Passport Fraud Could Lead to Identity Theft
George here with the AllClear ID Investigations Team. A US passport is one of the most important identification documents in the United States; it confirms unequivocally that the owner is a US citizen and allows US citizen’s visa-free passage into many countries around the world. Therefore the benefits of possessing a US passport make them extremely valuable to those illegally seeking citizenship and criminals attempting to change or conceal their identity, commit financial fraud, or smuggle drugs.
Criminals often use stolen identities to create fake US passports. The three most common schemes to secure original passports through fraudulent means are stealing identities, counterfeiting identities and using true identities with counterfeited citizenship documents. The third can be achieved by obtaining an authentic Social Security number, which allows counterfeiter to apply for a US passport. An investigative reporter for eTurboNews demonstrated how remarkably easy this crime is to commit by using the Social Security number of a man who died in 1965, a fake New York birth certificate and a fake Florida driver's license. He received a passport four days later. In a second attempt, the investigator used a 5-year-old boy's SSN, but identified himself as 53 years old on the passport application. He received that passport seven days later.
Criminals also acquire legitimate passports by purchasing them directly from US travelers. Major travel sites have threads on their boards with travelers discussing what they were offered for their passports in different countries and debating the rationale for selling one’s passport. What might seem like a great way to make quick money can have long term and dire consequences to the traveler and to the security of the US. The more immediate inconveniences of lying to government officials about losing their passport and having to apply for another are dwarfed by the fact they have sold their identity to someone else who can not only use that to exploit the individual but also attempt to gain access to the United States for nefarious purposes such as drug trafficking to terrorism.
Consciously keeping your passport safe is a great start to avoid becoming a victim of passport fraud. The only times you need to present the original copy of your passport is at border crossings, airports, hotels, or at the request of a police officer. In most other cases it is sufficient to remember the number and expiration date, or to have a copy of the original passport at hand. This means that leaving your original passport at your hotel is a great idea. Most hotels have lock boxes that their guest can use. The worst places to leave your passport are in bags or backpacks as they are very vulnerable when left unattended. Money belts or a thin pouch that can be worn underneath clothing are good alternatives. Use common sense, make a decision based on how secure the accommodation is and whether you trust the person behind the reception.