When you’re planning a trip abroad, one of the most important items on your packing list is your passport. This small book is your ticket to exploring new countries and cultures, but it also contains a wealth of personal information. Thieves can sell your passport or information or use it in fraud or identity theft. Plus, without your passport, you could face difficulties getting home.
It’s essential you take steps to protect your passport and other documents such as visas or residency cards while traveling. This includes keeping your identification in a secure location and making copies of the main pages. Read on as we take a closer look at how thieves swipe passports, what they do with stolen documents, and how to keep your passport safe.
Have you ever been advised to try to look like a local while traveling? This is because tourists tend to stand out and are prime targets for passport thieves. Pickpockets often frequent busy areas, targeting distracted sightseers. They’ll take any opportunity to swipe a wallet or passport from a backpack, purse, or loose pocket.
Other thieves will simply steal an entire bag, hoping the contents will include something valuable. And passports left loose in hotel rooms are easy picking for any staff members with access to a room key.
Then there are scammers who will get you to part with your passport willingly, as part of some ruse. For example, they might request to see your passport when booking an excursion or making a purchase. While some of these requests are legitimate, there’s a strong chance that if your passport is taken out of your sight, you won’t be seeing it again.
A ruse that’s becoming increasingly popular closer to home involves passport applications. With the sudden spurt of post-pandemic travel, there’s a huge backlog in many countries as would-be travelers scramble to renew expired passports. Enter opportunistic criminals who promise quick turnaround times on passport applications but are actually stealing information.
When it comes to identity documents, a passport is really the jackpot for thieves. Indeed, in 2021, passports were the most attacked form of ID.
Thieves can sell your passport or information on the black market to other criminals who will use it for identity theft or to commit fraud. For example, your passport can be used to open accounts and take out loans in your name.
Some criminals might attempt to apply for a new passport with your information or forge one entirely. If the passport hasn’t been flagged, criminals can even use the original for international travel.
Protecting your passport at all times is vital, but especially important while traveling. Here are some top tips for passport security:
Although the hope is that you and your passport never part ways, you have to be prepared for the worst. If your passport is lost or stolen, having an accessible copy of the main passport page and any relevant visas can help prove who you are and expedite a replacement. Take a hard copy with you while traveling but make sure it’s kept separately from the real document.
Also, scan and save a digital copy and upload it to a cloud storage system like Google Drive or Dropbox. This way, it’s accessible anywhere you have an internet connection. Keeping a photo of your passport on your phone is a good idea, too. You should also consider leaving a hard or digital copy with a trusted friend or family member just in case you’re unable to access your copies.
Most people won’t need to carry their passport around with them while traveling so leaving it in the hotel room makes sense. However, it must be kept in a safe that remains locked whenever you leave the room.
If you do need to carry your passport with you or don’t feel comfortable leaving it at your place of accommodation, make sure that you keep it somewhere that is difficult for pickpockets to access. Special passport belts or lanyards work as long as they are used properly such that the passport is always in front of your body and the holder is closed securely.
If you need to replace an expired, lost, or stolen passport, always do so through the proper channels. For example, in the US, the Department of State handles passport applications.
If your passport does get stolen while you’re abroad, contact your embassy or consulate immediately. They can help you obtain a new or temporary passport and sort out any other issues that might arise. They also need to mark your stolen passport as invalid to prevent criminals from using it to travel.
Ideally, you should make a note of any important contact details before traveling, including the phone number for your country’s passport services and the address and phone number for your country’s embassy or consulate within the country you’re traveling to.
You should also report passport thefts to local police so the crime can be documented and investigated. While it’s unlikely that you will get your passport back, your report may help to prevent this happening to others.
Since your passport can be used in fraud or identity theft, you should inform your bank about the situation. This way, they can place a hold to prevent anyone using your passport to open or make changes to accounts in your name.
If you’d like more peace of mind concerning this and other types of fraud, an identity theft protection service such as Identity Defense can help. These services monitor for suspicious activity and help you resolve issues related to identity theft.
Editor’s Note: This article was written in collaboration with Identity Defense. Identity Defense is offering up to 50% off their service for US based Sixty and Me readers.
How do you protect your passport and other important identification when you travel abroad? What strategies have helped you to this day? Have you had to deal with passport theft? How did you proceed?