What happens to lost or stolen passports?

Close to 40,000 Australian passports are reported lost every year. Most are lost within Australia but almost 10,000 go missing overseas.

The countries where Australians are most likely to lose their passports are Spain, Thailand, France, Britain and the United States.

An Australian passport is a highly valuable commodity worth several thousand dollars on the black market, but the technology embedded in Australia's ePassports is difficult to alter.

Anyone seeking to use a stolen passport is more likely to try and change their appearance to match the image in the passport rather than trying to change the information in the passport.

Passports that are stolen could end up in the hands of anyone looking to conceal their true identity – criminals, terrorists, drug smugglers, human traffickers, refugees or even those we call friends.

Two Iranians on board disappeared Malaysian Airways flight MH370 were travelling on stolen passports, one Italian the other Austrian.

Both had passed muster at the check-in desk and immigration controls in Malaysia without setting off any alarm bells.

In another celebrated case, Mossad, the Israeli security agency, "borrowed" the passports of several Australians residing in Israel when it sent agents to assassinate Hamas arms trafficker Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in 2010.

It's vital to keep your passport safe, especially when travelling.

There is seldom any good reason to carry it when you're out and about for the day, it belongs in your hotel safe or locked securely within your luggage.

See also: What is the best passport in the world for travellers?

See also: Is handing over passports in hotels safe?