FLASH: The stolen passport market is huge!
There are more than 40-M passports listed as missing on a database created by Interpol in Y 2002, and according to the US Department of State, more than 300,000 American passports are lost or stolen in the US yearly. And given that these are the most common ways thieves have been known to pilfer a passport, it pays to be aware and beware.
Below are 4 common ways thieves can steal your passport, as follows:
It is easy enough to make a mistake with your documents when traveling—after all, how natural is it to put your passport on the table at a restaurant as you pull out a chair, or rest it on top of your suitcase as you check the departure board at an airport? I’ve done it, and I’m guessing you have, too. But take your eye off the document for a moment, and you open yourself up to the possibility of someone bumping your table (or bag) as a distraction—and walking away with your passport. Another one of the most common places for thieves to grab a passport is in a place where we actually need to produce it: checking in at a hotel overseas. Be wary of putting it to the left or right of you as you shuffle for your confirmation number or booking details, as someone could come along and create a distraction like, returning a key, or asking a question and slip away with your document. Instead, place your passport on the counter in front of you, and immediately return it to its secure location after it is passed back to you.
It sounds slightly out of a movie: seemingly innocent passers-by “spilling” anything from ice cream to juice on people they pass. Yet there are worldwide reports of such instances, wherein a distraction is created, and in the process of aiding and cleaning the hapless victim, the “spillers”, or their associates lift a passport. If you have the misfortune of being spilled on, refuse attendance and instead, avoid contact with the offender by quickly walking away.
It’s obvious, sure, but one of the easiest ways for people to snatch your passport is if it’s carried in your pockets: All it takes is a crowded train and a nudge, or a coat that’s been draped over the back of a chair, and a sleight of hand. If you need to carry your passport with you, look for a flat money belt, which can be worn around your waist and neck and concealed under your clothing. If you are in the market for something a bit more comfortable, try a travel wallet or passport cover. Both conceal your passport and nationality, and the travel wallet also has room for other valuables, including credit cards and emergency cash. Avoid carrying your passport and spending money together if you can, as taking out cash will alert potential thieves.
In countries around the world, you’ll most often be asked to produce your original passport at hotels and airports, or when crossing borders. Travelers have also reported instances in which policemen, plain-clothed or uniformed, approach them and ask to see their passports. Sometimes, the officials are actually as they say they are but many countries have plain-clothed officers asking for passports in order to catch illegal immigrants, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Signs that it probably isn’t a scam: everyone else in your surrounding area is also being checked, security badges and patches are visible on the officer’s uniform, and officials are not asking for anything but photo ID. If you feel you are being singled out and are still uncomfortable, agree to show your passport in the nearest police station or hotel lobby, where you can confirm with a clerk who speaks the native language.
Take good care, and enjoy your travels