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Years ago, there was a genuine risk of having your passport stolen abroad — snatched out of a pocket, taken from a backpack or even brazenly swiped from a hotel room. Thieves could discreetly open up the laminated photo page and swap in someone else’s photo, then use the book to travel internationally, or perhaps even assume your identity, since a passport is almost always accepted as an official form of identification.
While fraudulent passports may still successfully fool an untrained eye, they’re becoming increasingly useless for crossing borders, as some countries continue to improve biometric verification. Recently, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has begun using facial comparison technology to help catch criminals in the act, currently in place at 14 locations.
As the agency explains:
“CBP uses airline manifest data to retrieve existing traveler photographs from government databases, including passports and visas, to build a photo gallery of travelers who are expected to arrive and depart the United States. CBP then compares the ‘live’ photographs of travelers taken with those that are already on file in DHS holdings. No new data is required.”
And it really does work — one man was arrested just three days after the system was installed at Washington, DC’s Dulles Airport (IAD). The 26-year-old arriving from Brazil was traveling on a French passport, with a photo that the system concluded wasn’t his own. And now, just two weeks later, authorities at IAD caught a second imposter.
This especially audacious fraudster, a 26-year-old woman flying from Ghana, presented a US passport upon arrival in DC. As it turns out, she was a Ghanaian citizen, and was taken into custody on the spot.
Entering with a stolen or borrowed passport should become increasingly difficult as more countries and airports implement facial comparison technology, helping to improve border security while also reducing the demand for stolen documents.
Meanwhile, if your passport is stolen, be sure to report it right away — US passports holders can do so through this State Department website. And if you’re abroad when it happens, you do have some options to make your way back home, or get your passport replaced.
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