Passport fraud is a crime that not only threatens an individual’s personal identity, but also poses a threat to national security. A United States passport is a powerful document that allows U.S. citizens passage to foreign countries and entry into the United States with little scrutiny. When the United States government issues a passport, they are verifying that the applicant is a U.S. citizen. As a result, an individual’s passport can be used as both proof of identity and evidence of U.S. citizenship. Because an individual’s passport information contains so many sensitive items, it is very attractive to criminals around the world.
When a United States passport is fraudulently obtained, it is usually with the intent to commit other crimes. Passport fraud has been linked to a variety of crimes including identity theft, illegal immigration, drug trafficking, money laundering and terrorism. It is most frequently committed by altering personal documents such as birth certificates; stealing the identity of someone who has died; or getting around the two-parent rule to obtain a minor’s passport.
The Diplomatic Security Service in conjunction with federal and international law enforcement agencies investigates reports of passport fraud. But, with so much at stake it is important to safeguard your passport to prevent fraud from occurring.
Here are some tips to help you protect your passport: Keep your passport somewhere safe. If you don’t have one, purchase a safe where you can store your passport when you’re home. When you’re traveling, keep it in the hotel safe. Don’t leave it in your room. When you’re traveling, carry your passport with you only when necessary. Having your passport with you increases the chances of it getting lost or stolen. If you must take your passport with you, conceal it. Buy a passport holder to secure your passport and carry it under your clothes. Never carry your passport in your back pocket or a backpack, where it can easily be reached by criminals who want to commit passport fraud. Don’t let anyone leave your sight with your passport. When you are required to present your passport to officials during your travel, make sure you can always see them. If they need to leave the room, ask if you can go with them.
While following these tips can help safeguard your passport, it is possible you could still be a victim. If your passport is lost or stolen, you could be at risk for identity theft. The FTC estimates that nine million Americans are victims of identity theft each year. And you may not even know it until you pull your credit report, have a loan application rejected, or receive phone calls from a collection agency. Victims of identity theft can spend hundreds of hours restoring their credit.
Don’t let passport fraud lead to your identity being stolen. If you are in the United States when your passport is lost or stolen, the first step you can take to protect your identity is to report your missing passport by calling 1-877-487-2778 or by mailing form DS-64: Statement regarding a lost or stolen passport to: U.S. Department of State; Passport Services; Consular Lost/Stolen Passport; Section: 1111 19th Street, NW, Suite 500; Washington, DC 20036. If you are outside of the United States, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate immediately. As soon as your passport is reported missing, it will be invalidated, which can help prevent passport fraud.
The second thing you can do to protect your identity is sign up with a service like Lifelock. Lifelock protects consumers from identity thieves by monitoring the use of their personal information and alerting them to potential fraud.
Lifelock will help prevent fraud and protect your name and credit rating by: Monitoring your credit and removing your name from mailing lists for offers of pre-approved credit Monitoring public and court records for use of your name Searching websites to prevent the sale of your personal information to thieves Contacting you when a threat to your identity is suspected
Although the best defense against identity theft is prevention, if you do become a victim while using Lifelock’s services, they will help you during the recovery process.
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