How to avoid passport-related identity theft
...and what to do if it happens to you
One way bad actors can hijack your identity is by stealing your passport while you’re traveling abroad. That’s why the federal government has dedicated an entire team of special agents, analysts, and support staff to help protect the integrity of the U.S. passport system. But this division of passport protectors can only do so much. At the end of the day, you’re your first line of defense when it comes to safeguarding your passport.
Here are steps you can take to help protect your passport while you’re traveling abroad, followed by tips on what to do if your passport is lost or stolen.
How to Protect Your Passport While Traveling Overseas
Hide it. Don’t flash your passport around. If possible, lock it in a hotel safe or another secure location.
Keep it with you during transit. If you need to present your passport while you’re traveling, don’t stick it in a backpack, carry-on luggage, or a jacket pocket, where it can slip out or fall prey to a pickpocket. Store it in a money belt worn under your clothes, in a protective carrier under your garments, or in your wallet, where it’s concealed and protected.
Never place your passport down on a counter or a table. Despite your best intentions, it’s easy to leave your passport behind if you put it down.
Keep virtual copies. Having a digital copy of your passport that you can pull up on your phone when presenting a photo ID at a bar or club is safer than bringing your physical passport with you. And in the event you lose your passport (more on that below), having a digital copy will potentially speed up the replacement process.
Attach an Apple® AirTag™ to your passport. If you have an iPhone, sticking an AirTag ($29) on your passport can help you track it down if it gets lost. However, if you suspect your passport was stolen, alert local authorities before you go searching for the AirTag’s location.
Stay vigilant. Keep your guard up. Tourists are common targets for pickpockets. And watch out for passport scams — a government official will never call and ask for your passport number over the phone.
What to Do If Your Passport Gets Lost or Stolen
Report it immediately. Alert the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate that your passport is missing. You can find the phone number and address on the U.S. State Department’s website. The embassy or consulate will help you replace your passport, which you’ll need in order to return to the U.S.
A couple of caveats: Most U.S. embassies and consulates cannot issue new passports on weekends or holidays, when the embassy or consulate is closed. And you’ll need to appear in person to receive a replacement passport.
Be prepared to have to stay put until you get your new passport. Depending on the level of demand at the U.S. embassy or consulate, it may take a couple of days to receive a new passport. Also, be aware that once you report a stolen or lost passport and request a new one, your old passport becomes invalid — so you can’t use it if you happen to find it after applying for a replacement.
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Planning to travel abroad but haven’t had time to apply for or renew a passport? Follow the steps outlined at Travel.State.Gov. The website also has a fee calculator that you can use to determine how much your passport will cost. Processing typically takes eight to 11 weeks, the site says, but you can pay an extra $60 for an expedited processing of five to seven weeks.
First-time applicants can apply for a passport at thousands of U.S. post offices. Most passport holders can renew their passport by mail using the Passport Renewal Application Form DS-82. For more information on passport eligibility, head to https://www.usa.gov/passport.
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