When I was traveling in South America a couple of years ago, the only form of I.D. that I could use to get into bars was my passport. That meant carrying this important document on me while navigating the busy streets of Bogota, Colombia (all in the name of a few mojitos!). My friends cautioned me to be very careful with it, as thieves would be eager to steal a valuable American passport to sell on the black market. Luckily, I encountered no such nefarious characters and I heeded their advice and kept it close to my body at all times, rather than in a purse. However, if someone had stolen my passport, I would have been dealing with more than a damper on my vacation and a bunch of paperwork. The theft of a passport can easily lead to identity theft.
Prior to our current digital age, thieves would simply apply for passports using the information of a deceased person or someone who was very unlikely to apply for a passport themselves. The ability to quickly access databases now discourages this type of passport identity theft, although it does still happen occasionally.
A stolen passport is a wealth of information for an identity thief. It contains the owner’s name, birth date, nationality and place of birth, among other important tidbits, including the owner’s signature. There are passport cases available that hang around one’s neck and easily tuck underneath a shirt for relatively safe travel.
Although, modern passports are embedded with a microchip, which broadcasts a radio frequency. Unfortunately, identity thieves have learned how to “skim” this frequency to get access to your information, without even having to steal the physical passport. (They do, however, have to invade your personal space to do so, as the chips in passports are “passive” chips that only broadcast when they’re a very short distance from a card reader).
There is a good deal of concern that stolen passports could be used not only to access the owners’ private information, but also to aid in terrorist activities. Stolen passports can be “doctored” by skilled fakers and used by terrorists to travel under false identities.
If your passport is stolen while traveling, it’s important to immediately notify local authorities as well as your country of origin’s embassy. You may need other official documents such as a birth certificate or driver’s license in order to receive a replacement passport, so it may be a good idea to travel (carefully) with one or more of these other forms of identification. Even when at home, you should store your passport in a safe place.