3.2 million passports have been lost or stolen from U.S. citizens since 2004.
That’s a lot of passports!
When a passport is stolen, it can make a circuitous loop around the world via underground criminal markets. Here's how it happens:
The Passport is taken.
The Passport makes its way from the petty thief to a wholesale warehouse. There, it will sit in a stack of other stolen passports.
A passport forger calls the warehouse to say, "I have someone who needs an American passport, got any?"
The warehouse man rummages through the stack, pulls out a passport, and sends it to the forger.
The forger will, if necessary, adulterate the image on the passport. He'll run it through a chain of people possibly 10 links long, until it makes its way to the client.
Someone will buy the fake passport for $200-$7,000. It could be used to get a job, to open a bank account, to launder money, or to get on a plane. As is clear from the Malaysian Air mystery, border patrol does not always check against Interpol lists of stolen or flagged passports.
STEP 6 (optional):
The stolen passport can be used to glean identification information that can then be used to apply for brand new passports – with a criminal’s photo and biometric information attached.