Passports and Passport Fraud

The term “passport fraud” is a phrase that is used to generally describe misrepresentations in applications for a passport or visa, as well as some misuse of the passport or visa. Violations of federal law for passport fraud and related charges often are:

  • False Statement in Application and Use of a Passport – A person submits false information on a passport application for his own use or use by another. 18 U.S.C. §1542;
  • Forgery of False Use of a Passport – A person forges, counterfeits, or alters a passport, or gives a forged, counterfeited, or altered passport to another person for his use. 18 U.S.C. §1543;
  • Misuse of a Passport – A person uses a passport designed for another person or uses a passport in violation of the restrictions on it. 18 U.S.C. §1544;
  • Fraud and Misuse of Visas, Permits, and Other Documents – Whoever forges, counterfeits, or alters an immigration document for the use of entry into the United States. 18 U.S.C. §1546.

 

Fraud, Misuse, Forgery, and False Statements

Often, the person who is applying for a passport makes a false statement to obtain it for travel.  This can be the basis for a criminal charge of passport fraud.  Also, obtaining a passport for another person or group of persons with false statements about the identities, location, or criminal history can result in federal criminal passport charges.

Committing passport fraud to obtain a passport is done to conceal a person’s true identity to avoid detection or to ensure passage to another country.  A person would commit passport fraud to conceal an identity if he has a criminal history or current criminal charge. Another reason would be if he has a status within the government that creates a hold or restriction on the person and his travel.

 

Practicalities

When using a passport that is the traditional book-type, do not alter it anyway, including the information inside.  Removing stamps that have been placed on the passport can be the basis for an investigation into altering a passport.  Also, you could be detained and prevented from traveling. That is because these stamps are considered part of the official record of the passport.

 

Trafficking in Passports

People who illegally traffick passports do so in order to fraudulently create a passport for someone who needs to travel out of the country.  Those who traffick in passports also do so for people who want different identities. People who create and traffick in passports do so for money.

A person who trafficks in passports can be charged with Misuse of a Passport, or Conspiracy if there are two or more persons involved. A person can be charged with a Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud if the U.S. postal system or a common carrier are involved. A conspiracy charge for passport trafficking could also be Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud if wire signals are used, such as emails, wire transfers of money, or other electronic device transmittal.

 

Related to Drug Trafficking or Other Criminal Activity

In certain cases, these false representations may be tied to illegal drug trafficking or other illegal smuggling of goods, or even to terrorists. In that case, a federal prosecutor would likely enhance the case to a greater punishment, due to the Alternate Imprisonment Maximum to facilitate drug trafficking or terrorism. 18 U.S.C. §1547

 

Investigations

The U.S. Department of State issues and administers passports, so agents from the Department of State conduct passport and visa investigations.  Federal agents investigating criminal violations related to passports or visas work with the federal prosecutor (U.S. Attorney) to obtain formal charges.

 

What to Do If Detained or Investigated

If you are detained at any airport while traveling, or at a consulate as you trying to enter a country or re-enter the United States, contact former federal prosecutor John Teakell. Mr. Teakell can determine actions that you or your family can take to 1) have you released from detention; and 2) work to stop any formal charges against you for passport misuse, alteration, or fraud.