Avoiding Pickpocketers and Other Scams

Rick Steves will be the first to tell you to wear a money belt or necklace hidden under clothes…while this is sound advice, I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a money belt around my waist or a protruding sack of stuff hanging around my neck… Fortunately for us, we were able to leave Europe unscathed of pickpocketers and purse snatchers….in fact, my husband lost his wallet outside of a bank and someone picked it up, and drove over an hour to personally deliver it to us…. ok so not everyone is so lucky and at the end of the day we should ALL be conscious of our belongings and surroundings no matter what country we’re in!

First of all, let me start with this… any document or card that will allow you to travel should be photocopied and stored with your luggage. This means make a copy of your passport. Scanning it to your email electronically is not a bad idea either. Should your passport get stolen, the US embassy will be able to give you a replacement much quicker if they have all your passport details.

Credit card photocopies are a little riskier in today’s technology world so I would write down all the important phone numbers on the back of your cards and store them again in a pocket within your luggage. This will allow you to easily cancel cards in the event they’re stolen.

Copies of your travel itinerary, flight information, reservation details, etc. to keep in your luggage in addition to storing in Tripit will help you get back on track.

Leave the bling bling at home! Something shiny is the first give away that you’ve got something a thief wants… and that Louis Vuitton luggage….probably the first bag in a pile of luggage that a thief will spot… Avoid the temptation!

Carry purses/bags with lots of pockets so that you can secure your money and credit cards within a pocket that is not as accessible to a wandering hand…..For men, wallets in a back pocket are easily picked in crowded places. My husband put his wallet in his front pocket and occasionally, I would put it in my bag in places we were a little less comfortable in.

In restaurants, I don’t suggest putting your purse on the back of a chair. This is an easy way for someone to casually walk off with your purse and nobody ever notice. I’ve been warned by many restaurant patrons to remove my purse from the chair and an occasional fellow grocery shopper not to leave my purse in the basket and walk even one foot away.

The best tip I can give is to try not to look like a tourist. Blending in can be your best deterrence to someone looking to take advantage of a lost tourist or someone distracted by taking photos…I’m not suggesting you don’t take photos (I take many!) but it’s in those moments that you should be aware of where your belongings are.

Know the scams

The distraction – A cute puppy, a thrown baby, an elderly man falling down, or a dropped wallet is a key distraction for the target to be pickpocketed by an unknowing thief in a two-man scam. Don’t be fooled.

Smash and Grab – Europeans often have tighter personal spaces but if you ever notice two unusually close people on either side of you, chances are one of them will shove into you to distract you while the other snatches your purse and flees…..

Pesky Children – another distraction technique where children want to play with your clothes or beg for money while a sneaky mom rummages her hands through your bags.

Pushy Salesmen – If a salesmen in a crowd is trying to sell you a knickknack that you really don’t want and won’t give up, there’s possibly a sneak attack in your back pocket. This happened to us once in Egypt with someone trying to sell us an Arab newspaper that we clearly couldn’t read…fortunately this amateur wasn’t so discrete with his handsy tactic and we were able to fend him off.

Volunteer photographer –  Other tourists are generally safe to ask for photographs; however, the man standing by himself offering to take a photo has just positioned himself with your expensive camera in his hands with several feet  between you and him ready to sprint away. Trust your gut.

Overall, if you’re aware of your surroundings and exercise proper discretion, you’ll likely never find yourself in a pickpocketed rut. No need to travel fearfully, just travel carefully!



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