How Your Passport Image Could Be Stolen to Commit Fraud
Anytime you're required to produce your passport — at immigration checkpoints or at some international hotel check-ins, for example — your passport image may be scanned and stored on a computer that lacks sufficient security. All it takes is one rogue employee to upload those scans, which include your photo, passport number and date of birth, to dark-web marketplaces, where they sell for $14.71 on average, a new study from the research firm Comparitech found. If scammers can get their hands on other personal documents and also put them up for sale, the average cost of that package of documents jumps to more than $61.
"Passport scans, be they forged or real, are often accompanied by other forms of identification, typically a utility bill, selfie of the ID card owner holding up their ID, and/or a driver’s license," researcher Paul Bischoff wrote. "These add-ons are reflected in the price — they cost significantly more than just a digital scan. The reason for this is because multiple forms of ID are usually required to pass proof-of-address and proof-of-identification checks on websites. These checks are often part of the account recovery process in which a user has somehow lost access to their account and must prove who they are to regain access."
These account access scams most frequently target cryptocurrency exchanges, payment systems and betting websites, the research found, but crooks also may use your passport scan to open fraudulent bank accounts for money laundering purposes or to collect the sign-up rewards.
To be clear, theft of scanned passport images does not appear to be prolific. When the researcher visited four different dark-web sites in September 2018 that sell stolen identification, he found just 48 "unique listings for real passports scans," including several from the US, one of which included a selfie and was listed for sale for $115.
Still, Comparitech offers a few ways you can protect yourself from falling victim to passport scan theft:
- Provide your own copy of your passport if allowed and make it a black-and-white scan. Most scammers want color copies.
- Don't post photos of the inside of your passport on social media.
- Destroy expired passports.
- Don't store your passport in checked luggage.
- Lock up your passport if you leave it in a hotel room.
- Don't store scans of your passport on your phone. Encrypt and store scans on a separate hard drive or in the cloud.
- Keep your passport separate from other identifying documents that could be used to steal your identity.