You might think that losing your passport isn’t that big of a deal unless you’re traveling soon. After all, it’s just a passport, right? You can easily have it replaced. Unfortunately, that is simply not true.
Your passport is more than just a document that proves your citizenship. It’s also a storehouse of personal information, including your name, date of birth, and place of birth.
If that information falls into the hands of criminals, they can use it to steal your identity and commit a whole list of crimes.
In this article, we’ll tell you what those crimes are and the methods criminals use to gain access to your passport’s information. We’ll also give you a few quick tips to keep your passport information safe.
Our team reviewed the latest updates on ID theft and cyber threats because they continue to evolve. We also checked official sites of authorities and experts and gathered the best tips for protecting yourself when your passport has been lost, stolen, or exposed in a data breach.
A lot of times, ID theft victims don’t realize that their ID has been stolen until a lot of damage has been done. So keep reading until the very end so you can instantly recognize when someone’s using your information so you can act quickly and stop it.
How can criminals exploit your stolen passport information?
With the wealth of information your passport holds, it has become a gold mine for scammers and identity thieves. With your information, criminals can:
1. Cause financial ruin
Passports contain a wealth of personal information that criminals can use to apply for credit cards, open bank accounts, take out loans, purchase goods and properties, and even obtain government benefits.
All these fraudulent activities can ruin your credit score and leave you with massive debt.
2. Travel illegally
Another way that criminals can exploit your stolen passport information is by using it to travel under a false identity.
This allows them to, at the very least, avoid detection by law enforcement if they have standing warrants of arrest.
In worse cases, criminals can also use it to smuggle contraband or even people into another country using your identity.
3. Forge fake documents
Your passport number can also be used to create fake documents, such as a driver’s license or birth certificate.
They can do this by altering your existing passport or by creating a fake passport using your personal information.
Again, this gives criminals the ability to commit all sorts of crimes, from identity theft to fraud.
4. Sell your information on the black market
Criminals may also sell your stolen passport information on the black market, especially given that they contain physical descriptors such as your height, weight, and eye color.
Other criminals can use this information to create fake ID documents and commit crimes similar to the ones we mentioned above.
What passport information does a scammer need?
To commit passport fraud, a scammer needs to have access to certain pieces of information. The most important one is the passport number, as this is what uniquely identifies an individual in the government’s database.
Other information that criminals need includes your name, date of birth, place of birth, and physical descriptors, such as your height, weight, and eye color.
Once a scammer has all of the necessary information, they can begin to commit passport fraud.
Be wary if someone contacts you and asks for this information; unless you’re certain that they’re legitimate, do not give out any personal information.
If you’re unsure whether or not the request is legitimate, you can contact the issuing agency of your passport to confirm.
In general, it’s best to err on the side of caution and not provide any information to someone you don’t know and trust. Remember, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
How do criminals steal passport information?
There are a number of ways in which criminals can obtain the information they need to commit passport fraud.
1. Phishing scams
One common method is phishing scams, in which criminals send out emails or texts that appear to be from a legitimate source, such as a government agency or financial institution.
These messages often contain links that will redirect you to websites that are designed to steal your personal information. On other occasions, the message may contain attachments that, when opened, install malware on your computer that they can then use to collect your information.
2. Data breaches
Another way in which criminals can obtain passport information is through data breaches. This occurs when a business or organization suffers a security lapse that allows hackers to access their customer or client information database.
Once the hackers have gained access to the database, they can then sell the information on the black market or use it to commit identity theft and other crimes.
3. Bribing insiders
Criminals may also obtain passport information by bribing employees with access to such databases. This is known as “insider trading” and can be difficult to detect and prevent.
They can purchase your data from corrupt insiders. This might include airport or hotel employees, immigration officials, or even government officials.
4. Dumpster diving
Criminals can also obtain passport information by going through your trash cans or mailboxes in what is known as “dumpster diving.” This is a relatively low-tech way of obtaining information, but it can still be effective if you’re careless with your personal information.
Another common method is known as “skimming.” This involves using a device to store the data from the magnetic stripe on a passport. The criminals can then encode the data onto a fake passport and use it to travel without the rightful owner’s knowledge.
6. Physical theft
Finally, criminals can simply steal passports from your home or luggage. They can do this by breaking into your home or stealing your bags from airports or hotels.
How can you keep your passport data safe?
Given the importance of passports and the wealth of information it holds, it’s no surprise that they’re increasingly being targeted by criminals. Fortunately, there are a few simple steps you can take to help protect your passport data from being compromised.
Never store passport information online
While it may be convenient to have all of your travel documents in one place, the risk of someone gaining access to your account and stealing your information is simply too high.
If you must keep an electronic copy of your passport data, be sure to encrypt the file and password-protect it with a strong password that can’t be guessed easily.
Be cautious about who you share your passport information with
If someone asks for your passport number or other personal data, make sure you know and trust them before giving out this information.
- If you’re ever asked to provide your passport data as part of an online transaction, be sure to confirm that the website is secure and that the company is legitimate before proceeding. You can tell if a website is secure if the URL starts with “https://” and there is a lock icon next to the URL.
- Additionally, never let anyone else hold or carry your passport. If you must give it to someone else, such as a Customs officer, make sure you get it back as soon as possible.
- Finally, make sure you’re using a secure connection when using your passport information online. Avoid public Wi-Fi hotspots when inputting or accessing sensitive information.
Physically secure your passport
Always keep your passport in a secure place. A good rule of thumb is to keep it in your hotel room safe or in a locked suitcase when you’re not using it.
Additionally, never leave your passport unsupervised in public places like airport lounges or internet cafes. If you need to step away for any reason, make sure someone you trust is watching over it.
Avoid carrying your passport with you when you are not traveling
Carrying your passport all the time increases the risk of it being lost or stolen. If you must carry your passport with you, be sure to keep it in a secure place, such as a front pocket or an inside jacket pocket.
Act quickly if your passport is stolen
Even the most careful individuals can become victims of identity theft. As such, it’s important to take note of the most crucial signs that your passport is being used for fraudulent means so you can stop it. Some of these include:
- Unfamiliar charges on your credit card statements or other financial records
- Unexpected bills for services you did not sign up for
- Calls or emails from companies asking for verification of your account information despite having no applications for any new lines of credit
- Strange or unsolicited communications from people who appear to know personal details about you
If you experience any of these activities, it’s important to take action immediately to protect your identity and finances.
Contact your financial institutions and review your accounts for unauthorized activity. Change any passwords that may have been compromised, and consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report.
By taking these steps, you can help to minimize the damage caused by identity theft.
Keep a copy
Finally, keep copies of your passport data in a safe place at home or in the cloud so you can access them if your passport is ever lost or stolen. Be sure to include a recent photo of yourself, so you can obtain a replacement passport more easily if needed.
Your passport number is valuable information criminals can use to travel illegally, forge documents, or commit identity theft. There are a variety of methods they use to gain access to this information.
As such, it’s crucial that you take steps to protect your passport data from being compromised. Store it securely, share it only with trusted individuals, and keep a copy in a safe place. By following these simple steps, you can help keep your passport data safe and secure.