More and more Americans have passports. While once the very low percentage of U.S. ownership of this prized document was dismal (only seven percent in 1989), since 9/11 and the resulting decision that Americans need it to travel to Canada and the Caribbean, the number of U.S. passports has risen dramatically. In 2012, according to Forbes Magazine's Andrew Bender, U.S. passport ownership has risen to a very respectable 33 percent. What this means is that while advanced biometrics make stealing a passport -- and let's face it, a U.S. passport is a very fine thing to have -- less appealing to thieves, if it is your bag, and your bag gets stolen, well...more and more U.S. passports are going to disappear into thin air. And this might not come about due to deception. According to the United Kingdom's Home Office, more than 10,000 Brits a year accidentally throw theirs away including one left in a coat that was generously given to a homeless person.
So, what do you do when any of these nightmares strike? The answer is to be prepared before it does. As someone who has travelled to 79 countries, the first thing I pack is my passport (the rest of the packing is really details, isn't it?). I place it in the pocket of the bag I am going to take on the plane with me, and at the airport I transfer it to the inside pocket of my jacket. Then after I arrive wherever it is I am going, it then pretty much stays in the pockets of my pants. A far, far better place is the hotel room's safe. Always make a copy or two of the information page of your passport, and pack that in a different bag. Also print out this page from the U.S. Department of State, and write on the photocopy, the details of the U.S. consulate or embassy in the place(s) you are travelling to. If you are going as a family, it is best not to have everyone's passport together (maybe two with Mom, two with Dad), but again, take copies of all of them and keep those copies separately.
With your photocopy, the consulate or embassy will give you full instructions on how to get a new passport, but it is also a very good idea to write down (again put it in a safe place) the name and details of a U.S.-authorized passport facilitator such as U.S. Passport Now. You can receive a new passport-application form from the consulate, but you will need to have proof of U.S. identity (perhaps a driving license), your airline tickets (keep these in yet another safe place) and new, regulation passport photos. Bring these from home, as they perhaps are not so easy to get, for example, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on a wet Sunday and where everyone speaks French. And remember, according to Travel Insurance Review (which has more advice on stolen passports), it is actually a duty to tell the nearest consulate when your passport has been stolen. After all, they might get into a very bad pair of hands.
And based on the first-hand experience of About.com's Arlene Fleming, problems may not end when you receive your new passport. (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two do not share an editorial affiliation.) If anyone tried to use your stolen passport fraudulently, there might be additional hassles. Advice: keep checking on the status of your stolen passport, even when you get your new one.