HOW TO AVOID PICKPOCKETS WHILE TRAVELING
Pickpocketing is a common issue in travel.
Even experienced travelers can fall victim to a pickpocket in a foreign city, and tourist-friendly destinations (like Europe or South America) are notorious for lifting valuable items off vulnerable guests.
Learning how to avoid pickpockets can save your vacation.
In this blog, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to avoid pickpockets.
How to Protect Yourself from Pickpockets
Avoid showing valuable items you have
When traveling, it’s always a good idea to conceal any wealth or valuables that you may be carrying.
Often, experienced travelers will leave nice jewelry at home and will steer clear of flaunting their wealth to avoid pickpockets.
Keep items in your front pockets
It’s much easier for pickpockets to target back pockets without the victim’s knowledge.
Thus, you can avoid pickpockets by keeping items in your front pockets.
It may not be as comfortable, but it will save you a lot of hassle.
Use zippered pockets and pouches
Zippers inevitably slow down pickpockets and make it much harder for them to go undetected.
Use zipper pockets and pouches in your pants or bags for any valuables.
Choose tight pockets
If you don’t have access to zippered pockets, tight pockets can be a great way to deter theft.
It’s a lot harder for pickpockets to grab something out of a tight pocket without you noticing.
It’ll take them longer, and if it’s a pocket on your body (in your pants for example), then it’s likely you’ll feel them attempting to remove it.
Divide your money
Realizing you lost money to pickpocketers can be a painful experience.
One way to safeguard against this is to divide your money.
Put some in your pocket, some in your bag, and leave some in the hotel room safe.
This way, even if some of your valuables are compromised, you still have money to work with.
Keep your phone off the table
Phones left out in the open on tables (at restaurants or cafes) are often targets for pickpocketers.
Avoid pickpockets by keeping it safely in a pocket or crossbody bag to ensure a thief can’t grab it and run off.
Carry a cut-proof money bag
Pickpockets often cut through bags to make their theft easy.
Purchasing a cut-proof money bag can help you avoid pickpockets altogether and keep your valuables safe.
These are often small and can be placed inside other larger bags.
You can shop for cut-proof bags on Amazon here.
Tricks Pickpockets Use to Take Your Stuff
Pickpockets often use a variety of tricks and distractions to pull your focus away from your valuables.
If you want to avoid pickpockets, you must understand how they work and specifically take action against these circumstances.
Here’s what you can keep in mind:
This is often used on trains or near ATMs.
A pickpocketer may yell that someone has stolen their wallet.
On instinct, everyone in the vicinity will touch/check where they keep their wallet, which gives the pickpocket an idea of the area to target.
Charity workers with clipboards
When you’re walking the streets in foreign cities, you’ll often see volunteer charity workers with clipboards asking you to sign petitions.
They’ll either ask for a monetary donation on the spot, or they’ll distract you while one of their partners lifts money from your pocket.
Pickpocketing can happen in all sorts of public transportation scenarios.
Perhaps on a crowded train where you’re not paying attention to your bag or pockets or even while you’re attempting to enter the station.
The turnstile stall is one that catches many travelers by surprise.
When turnstiles get busy in stations, many pickpockets will work in teams.
One person will cut in front of you while their partner will come up behind you.
The first will pretend that the machine isn’t working while the other partner lifts something from your bag or pocket.
In some destinations, “friendly” locals will come up to you and offer to help.
This may seem nice initially but could result in a pickpocketing scenario (especially if there’s more than one individual).
You’ll encounter a number of street performances and buskers in your travels.
However, these street performances can not only bring large crowds of tourists but also pickpockets.
While you’re distracted by the show, thieves will attempt to steal from you.
What to Do If You're Pickpocketed
If you’ve been pickpocketed, your first instinct is probably panic.
After all, you’re in a foreign city and you just had valuables stolen.
What are you going to do without your wallet, phone, or passport?
Take a deep breath and attempt to stay calm.
