Student loan not quite cutting it? Mum and Dad refusing to fund your VK habit? There is an easy way to make cash that’s been staring you right in the face all summer: passport theft.
There are many reasons why passport theft can be extremely profitable. The chip embedded in a passenger’s passport can hold a plethora of extremely personal data, including their name, date and place of birth, address, social security number, height, weight, and eye colour (this can vary based on their country’s specific data). This data chip is more than enough for someone to open a credit card, book a flight or even create a fake identity. Having a clean passport is also handy if you’re trying to get into the US but that little shoplifting episode from sixth form is holding you back. Even if you don’t plan to use it yourself, a stolen passport could fetch you a decent sum of money if you sell it to the right people and getting hold of one is so easy, you’d be a fool to pass up such a money-making opportunity.
The chip embedded in a passenger’s passport can hold a plethora of extremely personal data
Okay, in all seriousness though, don’t go round stealing passports. It’s not very nice. However, it is a growing problem for British tourists (Spain is notoriously risky). According to the Foreign Office, more than 20,000 British passports were reported lost or stolen last year. Passport theft is a booming industry, and stolen passports are especially useful to human traffickers, drugs smugglers and identity thieves. Losing your passport can completely ruin an otherwise amazing holiday. However, being aware of the various techniques criminals use to con you out of your valuables will indubitably help. If you were looking to make a career out of passport theft, here’s some advice you might expect to receive.
Technique #1: The Distraction
You’ll need to work with a friend for this one. It’s simple: pick your victim, and distract their attention in any way you can. Ask them if they’ve seen your lost dog, pretend to mistake them for a friend, spill water on them, lift up your shirt – whatever works. In the meantime, your friend can simply stroll past and pinch their bag. This comes with the added bonus of getting their wallet and valuables, too.
Technique #2: The Bottleneck
Pick a busy area, then find your target. Pretend to bump into them, and simply slip your hand into their bag/pocket. Don’t know where their passport is? No problem. Get a friend to cry out that their passport has been stolen. Everyone in the area will automatically reach to check they still have theirs, revealing their location.
Technique #3: The Hug & Mug
Time to get your acting skills on. Hang around outside a bar, preferably holding a bottle of spirit and swaying slightly. Maybe throw in some slurred singing for good measure. Pick your victim and go in with a massive hug. They’ll be surprised, but probably humour the drunken stranger then move on. Meanwhile, you’ve pinched their passport mid-hug and made a new friend. Double win.
As with all businesses, the location is absolutely key. Certain places are far easier to operate in than others. Spain is the biggest hotspot for stolen British passports, with 37,140 thefts reported between 2008 and 2013. Countries in which passports are the only accepted ID, such as many in Eastern Europe, are also generally good hunting grounds. Picking your targets is also important; aim for the vulnerable, such as those who are blatantly tourists (think backpacks, maps, cringe group t-shirts). Also go for those who look tired or distracted, i.e. looking lost and consulting maps, or on the phone. Sometimes you don’t even need to use the strategies above, as people will simply leave their bags and jackets unattended, or forget to watch them.
Spain is the biggest hotspot for stolen British passports, with 37,140 thefts reported between 2008 and 2013
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have released an entertaining video detailing how passport thefts operate, which is definitely worth checking out online.
In all seriousness though, a stolen passport will not only ruin your holiday and put you out of pocket by a considerable amount, it could also make you a victim of identity theft. If it is possible to leave your passport safe in your accommodation, then do so. If you can’t, there are plenty of precautions you can take to avoid having your well-earned holiday ruined. Keeping up to date with the FCO’s travel updates on Twitter @FCOtravel will give you a heads-up on anything you need to be aware of before you travel.
The Know Before You Go website has further tips on how to keep your passport safe, as well as information on what the British Embassy can do for you if the worst does happen. Play it safe, however, and hopefully you’ll never need their help!
Disclaimer: this author cannot take responsibility for the actions of individuals who choose to follow a life of crime as a result of this article.