How to Outsmart Pickpockets on Vacation
You’ve probably heard about the dangers of being pickpocketed, even (especially) in Europe’s major capitals where trained gangs of pickpockets, often in the form of children or immigrants paying off massive debts to human traffickers, tend to congregate. You may have scrimped and saved to take a vacation, so the last thing you want is to wind up being a theft victim and scrambling around without cash, desperately trying to replace your credit cards and passports in a country where you may not even speak the language. If pickpockets and thieves are of concern when you’re abroad, here’s what you need to know.
Be alert to potential pickpockets
Stereotypes about pickpockets abound. But if you’ve ever been on the streets of Barcelona, Paris, Rome, Athens or Amsterdam, you know that pickpockets are often the last people you’d expect:
Well-dressed kids. Why? Because they’re the last people you’d suspect! Also, authorities are limited in what they can do to an underage criminal, so they make better thieves.
What else to watch out for?
Groups of people approaching you: A couple to distract you while a third (or more) tries to take your things
Pushy people on public transit – the pushing can be a distraction or a way to steal from you
Fellow diners in cafes, restaurants and bars
Fellow shoppers in busy stores or outdoor markets
Fake charity workers with clipboards who may swarm you to ask for a donation or get you to sign a petition
People offering to help you with your bag or suitcase at the train station
Anyone who bumps into you harder than usual, especially if there is no real reason for it
People blocking the escalator or standing in the flow of foot traffic, trying to create a crowd and confusion
‘Lost’ people who shove a large map in your face asking for directions, so you can’t see that your phone or wallet is being stolen
Anyone who attempts to distract you from what you are doing at an ATM
People who drop things right in front of you so they can steal while you are assisting them
Protecting yourself from pickpockets
If the list above seems daunting and paranoia-inducing, please don’t worry – not every helpful citizen or clumsy person is a pickpocket trying to take advantage of hapless tourists! In fact, the odds are excellent that you will be perfectly safe on vacation. Just in case, though, taking simple, common-sense precautions can ensure that you outwit anyone who might try to steal your belongings. These precautions fall into three general categories:
1. Don’t be a target. Don’t wander around with your phone in your face all the time taking pictures. Don’t bring a lot of luggage onto the street with you or you’ll be slowed down and
distracted by your stuff. And don’t flash a lot of cash or valuables around.
2. Exercise safety. Don’t leave your stuff laying around on the beach unattended; you’re not at home! Wear a money belt under your clothes. And don’t leave your phone on a restaurant table when you get up to use the restrooms – especially at an outdoor café!
3. Take luggage precautions. Carry backpacks or cross-body bags in front of you so you can see them at all times. Use a good luggage lock or a lockable backpack. And buy anti theft backpacks that have security features like tamper-proof zippers, slice-proof straps and slash-proof metal. It’s best to split your cash, credit cards and valuables up among different bags and travelers, so if you do get pickpocketed, you won’t lose all your belongings in one fell swoop.
Now relax…and enjoy your vacation!