This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
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.
Featured image by Jeff Mccollough / EyeEm / Getty Images
Know before you go.
News and deals straight to your inbox every day.
NEW INCREASED OFFER: 60,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel