There can be something truly terrifying about having your passport go missing. It can bring to mind those horror movies about people getting their passports stolen in another country and then being unable to get home. While most situations are nowhere near as troubling, having your passport get stolen or realizing that it’s lost can be a very stressful occurrence.
A lost or stolen passport can have serious implications, even if you don’t need it to re-enter the United States or aren’t planning on traveling to any other countries. The reality is that a missing passport can lead to serious cases of identity theft. That’s why if you find yourself with a lost or stolen passport, you need to make sure that you take the appropriate measures and to do so quickly.
Risks of a Lost or Stolen Passport
Before we get to what you need to do if your passport is missing, it’s important to know the dangers associated with a lost, missing or stolen passport. They include:
- Identity Theft – An identity thief who is in possession of your passport can easily steal your identity. A passport number has valuable information available to such as your name, date of birth, place of birth and nationality. Along with your photo that’s in your passport, an ID thief can open accounts internationally under your name and possibly steal money from you by using your information.
- Criminal Activities – Even with tamper-resistant photo and biometric features included in modern designs, a lost or stolen passport is like gold to certain criminals that require the identification to perpetrate crimes. Particularly, a clean passport is great for drug smugglers and human traffickers who regularly need to cross international borders. These criminals may have the ability to tamper with the photo to make it look like themselves while using your name. All of this can then become your problem as you may end up being arrested due to the police thinking that you are the criminal.
- Travel Restrictions and Re-entry Issues – Without your passport, you are unable to travel from country to country. Additionally, in the event that your passport is lost or stolen while you’re abroad, you will be unable to leave the country in which you are visiting until a new passport is issued to you, which in some events, can take up to 6 weeks!
How to Minimize the Damage When Your Passport is Lost or Stolen
When you first realize that your passport is missing, it’s natural to panic, especially if you’re planning a trip out of the country or are already abroad. While nothing good can come from a missing passport, it doesn’t necessarily mean that something bad will happen. It’s quite possible that your passport is simply misplaced and is actually safe. However, it’s important to be prepared for the worst in case your passport can’t be found. That means putting aside your frustrations and taking the following steps, depending on your scenario, to help protect yourself.
To Replace and Report a Lost or Stolen Passport
- If you are in the U.S. and are planning on traveling abroad in 2 weeks or less, then you should do the following:
- Make sure to make an appointment to apply in person at a Passport Agency or Center so that you can replace your passport in 8 business days or less.
- Complete the following forms DS-11 and DS-64 and have them ready to submit in person to the agency on the day of your appointment.
- Go to a passport photography center so that you bring a recent, color passport photograph to bring with you.
- Have proof of your U.S. citizenship and identity.
- Pay any applicable fees.
- If you are in the U.S. and are not traveling within 2 weeks:
- If you are a United States citizen and are abroad when you notice that your passport is missing:
- You’ll need to contact a U.S. Embassy or Consulate to help you replace it. To locate a U.S. Embassy near you, please visit the United States Embassy website.
To Report a Lost or Stolen Passport (Without Replacing It)
Even if you don’t plan on ever traveling overseas, it’s important to report a missing passport as soon as you realize that it can’t be found to prevent it from being used for criminal activities. To report your own United States passport as lost or stolen you can either:
- Call the State Department (DoS) at (877) 487-2778 or (888-874-7793 for TTY). This is the recommended step as you can speak to a specialist immediately who will take a report over the phone and then will deactivate your passport immediately. This can minimize the possibility of any damage to you as it’ll make the use of your passport for illegal activities much more difficult.
- You also have the option to complete a Statement Regarding a Lost of Stolen U.S. Passport Book And/Or Card (Form DS-64), sign the statement, and mail it to the address on the form. However, this is a slower process, which is why we recommend following step 1.
Other Steps to Take After You Realize Your Passport is Missing
- If you believe that your passport was stolen, you should file a police report regardless of what the chances are of actually recovering the passport back. You never know when you might need proof that your passport was stolen. In many cases you can even file a police report for a non-emergency online so you don’t have to worry about being inconvenienced even further.
- Monitor your credit report, bank statements and credit card statements for any possible suspicious activities. Remember, your passport contains valuable information for identity thieves so that even if it’s cancelled, it’s still possible for the ID thieves to create bank accounts in your name. If you see something that shouldn’t be there, contact your bank or lender immediately and place a “credit freeze” on your account until the situation can be sorted out.
- Do a background check on yourself to see if the identity thieves have been using your identity for malicious or criminal activities.
By making sure to keep your passport safe, you can help avoid, or at least minimize your chances, of becoming a victim of passport fraud and identity theft. The only times that you need to have a physical copy of your passport is at airports, border crossings, and hotels that are overseas. Otherwise, you typically can just have a copy of the original passport at hand which is why when you’re traveling, it’s a good idea to keep your original passport, in a safe or lock box, at your hotel. If you aren’t traveling, you can either use a lock box at your bank, or otherwise make sure to find a safe and secure location within your home.
Identity theft continues to be one of the fastest growing crimes in the country, affecting nearly ten million Americans a year. In fact, according to the FTC, identity theft remains the top complaint for the 15 th consecutive year. If you’re worried that you are possibly the victim of ID theft, take a look at the following article that outlines what to do if you’re identity has been stolen.