Have you been asked to send your passport details to someone? Maybe you were required to send a copy of your passport but you are hesitant to do so because you are unsure if there are risks involved in doing so. Is it actually safe to send your passport number by email or there are some better methods to send your passport copy instead of just emailing it as requested?
The answer to the question of whether it is safe or not to send your passport via email is that while it is common practice, it is NOT completely safe. Sending your passport details (or any of your personal information for that matter) is not risk-free. There are different threats involved in this kind of practice.
In this article, we will talk about the possible things that could happen if your passport number is compromised. We will also provide some tips on how to send sensitive information via email and how to protect yourself from potential fraud.
What are the risks involved when sending your passport via email?
If you are a frequent traveler, you’ll probably know that providing your passport copy is quite the norm. In many countries, hotels and tourist companies are even required by law to ask for the traveler’s passport copy to verify their identity. Employers also often ask for passport details as part of the onboarding process, especially if you’re applying to work overseas.
However, if this is the first time you’ve ever been asked to send your passport number or a copy of your passport by email, you might be worried about whether it’s safe to email a picture of your passport. If you check out travel discussion boards, seasoned travelers often shrug off the idea of sending your passport copy electronically. Most of them say that it is normal and nothing bad will happen.
But is it really completely safe? What are the potential risks involved? Below are just some of the things that could happen when you send your passport via email.
Emails are not 100% secure. Whether you are using a free or paid email service, your email can still be hacked. In fact, according to a 2019 report by Verizon, 94% of malware is delivered via email. If you have sensitive information like your passport number in your outbox, this will put your information at risk.
Because email servers are not secure, they are susceptible to a data breach. Even the biggest email providers like AOL and Yahoo have been victims of data breach. But even if you’re using a very secure email service, you’re still not sure whether the recipient you’re sending the email to has good security.
When booking a hotel room with a 5-star hotel, you might not think twice about sending your passport copy but what if the hotel’s database gets attacked? In 2020, for instance, Marriott Hotel fell victim to a data breach that compromised the personal information of over 5 million guests. This was not the first time that it happened because back in 2018, Marriott also experienced a data breach where over 327 million people had their passport numbers compromised. This shows that once you’ve sent your passport details electronically, you no longer have any control over what happens on the other side of the communication.
Do you know that human error is one of the top causes of a data breach? In the UK, 90% of the data breaches that happened in 2019 were caused by human error. So, how does this statistic factor in when emailing your passport information?
If you make a mistake in sending your email by typing the wrong email address, you can’t take it back anymore if the recipient has read it already. Some email platforms allow you to recall your message but this will only be effective for a certain period or if the recipient has not read your email yet.
What can someone do with your passport number?
What if your email gets hacked or your passport information falls into the wrong hands? What can this person possibly do with your passport number? Will it really harm you? Here are some of the possible things that a fraudster can use your passport number for.
Your passport number can be used to steal your identity. The extent of the identity theft will depend on how much information the person has aside from your passport number. While your passport number alone may not be that useful in itself, it could still be used by someone in fraudulent transactions by providing your passport number instead of giving theirs.
If the scammer gets a copy of your passport, this could be used to forge fake passports. While this is not commonplace nowadays because of the added security measures on modern day passports, there are still people who do this type of scam.
Use or sell your passport scan
A new kind of identity theft involves using a scanned copy of your passport or passport scan for POI (Proof of Identity) purposes. POI is required by many websites and organizations in order for a user to verify their accounts. Some scammers who are planning to use these online accounts for malicious purposes may use another person’s passport scan for verification.
If your passport scan gets compromised, the hacker could either use or sell it on the dark web. This could get you involved in crimes you may know nothing about.
How to send a passport copy by email? Are there alternatives?
There are instances where you do not have a choice but to send your passport details by email, especially if it is being required for official purposes. So, what can you do to minimize the risks involved? Here are some tips that could help.
1. Use a secure cloud storage service and just email a link to the file
If you need to send a scanned copy of your passport, don’t attach it directly to the email message itself. If you do so, the file sits permanently on the recipient’s inbox and you won’t have any control if it will get deleted or not. So, if the recipient’s email gets hacked a year after, your passport scan still exists in the recipient’s inbox.
A safer way is to upload the file on a secure cloud storage service. Even if you are just being asked for your passport number, you can type the required details on a separate document and upload a PDF of that document on the cloud. You can then send the link to the file by email.
Once you have confirmed that the recipient was able to receive and access the file, you can then delete the file or revoke access. This way, the time that the recipient will have access to the file again is limited.
When choosing a cloud storage provider, avoid free services with weak encryption and security features. Carefully choose a secure cloud storage provider. You should also avoid free file-sharing services as they may not be very secure. Some of the most popular storage services include Dropbox, Google Drive, pCloud, and Sync.
2. Block out details that are not required
When sending a scanned copy of your passport, block out details that are not necessary. For example, tourist companies may not really need to know your date of birth, place of birth, the issue date, and expiration date of your passport. You can block out these details when sending the copy because the less information you share, the lower the risk.
3. Use a black and white passport scan
While it is more convenient to just take a picture of your passport and email it, sending a high definition copy of your passport by email makes it much easier for identity thieves to target you. It is better to just send a regular black and white copy of your passport or if you do not have a scanner, you can always edit the image on your phone to be less clear.
How to protect your personal information from passport fraud
It is very important to keep your personal information secure including your passport information. Even if it is common practice for a lot of people to send out copies of their passport in many transactions, keep in mind that you can never be too sure about the safety and security of how your personal details are used.
Below are some helpful tips to help you keep your passport info secure:
- Don’t send your passport details by email unless absolutely necessary. Check whether the person asking comes from a trusted company or organization.
- Only provide the bare minimum when being asked to provide passport details. For example, if you are asked for your name and passport number only, don’t send a copy of your entire passport electronically.
- If you are only being asked your passport number, check first if you can provide the details through a phone call instead of emailing it to the recipient.
- Avoid uploading a copy of your passport to websites for Proof of Identity as much as possible. These websites could be hacked and your info could be compromised.
- When sending sensitive files or information, use a secure cloud sharing service instead of emailing the file directly as an attachment.
With many fraudsters becoming more innovative and advanced, it is quite difficult to protect your personal info 100%. However, if you follow these tips, you can reduce the risks of being a victim of online fraud and scams.