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Thieves target Brits abroad for passports

Press release: 29/04/2013

  • More than 27,000 British passports went 'missing' abroad in 2012, an increase of 5% on 2011 [1]
  • In the first three months of this year, one in twenty British holidaymakers have had a passport stolen [2]
  • British passports sell for as much as £400 on the overseas black market and are usually used to commit identity theft
  • Australia, Mexico and Portugal are the top three passport theft hotspots

New research by criminologists for LV= travel insurance reveals British passport theft is on the rise, as thieves target unsuspecting tourists at popular holiday destinations. Official data shows that more than 27,000 British passports were stolen or lost abroad last year, an increase of almost 5% on 2011. The vast majority of these passports are likely to be stolen rather than lost as victims are often unaware they have fallen prey to thieves.

According to the research, British passports sell for as much as £400 each abroad, and are typically bought by 'dealers' to carry out identity fraud. As a result it's estimated that the black market value of British passports sold overseas was around £11 million last year [3] .

Most passports were reported missing in Spain, Italy and France. However when you look at the number of Brits visiting these countries, the figures are relatively low and the real theft hotspots are Australia, Mexico and Portugal.

The criminologist research, which questioned British victims of passport theft and convicted perpetrators from four countries, suggests that organised gangs are specifically targeting passports rather than valuables. A quarter [4] of victims report their passports were the only items that went missing with one commenting: "Nothing else was stolen except our passports even though there was cash and jewellery in the hotel room [5]".

The majority of passports are stolen from shops (18%), hotel rooms (17%), the beach (13%), from bars (8%) and even in airport departure lounges (11%). Yet, victims often make themselves easy targets by not keeping their passports safe. In fact a fifth (18%) admit carrying their passports in their pockets while on holiday or in their handbags (15%). One in ten (9%) [6] even admit they leave their passports visibly lying around in their hotel rooms.

The research found that passport thieves often operate in busy tourist areas, where jostling crowds help them to go through bags unnoticed. They predominately work in gangs of four or five, each with their own role - someone to distract, someone to pickpocket the victim, with others watching ready to intervene if something goes wrong.

There is little awareness of the problem among holidaymakers and many (58%) admit they wouldn't know what to do if their passport went missing when overseas. If a passport is stolen or lost while abroad, it should be reported to the local police within 24 hours of discovery and a police report obtained. The victim will need to go to the nearest consulate to get replacement travel documents to enable them to travel home. British consulates are usually based in major cities or the capital of a country.

As well as the inconvenience of losing a passport abroad it can also be costly. One in five victims has had to fund at least an extra five days of hotel bills and food and drink - running to hundreds of pounds - before obtaining emergency documents to allow them to head home. LV= travel insurance will pay up to £500 towards extra transport, accommodation and administration costs that have to be paid to get a temporary passport to return to the UK.

While holidaymakers are often vigilant with their high-value possessions abroad, such as mobile phones, jewellery and tablet computers, our research has shown many are unaware of the true value of their passport. We advise people to take as much care of their passports as they do with any other valuables while overseas and be extra careful when in busy tourist areas.

Selwyn Fernandes, Managing Director of LV= travel insurance

Riskiest destinations for British passport theft

Country

No of British visitors 2000 - 2012 [7]

No of British victims estimated 2000-2012 [8]

% of British visitors who have had passport stolen [8]

Australia

8,537,000

28,961

0.34% (1 in 294)

Mexico

2,667,000

5,792

0.22% (1 in 455)

Portugal

24,893,000

46,338

0.19% (1 in 526)

Italy

42,974,000

57,923

0.13% (1 in 769)

Belgium

13,957,000

17,377

0.12% (1 in 833)

USA

54,191,000

52,131

0.09% (1 in 1,111)

Netherlands

22,575,000

17,377

0.08% (1 in 1,250)

Spain

187,361,000

133,222

0.07% (1 in 1,429)

France

165,190,000

57,923

0.04% (1 in 2,500)

Greece

34,087,000

11,585

0.03% (1 in 3,333)

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Notes

The research was conducted in several distinct parts. Firstly, LV= travel insurance commissioned criminologists Invenio Research to question 18 British victims of passport theft and four perpetrators of passport theft from a selection of the countries where it's most prevalent (Australia, USA, Spain) and one from the UK.

A Freedom of Information request was issued to the Home Office Identity and Passport Service to ascertain levels of passport loss/theft domestically and abroad.

Information regarding the number of tourists travelling to countries last year was conducted by Tourism Economics in 2012 on behalf of LV= travel insurance.

In addition, LV= travel insurance commissioned ICM research to question a representative sample of 2,000 British adults about their attitudes towards looking after their passports while overseas and how many of these had a passport stolen. The research was conducted in February and March 2013.

About LV=

LV= employs 5,600 people and serves over five million customers with a range of financial products. We are the UK's largest friendly society and a leading financial mutual.

When we started in 1843 our goal was to give financial security to more than just a privileged few and for many decades we were most commonly associated with providing a method of saving to people of modest means. Today we follow a similar purpose, helping people to protect and provide for the things they love, although on a much larger scale and through a wide range of financial services including insurance, investment and retirement products.

We offer our services direct to consumers, as well as through IFAs and brokers, and through strategic partnerships with organisations such as ASDA, Nationwide Building Society and a range of trade unions.

LVFS is authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority, register number 110035. LVFS is a member of the ABI, the AFM and ILAG. Registered address: County Gates, Bournemouth BH1 2NF


  1. Source: FOI request to the Home Office Identity and Passport Service from LV= travel insurance. 27,254 passports were reported lost or stolen abroad to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 2012 and 25,842 were in 2011. This represents an increase of 5.4%.
  2. Source: ICM research among 2000 British adults.
  3. Source: Invenio Research and Home Office Identity and Passport Service data. According to the FOI request sent to the Home Office, 27,254 passports were lost or stolen last year. According to the perpetrator research conducted by Invenio Research, British passports can sell for as much as £400. Therefore 27,254 x 400 = 10,901,600 or almost £11 million.
  4. Source: ICM research among 2000 British adults.
  5. Victim was a 30-year-old male. The passport was stolen from a hotel safe while on holiday in Portugal with his wife.
  6. Source: ICM research among 2000 British adults.
  7. Source: Tourism Economics.
  8. Table methodology: ICM research shows that 4.7% of Brits have had their passports stolen over the last 50 years, equivalent to 2.23 million people. Of this number, victims were asked where their passport was stolen or lost, which has been aggregated to show the estimated number of victims in each country over the last 13 years 2000-2012 inclusive). The number of victims was then divided by the number of visitors to that country, to show what proportion (%) of visitors had had a passport stolen or lost by country.