How to Avoid Pickpockets While Traveling
Though it ranks pretty low on the crime scale nowadays, pickpocketing is still a common crime all around the world. While it is better than the loss of life or limb, being the victim of theft can leave you feeling vulnerable and violated. You can't stop people from being pickpockets, but you can do your best to stop yourself from being a victim by being aware and taking the proper precautions.
1. Know Common Scams
Pickpocketing is not always a bump and lift like you see in the movies, there are many tactics that pickpockets use to relieve you of your goods. By knowing some of the more common pickpocketing scams, you will have a better idea of how to spot and avoid them.
1. The Bump and Lift
The bump and lift is one of the most well-known pickpocketing tricks because it is the one that they always show in the movies. This one requires the scammer to make physical contact (bump) with the victim. The physical connection makes it harder to tell that someone is digging through your pockets and "lifting" something out of them.
2. The Clean Up
This one is especially annoying because it usually means that the perpetrator spills something on you, though they may just make up a mess. It works by either making you dirty or saying you are dirty and offering to help clean it up. While they are, drying you pants after they spill soda on them for example, they take the opportunity to rifle through your pockets at the same time.
3. Distraction Techniques
There are so many of these; it would get tedious going through each one. What you need to know is that these scams are always run by a group of people. Usually what will happen is a chaotic distraction will take place like a staged fight or a big performance, when bystanders stop to watch another pickpocketer swoops in to snatch up their valuables while they are distracted.
Another common distraction technique is to drop something in front of you, this is often a two-person job, but it doesn't have to be. It is common for pickpocketers to drop money on the ground in front of somebody, when the victim bends over to pick it up they are relieved of anything in their back pockets.
4. Purposefully Getting Caught
This is another ruse which takes a pair of criminals. The first delinquent will purposefully get caught trying to steal your stuff; when all your attention is on bad guy number one, bad guy number two is unloading your belongings. The worst part about this one is that most people feel so accomplished stopping the first assailant that they don't check their possessions right afterward and don't realize until much later that they were still victims.
5. In Need of Help
Another incredibly popular diversion that pickpockets will use is acting like they are in need of help. One example is to walk up to an unsuspecting diner on the street and place a map down over the table asking for directions. When the scammer lifts the map up, they take any valuables off the table with them.
These are just some of the more popular ways that pickpockets make their living. There are many more ways that would-be thieves are willing to borrow your things permanently. The most important thing you can do is to be aware of your surrounding and be wary of anyone who is too close to you especially if they are behind you.
2. Don't Look Like a Tourist
I know that you want to take all the best pictures with your expensive camera, but pickpockets don't choose their victims at random, there are a few ways they determine who would be a good candidate. By not standing out as a tourist you may just save yourself a big headache.
1. Dress the part
Do some research into the attire that the locals wear. For example, I am planning a trip to Barcelona, Spain and one tip I read was that locals rarely wear shorts so wearing them is pretty much a bat signal that you are a tourist. Another piece of advice I picked up was to wear brown leather walking shoes, as brightly colored, or even white sneakers will give you away.
2. Don't Be Flashy
This is both a serious warning and a bit of wordplay. As I said, I understand that you want to take the best pictures possible with a camera that you spent a lot of money on, but carrying a camera around your neck makes you a prime target. In many places, criminal will run up and yank a camera or any other item you have strapped around your neck right off of you and run away. Not only do you lose your stuff, but you could be hurt in the struggle as well.
The other part of not being flashy is to leave the jewelry and fancy watches at home. Wearing big shiny jewelry is like wearing a sign that says "rob me." It may be worth the risk to you if you are going out for a night on the town, but if you are just going sightseeing during the day I would suggest leaving the bling in a safe space in your hotel.
3. Don't Look Like a Tourist
Easier said than done, right? You are most likely in a place you have never seen before, and you are going to want to take it all in. Excessive pointing and posturing about tourist attractions is a dead giveaway that you are indeed a tourist and probably an easy target. Be especially careful if you are stopping to take pictures at landmarks and attractions as this makes you a stationary target and your focus is probably going to be your photo and not your surroundings.
If you need to pull out a map to figure out where you are going, dip into a shop or stop to get a bite to eat and plan your next steps from there. Pickpockets love people looking at maps because they are obviously tourists, and their hands are holding the map leaving the pockets free.
3. Gear Up
People have been traveling for a long time, and it is not like pickpocketing is a new crime. Luckily, a few innovators out there have come up with different ways to protect your valuables, and most of them are relatively inexpensive. Here are a few ways to preserve the things you love most, and which are the usual targets for pickpockets.
1. Your Money
The only thing worse than the feeling of vulnerability you would have from losing your money and credit cards would be not even being able to call or pay for a taxi home. Given how important money is to people there are many ways to protect it from pickpockets.
- A sweatband with a pocket which goes around your arm or leg. Not only is it near impossible to get off, but it would most likely be covered by a shirt sleeve or pant leg.
- Fanny packs are an option, though they are outdated and not wholly pickpocket-proof.
- For my upcoming trip, I have a wallet that wraps around my belt and tucks into my pant leg for double thief-protection.
- Another favorite way to conceal not just money, but other valuables, is in a wallet on a tether that wraps around your neck and tucks down your shirt. This is a great way to keep your valuables away from the average pickpocket, but some more aggressive ones may still try to rip this wallet off your neck.
2. Your Phone
If I had a choice between losing my wallet and losing my phone, I would choose the former every time. For one, I don't carry what my phone is worth in my wallet ever. Two, if you lose your wallet, you still have a phone to use as a wallet or to communicate. If you lose your phone, you're pretty much out of luck. Understanding that, there are more than a few companies that off smartphone protection devices.
- If you are worried about someone sneaking your phone out of your pocket, there is a company that makes a phone lock that locks your phone into your pocket making it near impossible to get it out if you're not the owner.
- My wife chose to go with a phone ring that connects to the back of her phone so she can slide her finger through it, preventing someone from snatching it out of her hand.
- They also make phone tethers which are probably the best protection against a snatch and run, but they are a little bulky and not attractive. They are a case for your phone connected to a rope that wraps around your wrist so even if a robber were to snatch your phone from your hand you could pull it back.
3. Everything Else
If you do feel like you need to travel with more than just a few items, I would suggest a pickpocket-proof backpack. They make fantastic packs now that make it impossible for anyone to get into your things while you are carrying it.
The last thing that anyone wants is to lose any of their expensive and vital belongings, especially when you are halfway around the world. The most important thing you can do is keep your wits about you and your eyes open. If you are traveling somewhere where pickpocketing is a problem I hope that following these steps will help to ensure that it doesn't happen to you.