How to Not Have Your Passport Stolen
Officials at the U.S. State Department won’t say how many American passports are lost or stolen each year; they're concerned about national security. But news organizations report that the black market for stolen passports is huge and still growing. Thieves use these documents to steal your identity, traffic in illicit drugs, travel illegally and commit acts of terrorism.
Unfortunately, it’s easy for passports to be pilfered or just misplaced. Use our tips to keep yours secure.
Keep your hands on your passport. When you’re juggling boarding passes, rental car keys or even a cup of coffee, it’s tempting to put your paperwork down on a countertop or table. That makes it easy for a criminal to bump you or brush your shoulder and slip it out from under your nose while you’re distracted. As soon as you’re finished using your passport, put it away.
If you keep your passport in a purse, backpack or other bag, make sure it zips or otherwise closes tightly. Bags that gape or open easily invite sticky-fingered strangers to practice some sleight of hand and make your valuables disappear.
Don’t stow your passport in a jacket pocket and then drape your jacket over a chair, or hang it in an airplane closet.
Beware of spills. Crooks who “accidentally” splash you with a drink can use the moment to slip a wallet or a passport into a pocket. If someone jostles you, move away quickly, refuse any offer of help and clean up later.
Be sure you’re dealing with legitimate authorities. In some countries, policemen—who may be in uniforms or everyday clothing--will ask to see your passport. If you’re unsure about them, look around to see if other people are also presenting documentation. Also look for signs of official identification, like a badge. If you suspect you’re being scammed, say you’ll accompany the person to the closest police station and show your passport there. If you do hand it over, keep your passport in sight at all times.
Protect your passport by keeping it in a flat wallet or belt that you can wear under your clothes. Some pouches are made to hang around your neck or over a shoulder; look for one with a security cable that prevents a thief from running by and snatching it. Of course, concealing your passport under your clothing means you’ll have to go somewhere private to remove it, and holders with metal, like cables, will probably have to be taken off before you go through security.
If you don’t put your passport in a wallet, belt or pouch, at least conceal it in a special passport cover that doesn’t identify what’s inside.
If you stash your passport in a money belt or wallet, don’t let anyone see it when you’re handling the cash.
Have a Backup
Before you leave home, make copies of your passport to leave with a trusted friend, co-worker, employer or relative. Be sure they understand that it’s vital to keep even the copies secure. You can also scan your passport and put a copy on your smartphone. (Be sure your phone is secure and password protected.)
Keep It Safe
When you stay at a hotel, use the room safe to store your passport or a photocopy. If there’s no safe in your room, ask about one at the front desk. B&Bs and other private lodgings aren’t likely to have safes, but you can at least use a TSA-approved travel lock to secure your valuables in your suitcase. A thief could still walk off with it, of course—but this is better than leaving your passport in a cabinet or drawer.
If You Lose It
If the worst happens, and your passport goes missing, notify the U.S. Department of State immediately. You'll need to submit a form in person to apply for a replacement; see the website for more details and information on where to go. Once you've reported a lost or stolen passport, it becomes invalid. Even if you get it back or find it, it can't be used for future international travel.