If you follow these steps, then you can put yourself back in a good place.
- Call your travel insurance. Hopefully, you have a travel insurance policy that can give you advice and assistance in this area. Give them a call first because they may need specific evidence in order to help you through the process (think a police report or other documentation). Knowing what they need and noting it before you begin the next steps will put you in a good spot.
- File a police report. Let’s be honest, the police aren’t likely to help you get your belongings back. However, it will help you replace your passport and credit cards or help you obtain a money transfer from a bank. You also often need police reports to utilize your travel insurance, so you’ll need to document the incident by going to the nearest police station in the city where the pickpocketing occurred and filling out a report. Give them your local contact number and home number. In the unlikely event that they find your belongings, they can notify you at these locations.
- Contact your bank immediately. If you had your wallet stolen, you’ll want to contact your bank and credit card companies as soon as possible. They’ll be able to freeze your account and order replacement cards where appropriate.
- Replace your passport. If your passport was stolen, then you’ll need to go to your nearest embassy or consulate. Without your passport, you’re not able to leave the country, so this type of theft is essential to sort out right away. Fortunately, the consulate will be well-versed in this situation. They’ll know exactly how to help you. Just know that there will be a fee to receive an emergency passport. Be sure to separate your money out so you always have an emergency fund if you get pickpocketed.
A History of Pickpockets and More Ways To Avoid Them
When it comes to pickpockets, it’s important to stay vigilant and safe.
Whether you’ve been a victim of a pickpocket in the past or you’re hoping to avoid becoming one for the first time, there’s a lot you can do to minimize the chances of having your valuables removed from your possession without knowing.
After all, if you know their tricks and how they work, you can stay ahead of the action before your next international trip.
Interestingly enough, the invention of the pocket comes from precisely this problem: how to avoid pickpockets while carrying valuables, whether it’s money or other valuable objects.
Without pockets, men and women were forced to carry their belongings in bags or purses, which led to the development of the “cutpurse” thief, who would quickly cut a bag’s straps and take off with the items inside.
Due to the risk of carrying valuables in a highly visible bag, people in the 17th century moved to smaller pouches and purses that could be tied and secured inside jackets, waistcoats and trousers, making “cutting” a much more challenging exercise.
But pickpockets adapted, and within a few years they were becoming adept at removing valuables from purses that were hidden from view.
By the 20th century, pickpockets were becoming a real nuisance.
Here in America and in other places, authorities were starting to crack down on the business of pickpocketing, forcing mandatory schooling for young pickpocketers to get them off the streets.
In the intervening years, pickpocket masters had fewer willing students of the craft to teach, and the business of pickpocketing started to struggle.
In more recent years, as we’ve started to rely less on cold, hard cash and more on the flexibility of debit and credit, it’s true that a pickpocket’s potential yield is not quite what it used to be.
But while pickpockets have been on the decline in the U.S. over the last half-century, pickpockets in Europe have only grown, in part due to a tourism economy that breaks all the pickpocketing avoidance rules such as carrying cash, brandishing expensive tech and sticking out like a sore thumb.
Today, pickpocketing is seen by officials as a simple form of common theft.
That’s not much solace to the victims of pickpocketing that may have to replace lost cash or valuables, but it’s the more serious forms of crime that are targeted by authorities, leaving little protection for tourists that want to see more of our beautiful world.
For victims, it’s not only the loss of cash and time as cards have to be cancelled and replaced, in addition to the risk of identity theft, but a lost passport or other identification could screw up your entire trip.
Adding insult to injury, expensive travel changes as a result of missing or changing a flight can occur.
That makes it even more important to know how to avoid pickpockets, how to spot pickpocketers and how to stay safe while traveling.
By staying aware of your surroundings and knowing what to look for, you’ll be able to thwart the efforts of pickpockets before they come into your orbit, and the skills you learn will enable you to have a more fruitful travel experience that isn’t steeped in worry and anxiety.
