To the criminal world, a United States passport is a golden ticket. Not only can it be altered to get someone in and out of the country, it can also be used to prove citizenship for a job, to get a driver’s license, to register to vote, and more. According to the U.S. State Department, criminals commit passport fraud to conceal their identities as fugitives and terrorists, to commit financial crimes, and to conceal criminal activities such as smuggling drugs or people into the country. According to The Complete Black Market Price Guide, the average price for a stolen passport is $3,500, a fortune compared to stolen credit card numbers that can sell for as little as $5. No wonder passport theft and fraud is a growing problem.
The summer travel season is upon us, so when you’re traveling, here are some common-sense ways to protect your precious passport:
- Keep your passport with you whenever you’re out and about, and carry it in an internal pocket or travel belt. Never place it in a purse or backpack, even if the backpack locks.
- Lock it in the hotel safe when you’re out of your room, and don’t leave it out in plain sight, even when you’re just in the bathroom.
- Use your driver’s license as identification in all places that do not require a passport.
- Never let your passport out of your sight at a travel agency or anywhere else.
- Bring photocopies of your passport and pack an extra set of passport photos in case you need to replace it on the road. (Make photocopies of all of your travel documents—passport and other identification, itinerary, airline tickets, etc.—and carry them separate from the originals.)
- If your passport is stolen, report it to the local police immediately and contact the American embassy or consulate. You will be asked to complete a Lost or Stolen notification form, which will invalidate your missing passport to reduce the risk of someone using it illegally.
Your passport needs to be protected even when you’re at home, because burglars and others can also commit passport fraud. Keep your passport in a safe or safe deposit box when you’re not using it, and make sure you get it back if you bring it to a job or government agency for proof of citizenship. A safe passport makes for happy travels, around the world and through your life!