How to keep pickpockets away

pickpockets-warning-signEvery tourist runs the risk of being pickpocketed, there’s a good chance it’s already happened to you before. Thanks to the global financial crisis, which has hurt tourism and increased unemployment, the risk of falling victim to a pickpocket has only increased.

Muggers and pickpockets operate mostly in areas with large numbers of tourists, and where their targeted victims are likely to be distracted, such as train stations and tourist hotspots. We’ll explain how pickpockets operate and how you can avoid losing your valuables.

The most important part of pickpocketing is the distraction. Pickpockets prefer to work in teams, where one or more of them create a distraction when another quickly steals your valuables from wherever you’re keeping them. Always be extra alert when:

  • One or more people ask for directions, but they don’t give you room to look around.
  • Someone spills something on your clothes and wants to help you clean them. Walk away and clean it yourself.
  • Someone tries to blame you for something or starts to pick a fight without prior provocation.
  • Someone asks you to exchange some money. This is a well-known way to let you show them where you keep your wallet, and especially: how much there is for them to steal.
  • A group of people close to you suddenly makes a lot of noise or creates some other kind of distraction.

 Also read: How to attract scammers and pickpockets as a tourist

How to keep pickpockets away:

  1. pickpockets-Paris-metroBe aware of your surroundings. Forewarned is forearmed. Some pickpockets are easy to recognize beforehand: if you see someone wearing a coat during a hot summer day, or someone who meticulously checks out all the people around him, or a group of people that carry no bags, be especially alert on your valuables. Always guard your personal space, so you’ll notice soon enough if someone gets too close. Try to create some more distance and watch your belongings closely.
  2. Beware of prying eyes. If you pay by card or withdraw cash from an ATM, make sure nobody’s watching over your shoulder and cover the keypad when entering your PIN. When paying by cash, be on guard for bystanders trying to get a glance of how much you’ve got in your wallet.
  3. Don’t carry too much cash or valuables. Keep large amounts of cash together with your passport, credit card and other valuables in your hotel safe if you trust the staff. It’s even better to hand it over at the reception desk. You’ll be a less likely target if you’re not showing off a bulging wallet and it limits the damage of your loss in case you do end up being robbed. And preferably pay as much as possible by card or make daily withdrawals for your expenses, so you don’t have to worry about keeping your cash safe.
  4. Divide your cash. Keep your cash in different pockets and spread it among your family members. Carry the bulk of your money and your passport in a place pickpockets cannot reach easily, for example under your clothes. Never keep anything in your back pocket. Make sure you keep a few loose notes and coins in a pouch in your pocket to easily pay small amounts. Keeping your cash in several places and multiple persons makes sure you won’t lose it all at once when a pickpocket strikes.
  5. Don’t show them where you keep your valuables. Pickpockets sometimes play a little act where one of them pretends to be pickpocketing another one of their team in your line of sight. As soon as you notice there are pickpockets around, your first reflex will be to put a hand on your wallet, both to check if it’s still there and to protect it. This way you let the pickpockets know exactly where you keep your valuables. Not having to search for them makes it easier for the pickpocket to take them without you noticing.
  6. Invest in a proper bag. Get yourself a sturdy bag of a material that can’t easily be cut open with a knife and carry it close to your body. If you want to bring your expensive camera, make sure you keep it in a regular bag instead of an obvious camera case which screams “expensive equipment”.
  7. Pickpockets-tourist-dress_codeDo not dress like a tourist. It may seem obvious, but many travelers can be spotted from a distance because of the clothes they wear. The more you identify yourself as a tourist, the greater the odds of being targeted by pickpockets or scammers. Sometimes it’s hard to avoid being recognized as a foreigner, but there’s a difference between a) being the only one in shorts and sandals and b) paying a little attention to the local dress code and trying to blend in. If you show even a remote sign of respect for the local culture by dressing appropriately, you’ll be less likely to be seen as a running target. Try to dress as much as possible in the style of the locals and avoid carrying an overly large backpack or a camera in front of your belly.
  8. Don’t be too kind. Of course this doesn’t mean you have to snub everyone who looks at you, but don’t be afraid to be curt and aloof to strangers who come too close for comfort or who act overly friendly. If a situation doesn’t feel right, follow your intuition. If you keep being friendly, you’re giving the pickpocket continued opportunities to take your valuables. As soon as he’s got his loot, he’ll walk away, even if it’s halfway through a conversation. Even when you’re in need of assistance, for example when your parked car has a flat tire, and someone insists on helping you, don’t forget to stay alert. The situation may be a setup in order to gain your trust and get close to you.
  9. Watch each other, but don’t forget yourself. When traveling together with a partner or a group, be on the lookout for anybody who comes closer to the group than necessary, and warn others if you suspect a potential pickpocket is around. Staying alert to watch your travel companions is a good thing, but don’t let it distract you from your own belongings. Pickpockets often work in teams, so while you’re closely watching if one of them doesn’t put his hands in your friend’s pocket, his mate may already have his fingers on your wallet.
  10. Do not slack off at a table in a cafe or restaurant. Don’t put your bag next to you on the floor, but keep it between your legs with the handle around your foot or the seat post. If you hang your coat over the seat, make sure the pockets are empty.

 

If you do get robbed or pickpocketed:

  • If being robbed, hand over your belongings without a struggle. In some countries a human life is worth nothing to a robber.
  • Go to the police as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours and inform your travel agency, they may be able to offer any assistance needed.
  • Make sure you get a report number or even a copy of the report, because your insurance won’t pay if you haven’t filed a police report.
  • Make sure you have copies of your passport. If someone asks you to identify yourself, show the copy instead of the original. You could also scan it and mail it to yourself.
  • Block your credit card and, if your phone is stolen too, your telecom subscription.

Comments

  1. nom de plume says:

    just after we arrived at Gare du Nord we went to the metro ticket machine as directed by station employees. As we were reading the information on the machine a tall man of European descent dressed like an employee (one piece blue jump suit) approached us and offered to help. Result: we were scammed for E140! We knew about all of the scams and were trying to be careful. We went to the police and made a report. And they took me on a running tour of the whole station to try to find the scammer. They have a full description of him – and maybe they will see him on the cameras. Just before he spoke to us he had tried the same thing on other tourists.

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