Pickpocketing is a real concern every traveller worries about. For good reason; it can completely ruin a vacation. If your credit card gets stolen, you’ll have to cancel it right away and probably go without for the rest of your trip. If your passport is stolen, your travel plans home may be delayed. If all your cash gets stolen, your vacation budget will probably need to be seriously reworked. Avoiding pickpockets can be tough, but here are some ways to protect your valuables.
Don’t Make Yourself A Target
First things first, make yourself less of a target by following these basic target-reducing steps:
- Don’t put anything in your back pocket
- Don’t carry more cash or valuables than you’ll need for the day. Leave extra cash, your passport, and backup debit and credit cards in your locked luggage in your hotel room (or somewhere secure)
- If you have to carry a backpack, put a luggage lock on it. Hold it on your lap or between your feet when you’re sitting.
- Don’t put your phone on the table when you’re eating. Wouldn’t you rather be in the moment anyway?
- Don’t look like a tourist. Since pickpockets target tourists, blending in can reduce the risk. This means dressing appropriately and like a local, know where you’re going (or pretending to) so you don’t look lost, taking public transit when possible, and otherwise acting like a local!
Know Your Surroundings
Doing some quick research about the neighbourhoods and attractions you’re going to can help you prepare before you go. Some areas are worse than others for pickpockets, so preparation is key. If you see any signs that warn about pickpockets, your first instinct will be to touch your wallet to make sure it’s still in your pocket. DO NOT do this! Pickpockets are watching, and you just told them where your wallet is. Keep alert and assertive. Be aware of the people around you. If you get rushed by a flash mob, begging children, or overly friendly people, don’t be afraid to be impolite. Say “NO” and keep moving. It’s especially important to be vigilant around tourist attractions and busy crowds.
What Does a Pickpocket Look Like?
Pickpockets are not always easy to pinpoint. They probably don’t look how you think. Pickpockets blend in, so they probably won’t look like a rough criminal. They will likely be well-dressed middle-class locals. While most pickpockets are men, there are many female pickpockets too. Additionally, pickpockets often work in groups. While some distract you by breaking out in a fight, busking display, or by otherwise creating a scene, another will sneak up on you and grab your wallet. Often, pickpockets are children.
Know Their Schemes
As mentioned earlier, any type of scene to distract you is a common pickpocket trick. Some of these could be:
- Starting a fight
- Flash mobs
- A messy fall or spill
- A mob of children begging
The Good Samaritan
Sometimes, pickpockets will masquerade as a friendly and helpful samaritan. This could mean getting close to you to help give you directions, offering to take your picture so you don’t have to take a group selfie, help you clean yourself when someone “accidentally” spills a drink on you, or other touchy and friendly tactics. Beware of anyone getting too up close and personal or being too friendly because while they take your picture, their partner is grabbing your cash!
The flip side of this is taking advantage of you. This could be asking you for help or directions, stumbling and falling so you help them up, or asking you to take a picture of them so your hands are occupied while their partner pickpockets you.
The Quick Grab
This approach is more aggressive compared to the stealthy pickpocket technique. A quick grab only works when the thief can quickly escape. So, be especially vigilant on public transportation. A thief may grab your bag just before the bus stops and run off quickly. Or, they may grab your bag and quickly get on the subway.
Creating A Crowd
Pickpockets thrive in crowds, so a common approach is to work in groups or partners to create a crowd for a pickpocket to easily steal your wallet. This could mean creating a delay in a narrow entrance or exit so a delay in foot traffic is created. Or, suddenly stopping in front of you so you bump into them, the person behind you bumps into you, and so on.
Begging or Selling
Sometimes, groups of pickpockets will work together to doubly trick you. If you give money to a beggar, the pickpocket now knows where your wallet is and will grab it later. They will sometimes dress well and look like official salesmen or charity fundraisers. While they’re distracting you with their sales pitch or donation request, a pickpocket is already in your purse.
Bump and Lift
The “bump and lift” is the most common pickpocketing technique. All it is, is the thief bumping into you and taking your wallet. It can be done solo and is very simple and easy for even the most novice pickpocket.
Products That Keep Your Cash Safe
There are a few products you can purchase that can better protect your belongings from the hands of pickpockets. Some of these are:
While the “slash and grab” is an aggressive and somewhat rare technique, it can still happen. Buying a backpack or purse that it slash-proof will stop the thief from cutting your purse and stealing your belongings
Small luggage locks for your backpack or purse will help keep your zippers zipped. This means your zippers won’t come open and make you an even easier target, and it will keep pickpockets from unzipping them!
Money belts are worn under your clothes, so you’re keeping your cash and valuables just about as close to your body as you can get. It’s better than a fanny pack, and it doesn’t make you look like a tourist because no one can see it!
Similar to the money belt, bra pouches are small pockets that clip to your bra so you wear it under your clothes. Many women opt to carry belongings in their bras, but a bra pouch keeps your belongings safe from sweat and is less likely to fall out if you’re active.
As technology develops, so too do the pickpockets! Many thieves now have card tap devices that will take money from your card without it ever leaving your purse! Ask your bank to turn off the tap features on your credit and debit cards before you travel.
Prepare for the worst
In the unfortunate case you do get pickpocketed, having a plan is important for continuing your vacation and getting home safely at the end of it. Make both digital and paper copies of your passport and IDs.
Since we have our address book on our phones now, we don’t always have phone numbers memorized. So, keep a physical list of the phone numbers you may need like the credit card company or bank (in case your cards get stolen).
Stay informed. Stay Current.