passport_photoFREEHOLD, NJ – As you prepare for your summer travel, the Monmouth County Department of Consumer Affairs and the County Clerk warn residents to watch out for passport fraud.

"United States passports are indisputably the most valuable travel and identity documents," said Monmouth County Clerk Claire M. French. "Residents need to be aware of the threat of passport fraud and take precautions to ensure that they do not fall victim."

A passport is a travel document issued by the United States Government to a United States citizen for travel to and from the United States. Passports are recognized as legal proof of a person's identity and citizenship. More than one-third of the United States population has a passport.

How is passport fraud committed?

• Assuming the identity of a deceased person to apply for passports

• Using fake support documents, such as phony birth certificates

• Using stolen and altered passports

• Circumventing the two-parent signature rule for children

Offenders commit passport crime to:

• Conceal their identity, such as fugitives and terrorists

• Illegally enter the United States or avoid deportation

• Commit financial crimes and bank fraud

• Facilitate other criminal activity such as drug trafficking or alien smuggling

In 2012, the United States Department of State investigated over 3,900 new cases of passport and visa fraud, and made more than 440 arrests.

"There are many ways to protect yourself from passport fraud," said Annmarie Howley, director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. "One measure you can take before you travel with your passport is to make sure that you leave a copy of your passport with someone you trust."

Other ways to prevent passport fraud:

• Make a second copy of your passport and carry it with you when you travel

• Always keep your passport with you while in transit

• Never lay your passport down on a table or counter

• Keep your passport in your hotel safe and not just in your room

• Immediately report a lost or stolen passport

"It is important that residents to do everything they can to prevent passport fraud," said Freeholder Lillian G. Burry. "I urge everyone to take these precautions seriously and take advantage of the many resources we offer at the County to both attain a passport and protect our residents from fraud."

Additional information about fraud and other consumer affairs programs can be found on the County website at www.visitmonmouth.com or by calling 732-431-7900. The office is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Monmouth County Clerk has two locations where you can apply for a U.S. passport:

• The Office of the County Clerk in Freehold, located at Market Yard in Freehold. The office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

• County Connection in Neptune, located at 3544 State Highway 66, adjacent to the Home Depot and across the street from Walmart, This office is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The extended evening and weekend hours were put in place to help make services more accessible to working families.