A lost or stolen passport can create more than a hassle. It can pose a serious threat.
The risk is greatest when the actual document is lost or stolen. But even a passport number that is exposed in a data breach can create problems. That’s why it’s important to take steps to protect your passport—and to know what to do if something happens to it.
What thieves can do with a stolen passport
Thieves can do a lot of damage if they get their hands on your passport. The actual document is the most valuable. With it, thieves can steal your identity to open new accounts or lines of credit in your name, apply for government benefits or jobs in your name, use it to travel and commit illegal acts, or sell it to someone else.
However, your passport number carries value, too. The number alone can’t be used to travel, according to the U.S. Department of State. And all of the security features embedded in passports make them difficult to counterfeit. That said, thieves who get passport numbers through data breaches can sell the numbers or create forged passports, which might escape detection at ports of entry with weak security measures.
How to protect your passport
Keep your passport in a locked home safe when you’re not traveling. Before traveling, make a copies of your passport—one to leave with a trusted family member or friend and one to take with you and store separately from your passport. Better yet, scan the pages of your passport and store them online in a digital vault such as the one included with the Carefull Financial Safety Service. Having your passport information will make it easier to file a report if it’s lost or stolen while you are traveling.
When traveling, don’t carry your passport with your money or in your back pocket. Keep it in a cross-body bag or passport pouch worn around your neck or waist while you’re in transit. If there is a secure safe in your hotel room, you could store it there while at your destination. If not, don’t hand it over to the front desk or anyone else for safekeeping. Keep it with you, hidden from view.
Finally, don’t share your passport number immediately when asked. Question whether it’s absolutely necessary to provide it. Never share it if you receive an unsolicited phone call, email or text message requesting it. And don’t be tempted by websites that offer to help you get a new or renewed passport quickly. The only site you should visit to apply for or renew a passport is the State Departments’ at travel.state.gov.
Steps to take if your passport is stolen
If your passport is lost or stolen, you need to take immediate action to prevent thieves from using it to steal your identity.
Report your stolen passport to the State Department. You can fill out a Form DS-64 online or download the form, fill it out and mail it to the U.S. Department of State. Your passport will be canceled once you report it as lost or stolen. (If your passport was expired, you don’t need to report it as lost or stolen.)
Apply for a new passport. You must submit Form DS-11 in person to replace your lost or stolen passport with a new one. If you’re in the U.S., you can make an appointment with the nearest passport acceptance facility. If you’re traveling overseas, visit the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to replace your passport.
Contact local law enforcement. File a report if your passport or passport number was stolen and get a copy of the report, which you might need if you need to contest any fraudulent accounts or activity if your identity is stolen.
Contact the Federal Trade Commission. If thieves use your passport information to steal your identity, file a report with the FTC’s IdentityTheft.gov, which will provide you with a personalized recover plan.
Freeze your credit reports. If thieves used your passport to steal your identity, you can prevent them from opening new lines of credit in your name by placing a freeze on your credit reports at each of the three credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. It’s free, and you can lift the freeze whenever you want.
See Why You Should Freeze Your Credit Reports to learn more.
Check your credit reports for signs of fraud. Get free copies of your credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com to check for any accounts or lines of credit that you don’t recognize. If you discover fraudulent accounts, contact companies where the accounts are located to close them.
Sign up for identity monitoring. The Carefull Financial Safety Service will monitor the Internet and dark web for misuse of your personal information, including your passport number. The service also includes up to $1 million in identity theft insurance and account and credit monitoring.