The life of a stolen passport

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. 


STEP 3(A):

A passport forger calls the warehouse to say, "I have someone who needs an American passport, got any?"

STEP 3(B):

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.  


 Instructions for reporting your passport as lost or stolen are available here (for local) and here (for abroad).

About the author

Sabri Ben-Achour is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the New York City bureau. He covers Wall Street, finance, and anything New York and money related.


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