The good news about pickpockets? They aren’t out to mug or murder you. The bad news? They can destroy your trip in a matter of seconds.
Anytime you leave home–even going to your local supermarket–you are susceptible to theft. I’m guilty of leaving my purse in the shopping cart as I stroll the aisles of the grocery store. I also carry it over one shoulder most of the time. You probably have similar habits. We don’t go through our day clutching our bags or looking over our shoulders.
What’s different when we travel? As tourists, we stand out. In fact, we may as well wear signs declaring, “I’m confused, I don’t speak the language, and I have money! C’mon over!”
10 cities where pickpockets thrive
According to TripAdvisor, these are the world’s top cities where pickpockets abound:
- Barcelona, Spain
- Rome, Italy
- Paris, France
- Madrid, Spain
- Athens, Greece
- Prague, Czech Republic
- Lisbon, Portugal
- Florence, Italy
- London, England
- Amsterdam, Netherlands
Nope, no U.S. cities on the list. But that doesn’t mean you’re safe–assume that pickpockets are everywhere. A wise traveler is a prepared traveler. Never make it easy for would-be thieves.
How to identify pickpockets
Truthfully, you can’t identify them. Many folks think pickpockets are scruffy young hooligans or shifty-eyed criminals, easy to spot. Not so. Even travel guru Rick Steves was a victim last year!
In Europe, gypsy/Roma females, often with babies or young children, approach tourists to beg for money, then slip their hands into purses and pockets. Kids can be surprising adept. But pickpockets can be also well-dressed businessmen or middle-aged women toting shopping bags. They may appear to be pregnant or disabled. A ring of at least six elderly women near Detroit lifted credit cards in an upscale shopping center and charged more than $500,000 with the stolen cards! (The police called them the “Mad-Hatters” because of their fancy headwear.)
7 ways to avoid and outsmart pickpockets
- Leave your valuables in your hotel room. Pretty basic, huh? Actually, except for a camera, you shouldn’t bring valuables with you. (And back up photos to the cloud–daily if possible–in case your camera does get stolen.) Use the safe in your room or check your items with the hotel clerk for items you should have left at home.
- Wear your money belt. Another no-brainer. For international travel, you’ll be carrying your passport as identification, so you’ll need a place to store it safely. Use a small money belt to hold it, along with a second credit card, your ATM card, and extra money. See some cool money belts here, all $20 and under.
- Carry only enough cash for the day. Estimate how much you’ll need and stash it in a few places. Small bills and coins in a front pocket, larger bills in a different pocket. Your credit card in still another spot. Even putting money in several compartments in your purse or day bag limits how much a petty thief can grab.
- Be especially alert on public transportation. A crowded bus or subway–where people can be jostled or touched is perfect for pickpockets. Thieves love to work their way through the crowds then hop off. Watch out for turnstiles, too. It’s easy for a thief to stand there and grab your bag after you’ve passed through.
- Crowds and commotions are classic methods. When you see a fight or argument, a clumsy spill, or someone falls or faints as you pass, keep walking. Pickpockets work in teams; while you’re distracted by the “actors,” someone else can expertly rummage through your bags or pockets. You’ll never feel a thing.
- Protect your purse and backpack. Never hang your purse or backpack over the back of a chair. Loop it through your arm or leg. Use a chair leg to secure it. Even if you’re indoors, play it safe. Cross-body bags keep your possessions in front of you. Using the restroom? Avoid the door hooks–it easy for someone to reach over and grab your bags while you’re…occupied.
- Watch your phone. We all use our phones and devices when we’re out. Then we set them on the table next to us. Don’t do this!! You have only two choices: Hold it in your hand when using it or put it in a front pocket while you sit. When you’re ready to leave, move it to a more secure place.
I’m not trying to make you paranoid–just prudent. Pickpocketing might well be the world’s second oldest profession. But with a little planning, we can outsmart petty thieves and become confident travelers.
Get more travel safety tips here!