.

However, anyone hoping for a better relationship between the UK and the EU might have to wait 10-15 years, according to former British ambassador to France, Lord Ricketts.

Earlier this year, he told The Local: “I cannot see this [UK] government using time or negotiating capital on these issues, I think that the rights of expats are not a priority for either the UK government or EU governments. The agreements that are in place now are the high water mark.”

But he went on: “I don’t believe that the generation that has grown up with Easyjet, Eurostar and Erasmus will be satisfied with a distant relationship with the EU, I think they will want to move closer when they take power in 10 or 15 years.

“That’s when the relationship will reset.”