Unlike your Social Security card, you don’t necessarily have to keep your passport hidden. Crooks can’t do much with its details alone.
In all likelihood, various institutions already have copies of your passport. You’ve probably shown it to hotels, car rental companies, travel agencies, and airport staff before.
However, to what extent can you safely share copies of it before you start compromising your security? Although your passport information alone might not hold much value for criminals, losing it can still lead to identity theft.
You can still disclose your passport information. However, to help you ensure its safety, we gathered the most crucial passport fraud insights from cybersecurity resources, data privacy guidelines, and ID theft stories.
By the end of this piece, you’ll understand why and how passport details get stolen.
Please read without skipping. We’ll tell you whether to report stolen passport numbers to the FTC. Its website muddles the instructions for compromised passports, which discourages many victims from contacting the necessary institutions altogether.
Let’s dive into our in-depth explanation of passport fraud!
How crooks abuse stolen passport information
At a glance, crooks can’t do much with your passport number alone. Based on the data privacy resources we read, someone with it would need several other supporting documents and IDs to commit fraud.
Does this mean you can freely divulge your passport number? Unfortunately, no.
When you think about it, skilled criminals who have your passport likely have access to other pieces of crucial information as well. Trust us—they won’t stop with just your passport.
We guarantee that anyone with ill intentions will exploit all your data privacy vulnerabilities.
Another issue with passport fraud is you can’t easily track it. Unlike credit bureaus or card-issuing banks, airports don’t send travel audits to their clients.
Crooks can use your passport to visit different low-security countries without you ever finding out about it.
You’d have to monitor your passport information yourself. To understand what warning signs to watch out for, familiarize yourself with the most common ways crooks abuse these details, which include:
1. Selling them on the dark web
CNBC reports that cybercriminals often sell the passport numbers they steal. One or two people’s passports might not mean much, but a master list containing thousands of stolen info easily sells for several grand.
Crooks buying these lists don’t expect to use every passport listed. They just need to extract more information from a handful of individuals with good credit reports and banking statements.
From there, they’ll execute various fraudulent transactions. Meanwhile, the victims might only notice these attacks once they notice irregularities in their credit reports, monthly bills, and banking statements.
Sadly, you can’t stop crooks from purchasing your stolen passport. However, if you have a dark web monitoring tool, you can use it to scan for listings mentioning your personal information.
2. Counterfeiting passports
Again, crooks can’t do much with just your passport number. But if they also have other pieces of personal information like your name, place of birth, and birthdate can already replicate your passport.
Of course, very few crooks can create perfect copies. Instead of flawlessly duplicating the security designs, they just create “passable” copies that they can use for transactions with less rigid inspections.
For instance, illegal immigrants probably can’t trick the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). However, they have a good shot of entering visa-free territories.
Unfortunately, most victims won’t know if someone is using their passport information to fly overseas and enter smaller countries. However, you can dispute court orders and criminal allegations that may arise from these instances.
3. Executing financial fraud
Criminals can use stolen and fake passports to extract banking information. Depending on their skills and tenacity, they could even access your Social Security Number and past tax returns.
These instances are quite rare, though. In all likelihood, crooks only commit these crimes on people they at least know to an extent.
Fortunately, it’s easier to track misused banking information. Although you can’t tell if someone stole your passport information, banks and credit bureaus can help monitor your financial transactions.
Apart from securing your information, monitor your bank statements yourself as well. You must watch out for irregularities.
4. Forging identification documents
Again, the DHS has a rigid passport authentication. However, other agencies and companies probably can’t tell between counterfeit and legit passports, especially if they don’t specialize in travel services.
Crooks will abuse these vulnerabilities for their personal gain. They can get new credit cards, apply for payday loans, create other IDs, and rent vehicles under stolen identities.
What’s worse is that they will likely ignore the responsibilities that come with these transactions.
For instance, let’s say someone leased a car under your name. The crook can get away with stealing it if they move to a different state and use fake plate numbers.
