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Had your passport stolen? You’re in increasingly crowded company

British travelers may be worried these days about losing those nifty, emblazoned, burgundy-colored European Union-approved passports  … or worse, someone stealing them.

Two answers to that:

[1] Gotta be prepared for that.

[2] If you’re traveling internationally, you and your passport have something far worse to worry about.

Stealing passports is fast reaching epidemic proportions. This summer, Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office announced that more than 21,000 British passports were reported lost or stolen in 2015.

It’s almost impossible, of course, to distinguish “lost” from “stolen” – all the traveler knows is that he had his passport, then he didn’t. However, the British Embassy in Vienna did break that down for Brits wandering through Austria. It reported that in the first half of 2016 it was asked to replace 102 Emergency Travel Documents (EDTs) to replace missing British passports. And of those, 54 were reported as lost, 48 as stolen. (Wonder how many British travelers said the passports were “lost” because they didn’t want to own up to being outsmarted by some foreign sharpie?)

Lost or stolen, it’s a troubling trend. In Austria, for example, it represents a 50 percent increase over last year. And, by the way, the Embassy there added another disquieting detail. There was a surge of stolen documents on Austria’s public transport. Crowded. Exposed. A perfect breeding ground for someone concentrating on deciphering a subway map in a foreign language.

But Austria is not the center of passport hell.

That was Spain, at least over the past two years. In February, the British Embassy in Madrid reported 5,132 of the UK’s distinctive maroon books had been lost during ’14 and ’15. That was the most in the world, followed by Brits traveling in the United States (1,880), France (1,487), Italy (1,268) and then Australia (1,043). China trailed right behind.

Why is the British passport such a target for theft? Partly because British passport-holders can travel, without a visa, to 175 foreign countries out of a possible 218. That’s a lot – but it’s not even the most. German passport holders can travel to 177 countries. French, Italian, Spanish and Finnish passports are immediately accepted in 175 countries. American citizens have access to 174 countries. So do Belgians, Danes and the Dutch.

Which only says, perhaps, that any and all of these national passports need to be carefully protected. (Least valuable, if you’re interested, is the Afghan passport. Citizens of Afghanistan can visit just 25 countries without a visa; Pakistanis, 29; Iraqis, 30. Donald Trump would call them “losers” in the international who’s-got-the-coolest-passport sweepstakes.)

A ruined vacay AND identity theft

It’s always been a headache to replace a missing passport – time-consuming, expensive and very inconvenient. It costs Brits, for example, £73 to replace a passport. (That’s US$95 or 85 euros.)

But there’s a bigger menace today than the cost of replacing a lost passport. Identity theft has become an international crime wave, and your passport is the “open sesame” to all kinds of vital details about you.

“Losing a passport can be more serious than just the cost and inconvenience of a replacement,” the British Passport Office told The Telegraph this summer. “Criminals can use it to commit crimes like identity and financial fraud, which is why it’s so important to report any loss or theft to Her Majesty’s Passport Office, so we can log the details and cancel the passport.”

Or, as The Sun reported, in its breezily offhand style, “Criminal gangs are targeting boozed-up Brits in holiday hotspots like Magaluf so they can nick their passports and flog them to terror group ISIS.” (Okay, now that’s frightening! Though maybe not as frightening as falsely reporting the queen had come out in favor of Brexit.) “UK passports are highly prized because they allow bearers to breeze through borders unchecked.”

Best advice: Don’t lose your passport in the first place.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister Tobias Ellwood said: “While we should all enjoy our holidays, it is important that we remain vigilant about valuables – particularly passports.

“Becoming a victim of theft or losing your passport could ruin your trip and replacing a passport will cost money and valuable holiday time.”

Thanks, Captain Obvious.

And now for something completely different

But the FCO didn’t stop there. It has issued a really cool video (see above) called “The Passport Hustle,” describing ways in which passports are commonly lifted from people’s pockets, bags and even their hands – voluntarily!

The video’s expert is a man named James Freedman, who identifies himself as “a fraud and crime expert.” In fact, he’s a well-known pickpocket – called “the world’s number one pickpocket” in 2013 by Time Out, the global platform of international travel advice – who parlayed his special skill to become the City of London Police Department’s Fraud Prevention Ambassador (first such).

It’s a two-and-a-half-minute video that truly portrays us all as a bunch of trusting doofuses. It warns you to watch out for the guy next to you at the hotel check-in counter; the guy who tells you a bird has just dropped its load on your shoulder and offers to help clean you up; the guy sitting at the next table in the sidewalk café; the guy who tells you he’s a cop on a routine investigation and needs to see “some form of identification.”

Those are just four examples of ways in which Freedman says we let our guard down because we’re simply not being careful and vigilant.

See for yourself. Watch the video and find yourself feeling superior to the victims.

My God, how stupid, careless and gullible do they think we are? Well, you could start by polling those 21,000 British overseas travelers.

The gritty details:

be-passport-aware-02-640x427Citizens of most countries are required to report a stolen or lost passport as soon as possible. If you’re a British subject, here’s a link to information we hope you never have to use.

Likewise here for U.S. citizens.

Since English is the second language in the Netherlands, here’s a link for our Dutch friends.

No matter your citizenship, you’re in for a bureaucratic nightmare. That said, the Dutch have a special replacement passport for their citizens if they can prove you must travel immediately:

If your passport is lost, stolen or expired and you have an immediate need to travel (this includes scheduled vacation or a business trips within 10 days) a regular passport cannot be processed on time. In this case an emergency passport or Laissez Passer (LP)  could be issued to accommodate your travel.Here’s what you need if you’re an American and your passport’s been stolen (or you just plain lost it):

The following list identifies a number of documents/items you should take with you to the embassy/consulate. Even if you are unable to present all of the documents, the consular staff will do their best to assist you to replace your passport quickly.  Please provide:
  • A Passport Photo (one photo is required; get it in advance to speed the process of replacing your passport)
  • Identification (driver’s license, expired passport, etc.)
  • Evidence of U.S. citizenship (birth certificate, photocopy of your missing passport)
  • Travel Itinerary (airline/train tickets)
  • Police Report, if available
  • DS-11 Application for Passport (may be completed at time of application)
  • DS-64 Statement Regarding a Lost or Stolen Passport (may be completed at time of application)

Statement Regarding a Lost or Stolen Passport:

When you report the loss or theft of your passport, you must complete a statement describing the circumstances under which it was lost or stolen. You can use the U.S. Department of State form DS-64 for this purpose, or simply execute a sworn statement before the consular officer describing what happened.

Police Report:

A police report is not mandatory but can help confirm the circumstances of the loss or theft.  Don’t spend time obtaining a police report if doing so will cause you to miss a flight or delay your travel unreasonably.

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