Identity Theft Passport
Your passport has a reputation of being a very authoritative way to prove your identity. It is intended to see
you safely across borders all around the world. Naturally, such an important identity document has become a target
for the attention of identity thieves.
In Frederick Forsyth's book The Jackel, the assassin searches in a cemetery for the identity of a person born
about the same time as him, but who died in childhood. He then applies for a passport in that person's name. That
book was set in the times of French President de Gaulle, and long before the widespread use of computers.
Electronic data matching has made it easier for the authorities to match births and deaths in recent years, and to
close loopholes like that.
All such loopholes have not necessarily been closed to imaginative identity thieves, however. In a subtle
variation of Forsyth's approach, alleged operatives from the security services of a foreign country were recently
caught trying to get a passport issued to them in New Zealand. Their method was to take the identity of a disabled
citizen, who was very unlikely to ever apply himself for a passport to travel, and present an apparently credible
and routine passport application for a real person without his knowledge.
There is a thriving black market industry in some countries that is engaged in reproducing passports, or of
stealing then modifying real passports. Inserting different photographs is a common technique. Illegal immigration
is a large source of motivation for this activity.
The authorities have been steadily improving their passport design, issuing procedures and border checking
processes to combat passport identity theft. Their efforts were stepped up following the terrorist incidents of
recent years, and passport identity thieves now face increasingly formidable barriers. Many countries now insert
data chips into the latest biometric passports and exchange information on travellers, among many more detailed
modifications to passport design and checking procedures.
Losing your passport is a relatively serious matter because of the potential for it to be misused. If you lose
your passport you will need to promptly contact the issuing authorities, usually your country's embassy if you are
in a foreign country. A passport, possibly temporary, can usually be issued within a short period to allow you to
continue with your journey, but you may expect to be delayed a few days. In most countries the police authorities
will also take an interest.
It is very wise to take steps to avoid these hassles by minimising the risk of losing your passport. In foreign
countries most travellers keep their passport with them at all times. Some travellers choose to carry their
passport and other valuables in a money belt under their clothing rather than in a bag that can be snatched.
Another option is to use security deposit boxes at your hotel, and in some countries hotels require you to deposit
your passport with them, in some cases for police inspection during your stay.