5. Committing criminal identity theft
Law enforcement officers typically ask suspects for their IDs. Although the cops watch out for fake documents, some well-made counterfeit passports might fall through the cracks.
Note that arrests happen very quickly. And unfortunately, some instances leave law enforcement officers little room for document verification and background checks.
As a result, the crook gets away with using your personal information. You’ll likely find out about this if you get a court order or arrest warrant.
Common ways crooks steal passport information
Yes, different agencies and individuals likely have copies of your passport. However, you’re not 100% defenseless against identity theft.
You can effectively minimize your susceptibility to passport fraud if you know how crooks extract personal information. That way, they’ll never catch you by surprise.
Identity thieves often obtain stolen passports through:
- Phishing Schemes: Avoid clicking links from random emails. Hackers trick victims into divulging personal information by creating seemingly legit landing and login pages encoded with keystroke logging viruses.
- Impersonation: Verify the other person’s identity before sending information to someone over the internet. Watch out for scammers impersonating travel agencies and airline companies.
- Petty Theft: Crooks can steal your actual passport, sell the information, and create multiple copies of it for their fraudulent transactions.
- Brute-Force Hacking: Choose secure passwords. Otherwise, skilled cybercriminals can break into your emails using advanced brute-force hacking tactics.
It’s important to view everyone asking for personal information with skepticism. Whether you’re sending your passport number or your health insurance details, double-check why the other party needs it.
Reporting compromised passport information
What should you do after discovering that someone is misusing the information on your passport?
Please don’t ignore the situation. Again, although your passport number doesn’t compromise your privacy too much, it serves as a gateway to other personal information.
You’d do well to take action immediately and contact the following institutions:
1. CA – State Department
You should contact the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) – U.S. Department of State right away if you lose your passport. It will help you apply for a new ID. You can also switch to a new password number so that your old one becomes inactive.
2. Credit bureaus
If the crooks have already used your passport information for financial fraud, consider setting up fraud alerts on your credit report. That way, they won’t be able to access your credit as freely anymore.
3. Local law enforcement
For petty theft cases, reach out to your local law enforcement officers. They could help you retrieve your ID if you have leads on the perpetrator.
If you feel your personal data was recently compromised, reach out to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It protects consumers from fraudulent, deceptive transactions.
You can go to its online portal and share your story. You should get a data recovery plan customized to suit your situation.
When reporting compromised data on the FTC website, you’ll notice that passport information isn’t included in the options. However, please don’t take it as a sign to skip your ID theft report.
Instead of using the Get Started section, head to the Browse Recovery Steps page. There, you’ll find detailed restoration tips explaining how to spot other compromised data.
Also, feel free to contact its head office at (202) 326-2222. An authorized FTC representative can guide you through instances and issues the online portal doesn’t cover.
Best ways to protect your passport information
Whether you like it or not, your passport number is no longer confidential. If you’ve traveled before, you’ve likely sent copies of it to several institutions already—from airline companies to travel agencies.
With that said, you can still combat passport fraud. Here are some tips to prevent the likelihood of your passport information falling into the wrong hands:
- Offer other government-issued IDs: Always ask if you can use other IDs or undergo another identification process before disclosing passport information.
- Think twice before sharing copies of your passport: You should only give actual copies of your passport to widely known and trusted institutions.
- Never post photos of your passport online: Please stop posting photos of your passport and boarding pass. Stick to selfies and sceneries instead.
Overall, be mindful about how and when you disclose your passport information.
Securing the information on your passport
Should you stop sharing your passport information? Of course, not.
Unless you stop traveling, third parties like airline companies, hotels, and travel agencies will request copies of your passport. Trust us—you can’t travel domestically or internationally otherwise.
That said, you still shouldn’t indiscriminately disclose your passport information to random strangers. Follow your best judgment.
For instance, disclosing your passport information for travel-related activities like booking flights or making overseas room reservations is normal. However, random apps demanding pictures of your passport for no reason definitely seem shady.