Getting through airport security undetected

Written by Staff Writer Written by Staff Writer Amy Thomson, CNN As human rights violations mount and crime gangs splinter into ever-more unlikely units, getting together safely in your car can be a tricky…

Getting through airport security undetected

Written by Staff Writer

Written by Staff Writer Amy Thomson, CNN

As human rights violations mount and crime gangs splinter into ever-more unlikely units, getting together safely in your car can be a tricky business.

What you do decide upon should perhaps be simple enough. You probably do agree on the right type of car. You probably probably do agree on the right way to put the seat in. You probably do agree on the right way to shop for a place to eat.

But then you flip through the pages of a travel magazine, and proceed to wander across the entire of the modern world, and you realize that, by the standard you set as a traveler, you’d given in to the debasement of identity altogether.

It’s easy to be fooled by what looks like any old passport: a big thick piece of paper that, by the simple expedient of being laid out on top of a piece of metal, looks like it’s thick enough to take a picture.

(Technically speaking, a passport is prepared from eight layers of paper, without the addition of any brass.)

But for many people, a passport — at any size, shape or shape — serves a sinister purpose.

Many people travel with passports they don’t want to travel with. This is what Passport Control director Amena Abdulkarim says. CNN

That purpose can be straightforward: if you’re just going somewhere near your country of citizenship but don’t want people to know that you’ve been anywhere else, a passport that is simply easy to fold and hang on your belt will do the trick.

More insidious, though, is the extent to which the passport is already working as a sort of 21st century organized crime network, tailored not to serve your own needs but to bring you as many people on as possible, quickly and cheaply, before you open your wallet for money.

Because not only does a passport act as an identity, it also acts as a card of bank and insurance and credit. And without an identity, in these times of budget airline flights and hotel booking deals, there is no reason for you to have your money actually in your bank account, to pay people who can tell you more about yourself than you can possibly need to know.

Over time this subterfuge has become serious: the number of passports fakes now in circulation is staggering, and even more staggering is the cost: a straight-up counterfeit passport will set you back $100, a better forged one over $2,000.

But it is the more insidious of counterfeits, commonly known as bearer passports, that have become the most troubling.

Readers who saw this week’s CNNMoney story on a Mexican man who lost his passport and spent the time between countries stalking, pretending to be someone else, ultimately being caught probably are aware that a simple form of identity fraud has now transformed into a game of high stakes, deep rabbit holes.

But if you have traveled, according to Passport Control director Amena Abdulkarim, your financial information is also at risk.

“The user data on most U.S. passports,” Abdulkarim says, “is your Social Security Number. If you steal your own Social Security Number, you have access to your bank account.”

Passport Control director Amena Abdulkarim. CNN

As the traveler next time you step into the airport and see someone visiting a doctor — or glancing down at their iPad — it’s easy to assume that their transaction has taken place online.

If the transaction is in reality carried out at a smaller kiosk with much less direct access to the computer, then it’s also much more vulnerable.

And as more and more countries are closed off from the global economy with the closing of borders, going off the beaten track for days on end has also become a huge risk.

A modern day organized crime organization — one that is carrying out its works with such ease that it can be institutionalized — is apparently capable of bringing out once-privileged intelligence into a national account and using it to drain trillions of dollars out of national bank accounts.

Criminals have been recording phones while making withdrawals, creating fake identity cards, using the passports themselves as a form of cover, even using them to steal credit card information.

The attackers know how to navigate the level of information required. They know how to use your card without you noticing. They know where you are going — or at least, they know how you’ll always remember that, and they also know how you want your passport to look.

And by mapping out these dependencies in such efficient and patient fashion, a small unit of attackers has transformed the world of travel to become a nightmare to be understood.

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