A stolen passport presents a problem for the individual who lost it but can have bigger issues surrounding national security. They are the biggest target of identity theft and have been linked to major crimes including drugs, illegal travel, and even terrorism. In fact, it’s such a major concern that U.S. State Department officials won’t say how many passports are stolen annually due to national security concerns.
First, before you even leave town, make a copy of your passport and leave it with a trusted person who appreciates the need for its security. They can always fax the copy to the U.S. embassy in your destination country, should the need arise. Additionally, a scanned copy in your phone is a good idea, provided your phone is password protected and secure.
Keep your hands on it. While it’s tempting to put it down “for just a second,” it’s easy to forget or someone could walk away with it. As soon as you’re finished with it, put it away.
Wherever you do put it, make sure it has a zipper or something that ensures it closes tightly. Another idea is to conceal it in a special passport cover that doesn’t identify what’s inside. You’ll want to avoid using open pockets, like jacket pockets, which offer sticky fingers easy access.
Alternatively, you can protect your passport by keeping it in a flat wallet that hangs from your neck or over your shoulder. Just be sure it has a securing cable which would prevent snatching. Another option is a money wallet that’s hidden under your clothes. You loop it onto your belt and tuck it into your pants.
The downside? Retrieving it means going to a place for privacy, like a bathroom. If you stash your passport in a money belt or wallet, don’t let anyone see it when you’re handling the cash. These options do reduce your chances of it being grabbed.
A standard scheme for pickpockets is to jostle you or accidentally spill a drink on you, take advantage of the moment, and snatch your wallet or passport. If you do get bumped, refuse help, move away quickly, and clean up later.
Another “safe’ idea is to use the room safe in your hotel to store your passport. If there isn’t one, a TSA-approved travel lock can secure your valuable in your suitcase. While it may not be ideal, it is better than nothing, and it reduces the possibility of the impulse grab.
If you are asked to produce your passport, make sure you’re dealing with proper authorities and not someone posing as an official. Not sure if they’re legit? Look for official identification, such as a badge or photo id. If you’re not sure, say you’ll go to the nearest police station and show your passport there. Should you ultimately turn it over, keep your eyes on it at all times.
Despite all precautions, you and your passport could be separated. If this happens, immediately notify the U.S. Department of State or the local U.S. embassy in the country you’re visiting. Once it’s reported lost or stolen, the passport becomes invalid. Should you locate it, it can’t be used for future international travel. A form is needed for a replacement which can be obtained on the State Department’s website. And this is where your trusted friend can also fax or email the photocopy you left with them before you left. (Aren’t you glad you listened to us?)
How do you keep your passport safe? Do you have any special tips or suggestions? Was your passport stolen? How did you recover? Share your stories and experiences on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.