A digital passport scan costs an average of $14.71 on the Dark Web, but a scan is all you'll get for that price. Cybercriminals up the cost for scans accompanied by identity verification documents, and you'll pay more than $13,000 for a legitimate physical passport.
Researchers at Comparitech combed the Dark Web in late September to learn more about the selling prices of passport scans. Their search took them across several illicit marketplaces, including Dream Market, Berlusconi Market, Wall Street Market, and Tochka Free Market. A wide range of vendors are selling passport scans, but only a few specialize in them.
There are several ways to sell a passport. The cheapest is an editable Photoshop template, which can be used to create a fake scan by dropping in a photo and passport number. Since passport numbers are sequential, it's not hard to guess a real one, and most companies don't check if the passport number matches its holder, anyway.
Digital passport scans, which are fairly common and available for many countries, are more expensive and are often sold in bulk. Then there are the physical passports, both counterfeit and legitimate.
Consider digital passport scans: It's common for both counterfeit and legitimate scans to come with various forms of identification: a selfie, utility bill, and/or a driver's license, for example. If proof of ID is added to a passport scan, the average price jumps from $14.71 to $61.27.
"The reason for this is because multiple forms of ID are usually required to pass proof-of-address and proof-of-identification checks on websites," said Comparitech editor Paul Bischoff in a blog post. "These checks are often part of the account recovery process in which a user has somehow lost access to their account and must prove who they are to regain access."
Researchers primarily looked at digital scans and photos of legitimate passports, he wrote. In total, they discovered 48 unique listings for real passport scans, 38 of which did not come with proof of ID. Listings spanned 20 countries, and they learned nationality plays a role in price.
The most frequently listed passport scans came from Australia and the United Kingdom, and Australian passport scans were the most expensive at $32, on average. There was no consistent price correlation between country and cost, Bischoff noted; however, the price did not seem to be based on either the scarcity or power of the country's passport.
Physical passport forgeries are also available; researchers found fake passports for a number of European countries in their search. Most fraudulent passports cost above $1,000. Real, physical passports are both rare and expensive. Most are at least $12,000; the average cost is $13,567.
Why Steal a Passport?
A counterfeit passport could be useful to a cybercriminal in several ways, Bischoff pointed out. Some banks only require two proofs of identification to open a new account. Someone with a stolen passport and driver's license could open an account, access sign-up bonuses, or use it to cash out on different illicit transactions in a "bank drop" scam, he explains.
These forms of ID can also be used to bypass two-factor authentication on websites that require a photo of a physical ID to prove identity. Some companies require account holders to snap a selfie while holding their IDs, which is why digital passport scans cost more with a selfie of the legitimate owner.
Bischoff provided some guidance for people to keep their passports secure. Among his tips: Travel with black-and-white copies of your passport in case you need to provide it (most criminals prefer color scans). Never post photos of the inside of your passport to social media, and refrain from storing it in checked luggage. Don't store passport scans on your device, and don't store it with other documents that could be used to compromise your identity.
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