Practice Situational Awareness
Whenever you’re out in public, and especially if you’re in a bustling area, you’re at risk of a pickpocket.
But if you’re constantly observing your surroundings — especially the people around you — you’re less likely to become a victim.
In general, you want to be present in the moment, aware of what’s happening and not let your attention wander.
Sure, that’s not the easiest thing to do when you should be enjoying yourself and taking in the sights and sounds, but it’s precisely when you’re trying to get that perfect picture that you lose sight of the situation around you, opening yourself up to a pickpocket.
The Look of a Pickpocket
Unfortunately, there’s no one pickpocket look that will tell you to beware and stay away.
Pickpockets come in all sizes and shapes, as well as all races and both sexes.
While it’s true that most pickpockets are male, there are quite a few pickpockets that are female, and a pickpocket can also be young or old, with everything in between.
In fact, many European pickpocket gangs are staffed by men well into their thirties and forties, which makes the stereotype of a young pickpocket something that you can’t always count on.
That said, pickpockets do what works, and there are certain behaviors and giveaways that you can use to help avoid becoming a victim.
Since pickpockets often work in groups, grabbing your attention on the one hand while stealing your possessions with the other, it’s important to be suspicious of any person or group that is trying hard to get your attention.
Many pickpockets are also children, which gives them a leg up when it comes to the social norms surrounding the trust of young kids.
After all, a child won’t raise suspicion if they get too close, but their partners are never far away, and you might be surprised at how good a child is at stealing your valuables.
Not only are they smaller and less conspicuous, but their heads and eyes are typically at the perfect height to engage in a heist of your pockets.
Because of their age, kids can also easily avoid a record or jail time — after an arrest they’re often sent to a group home without much supervision where they’re free to leave and rejoin the ranks as soon as the next day.
But if you’re wondering how to spot pickpocketers and you think their drab clothes and ratty look will be a dead giveaway, you’re wrong.
Pickpockets are often well dressed and blend in seamlessly wherever they choose to operate.
To the uninitiated, their presence is as normal as anyone else’s, and they tend to wear recognizable brands that do little to betray their pickpocketer status.
Where Pickpockets Work
The best way to avoid pickpockets and to stay safe while traveling is to be extra-vigilant at any tourist attraction.
Since there are a lot of clueless tourists all gathering in one place, it’s a pickpocketers paradise.
With the cover of crowds and lots of things for unassuming tourists to look at, pickpocketers can get down to their work.
In fact, even the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre have had significant closings due to pickpocketing, which illustrates the scope of the problem.
Public transportation, restaurants and hotel lobbies are also common culprits for pickpocketing, and any time you’re in such an area you should be extra vigilant.
Common Pickpocket Tricks
While a lone pickpocket is all that’s needed to relieve you of your wallet or valuable possessions, many pickpockets work in teams, distracting your attention with one person while another slides in to rob you of your possessions.
One such ruse is known as the helpful stranger, where someone you don’t know offers to help in some innocuous way, such as brushing some dirt or gunk from your jacket.
At first glance, it looks like the actions of a helpful Samaritan, but it’s actually a ploy to divert your attention from their real intentions.
Another trick is to play the victim itself, such as when a pickpocket falls in front of you, dropping their items and hoping that you’ll give them a hand.
When you step in to help, their partner will swoop in and make off with your wallet.
Some gimmicks are even obvious, such as when a crowd surrounds you on public transportation or in a lobby, and they all quickly leave or get off on the next stop.
The pushy charity worker or salesman is also a popular pickpocket trap, especially if you’ve been singled out for no apparent reason — it could be the stuff in your pocket.
But by staying vigilant, you can avoid most pickpocketing schemes, which is the best way to avoid becoming a pickpocketing victim in the first place.
Don’t let yourself fall victim to pickpockets!
These tips can help you avoid pickpockets in hotspot cities as you travel.
Do you have additional tips on how to avoid pickpockets? If you do, comment below!
If you need more travel tips, check out International Travel Tips for First-Time Travelers.
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