The value of a passport on the black market is in part determined by how many countries its holder can enter without a visa.
This helps explain why those issued by Australia, which enable its citizens to enter 167, are attractive to illegal buyers.
Stolen and lost passports are in the spotlight after it emerged two passengers travelling on the missing Malaysian Airways jet boarded using stolen documents.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says some 38,000 passports were reported lost or stolen in the last financial year. While only a quarter of these go missing overseas, that’s still more than 9000 passports going missing annually.
Consultancy Henley & Partners produces an index of visa restrictions, and this shows Australians enjoy a significant amount of travel freedom compared to residents of other countries, making the passports more valuable on the black market.
According to the researchers’ most recent list, the best documents to in terms of mobility are ones issued by Britain, Finland and Sweden.
(At the bottom of the table is Afghanistan, whose citizens are only afforded easy access to 28 destinations.)
A DFAT spokesperson said that after accounting for the passports that go missing in Australia, “the next largest group of passports that are reported lost or stolen are done so in places which are popular tourist destinations for Australians such as Paris, Madrid, Rome, London, Los Angeles and Bangkok”.
Below is a table showing how many Australian passports are lost or stolen over the past five years.
Significant advances have been made on passport technology, with electronic chips included in all Australian documents since 2005 rendering them near-impossible to tamper with.
“Australian ePassports include a secure chip which includes a digital copy of the passport photo,” the spokesperson said.
“The chip can be read at the border and the digital photo viewed and compared with the photo on the biodata page and the passport holder.
“It is not possible to rewrite or alter an Australian ePassport chip. The Australian ePassport chip is locked. If someone attempts to alter the information the chip will shut down and become inoperable.”
Technology such as this means many stolen passports are used by people who are attempting to assume a stolen identity, rather than by forgers who wish to alter the documents, according to this article by Australian National University professor Clive Williams.
“Passports are most commonly lost because of inattention, stress and carelessness, or are stolen, often with other valuable items such as debit and credit cards,” Williams wrote.
“Occasionally, backpackers sell their passports for a few hundred dollars to get extra travel money. Bar girls in Thailand are known to steal passports from customers for a commission. An Australian passport could be worth several thousand dollars on the black market.”
There’s more here.
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