Saturday, August 18, 2007

Identity Issues, part 1: Passport

In Russia, there is no analogue for the US Social Security Number. We do have Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, which is given when a person pays taxes for the first time. Many people, however, don't know their ITIN, because most often they don't need to. Driver licenses can be used as ID only in limited cases. So, the most important document here is a passport. I use mine in every formal procedure – when I buy mutual funds in my bank, buy train or plain tickets or get a package in a post office. I'm used to carry it around, because even when I pay with a card in a store, I'm sometimes asked to show my passport for verification.

What drives me mad is the necessity to get a new passport at some stage of life. It seems that the only reason for this is updating the picture, but a new passport also gets a new number. A person must get a new document when he or she turns 20 (my case) or 45, within a month after the birth date, at his or her permanent address (Hometown for me). Luckily, my birthday is in the middle of summer, and I could easily spend several weeks in Hometown while my new passport was being issued. So, after a couple of weeks of waiting, I got my second ever passport, with a new picture and a new number.

A month ago I bought a plane ticket to Moscow. It was rather cheap because of the special offer at the time. The problem was I bought it before my 20th birthday, using the old passport data. An airlines representative claimed the ticket invalid and suggested I should sell the ticket back (getting only 30% of its price) and buy another using the new passport data (the special offer expired). Isn't that ridiculous? After a bit of fighting they eventually agreed just to change the data in the ticket. When I'm in Moscow, I'll probably have to go to my bank and ask them to change my info in their database. And then there is my asset management company, which also uses passport number and such for identification.

Honestly, I would rather just glue a new picture over the old one. I'm so glad that my birth certificate and ITIN need not be changed. It feels so odd, being the same unique person, but having to prove who I am just because some number in some document has changed.


Dasha said...

That is really annoying. I didn't know the passport numbers changed, but I've only had a Zagranichnii passport. I don't know if the number on that changed when I got it renewed.

matt said...

That's a terrible system.

Our SS numbers are not perfect either. There are three major credit reporting bureaus in the United States. Two of the three report the wrong social security number for my profile (they have switched a 4 and a 9). It would make life hell for me if I actually wanted credit. Since I have lots of money, I've never bothered to correct the issue.

All of the employers for whom I have worked perform a credit check before hiring. I have to go through a long process each time showing my passport and driver's license to prove that I'm not a scammer.

Fixing this is on my list of things to do this year.

E.C. said...

That sounds like a tremendous hassle. Do you know anything about why they adopted such a strange system in the first place?

Olga said...

Dasha: It seems to me that the numbers on a foreign passport change too, but they probably don’t play such a big role as the ones on a citizen's passport. By the way, I need to renew my foreign passport next year. I hope this procedure will have no complications.:)

Matt: Good luck fixing this error! Your story about SSN made me think once again about the differences among different countries' identification systems. Until very recently I thought that every American had a passport, like we Russians did. I think I must write a sequel to my post about it:).

E.C.: I really don't know. Back in the Soviet times, passports had several picture frames, so when people were getting older they usually didn't need to change their passports. It all began with the introduction of new Russian passports. I think the problem is not with the passport numbers, but with the flaws of our identification system. OK, I will definitely write an additional post!

GoldnSilver said...

That's not a good system. What a hassle.

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