State Dept.: New passport will deter fraud

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WASHINGTON -- The State Department introduced a newly designed U.S. passport featuring a digitized photo image of the passport holder and described it as a "major deterrent" to photo substitution and fraud.

The new document contains several other antifraud design elements, such as wavy lines on the traveler's portrait and a security film with a hologram-like image on the photo page.

The passport will be phased in throughout next year by passport agencies in the U.S. It will not affect prices, and current passports remain valid until they expire, according to officials at a State Department press briefing.

John Hotchner, a director in the department's consular affairs bureau, said that eventually, passport applicants will be able to supply only one photo of themselves, not two, because the photo retained in the files can be scanned for use on the passport. He also said travelers will be able to e-mail their photos for passport renewals in the future.

Kevin Overstrom, a fraud-prevention expert at the bureau, said 100,000 of the 6.5 million passports issued were lost or stolen last year, including 27,000 overseas.

Criminal organizations charge from $100 to $30,000 for stolen or lost passports that have been altered, he said, adding that the highest volume of fraud is by illegal immigrants. "The U.S. passport is popular [for fraudulent use] because we have a diversity of national backgrounds," Overstrom said.

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