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Delay in reporting lost passports exposing people to identity theft

We typically wait 73 days to report a lost or stolen passport

A stock photo of a British Passport in a pocket. Photographed using the Canon EOS 5DSR.

Many of us are quick to report a lost or stolen bank card to get it cancelled but we are a lot slower to react if we have lost or had our passport stolen – and this is opening the door to fraudsters, according to a warning from Action Fraud.

The Home Office says 400,000 UK passports are reported lost or stolen each year, but despite the risks of this important document getting into the wrong hands, we typically wait 73 days before reporting it.

The latest figures from Cifas, a not-for-profit fraud database, show identity fraud is at ‘epidemic’ levels with 89,000 cases recorded in the first six months of 2017 – up 5% compared to the year before. It reckons identities are being stolen at a rate of 500 a day.

Which? takes a look at how fraudsters can use your passport to commit identity fraud and what to do if you discover your passport has gone missing.


Why are we waiting so long to report lost passports?

It’s not clear why we take so long to report a missing passport.

It could be down to not realising you’ve lost it, or it being the last thing you think about dealing with after a robbery.

Whatever the reason the urgency to report it should match how fast we would act if it were a credit or debit card or driving licence.

That’s because passports, like a driving licences, debit or credit cards, contain sensitive information that could be used by criminals to steal your identity and commit fraud.

How can a passport be used for identity fraud?

Identity fraud is when a criminal steals someone’s personal details and uses them to obtain credit or make a purchase.

Fraudsters only need a few key bits of information pose as you to take out a loan, mobile contract, credit card or current account with an overdraft facility.

A passport is a powerful piece of the puzzle that allows criminals to succeed in pulling this off as it contains sensitive information like your full name, date of birth and where you were born.

While it’s widely believed you need to show physical ID documents and proof of address when opening a UK bank account that’s not always the case. Many accounts are now opened online rather than in a branch and electronic checks are made to verify applicants.

Director of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith, said: ‘The consequences of losing your passport can be severe… Passports have all the information that fraudsters need to steal your identity and start setting accounts up in your name.’

The latest ID fraud figures from Cifas show that there has been a rise in criminals applying for loans, mobile contracts and insurance products – but the number of fraud attempts for bank accounts and cards makes up half of all identity fraud cases.

Often victims don’t realise that they’ve been targeted until a bill arrives for something they didn’t buy or they experience problems with their credit rating. This can take months to resolve as the burden of proof relies on the person whose identity has been stolen.

Find out more: ID theft: How bank account fraudsters may steal your identity

What to do if you lose your passport

It’s vital that you report a lost or stolen passport immediately to reduce the risk of your details being used by criminals to either enter the UK illegally or to commit ID fraud.

You can report a lost or stolen passport online.

Once a passport is reported as lost or stolen, HM Passport Office will cancel it and within 24 hours will pass the details to the National Crime Agency, which will record the incident on Interpol’s Stolen and Lost Travel Document database.

Sharing details of lost or stolen passports help law enforcement agencies keep ahead of criminals who attempt to get a UK passport illegally to enter the country or who use them to commit identity crime.

How to spot signs of identity theft

You should monitor your credit report for signs of suspicious activity.

Credit reference agencies offer identity fraud monitoring services for a monthly fee.

However, you could do the same job by checking you’re your credit report for free and scanning it for anything unusual like a credit search or new account opening.

Find out more: How to check your credit score for free

What to do if you’re a victim of identity fraud

If you discover your identity has been stolen and been used fraudulently, you should contact your bank, credit card company, any other lenders and the local police on 101.

You should also report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or online.

Find out more: ID theft and privacy

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