10 Ways to Avoid Being Pickpocketed
Uncover valuable tips to keep your belongings safe, and your vacation on track.
They're watching you! Seasoned criminals in the pickpocket trade are always on the lookout for absentminded tourists to target. While their illegal 'business' isn't new, they have upped their skills for liberating the valuables of preoccupied travellers. Don't fall victim to a pesky thief. Here are 10 useful tips for hanging onto your belongings, and ruining a pickpocket's day.
No Go Zones for Valuables
Never carry a phone, wallet, cash, passport or credit cards in your back pocket. One quick fingered dip by a skilled thief, and your belongings could be liberated in a blink of an eye. If you think that a 'fanny' pack offers more protection, think again. This accessory not only screams 'tourist', making you a target for opportunistic swindlers, but it's also incredibly easy to pilfer. A quick cut of the strap behind your back and it's gone.
Instead of stowing necessities in back pockets and fanny packs opt for a zipped cross-body bag with a thick strap. A criminal on the hunt for an easy target will most likely regard you as too much of a challenge and will take his illegal schemes elsewhere. Backpacks can also be great for carting around your stuff. Just be sure to carry it in front of you when frequenting crowded areas to prevent sneaky hands from venturing where they don't belong. If staying in a hotel, make use of your room's safe to lock up passports, credit cards and other valuables.
Beware of Distraction Schemes
Many thieves enlist the help of criminal associates, creating organized gangs of pickpockets to rob unsuspecting tourists. Such groups are notorious for using elaborate stunts such as staged arguments, squirting ketchup or liquids on your clothes, or people asking for directions to grab your attention and your belongings. While you're busy dealing with the distraction, one of their associates will attempt to steal your phone or wallet. And don't be fooled by seniors or children - crime gangs often employ vulnerable looking people to gain your sympathy, and to make their scam look realistic.
Practice Phone Smarts
Savvy phone owners don't leave home without security preparedness. Turn on your phone's free security lock so only you can access the workings of your device by entering a PIN of your choosing. It's also smart to activate a tracking app in case the unthinkable happens. These apps allow you to log on to their websites and locate your lost, or stolen phone. Android users can download the 'Where's My Droid?' or 'Antivirus and Security' apps for free, while iPhone owners can use 'Find My iPhone'.
While out in public, be careful where and when you use your phone, and be especially wary of passing cyclists. Snatch and grab cell phone crime is on the rise, and thieves on bikes can easily knock your device out of your hand, and they'll be gone before you can do anything about it.
Stay Safe While Dining
During a meal on an outdoor patio, don't leave your phone, wallet or credit cards on the table for passing pedestrians to pinch, and never let the waiter take your credit card with them to the till. It's not uncommon for thieves to impersonate wait staff. Fall for this ploy, and you'll be left with an unpaid bill, and an awkward conversation with your real waiter. Thankfully, most establishments today have portable credit card machines that are brought to your table. If your eatery isn't so technologically inclined, offer to accompany the waiter to the cash register area and pay in person.
Purses and handbags that feature snap or magnetic closures, ties, or worse, an opening that's only covered by a flap of leather or fabric offer no security. On a crowded train or in a city square, a rogue hand could reach inside and it's bye-bye valuables. Bags with zippers are your best bet - just be sure that it's always zipped closed.
On the subject of purses, while seated, women should never leave their bags on the floor by their feet, slung over the back of their chair, or on the seat next to them - purse snatchers crave such easy targets. Keep your bag on your lap and wrap the purse's strap around your forearm to keep it secure and out of harm's reach.
Love it? Leave it at Home
How would you feel if you were separated from your grandmother's antique earrings, your limited edition designer handbag, or your husband's Rolex? If the upset, hardship and worry over lost or stolen valuables would be too much to bear, you'll be more relaxed - and enjoy your trip more - if you leave these hard to replace items at home. Extra credit cards, identification that's unnecessary during a vacation such as birth certificates and SIN cards, and expensive jewellery shouldn't travel with you. The fewer valuables that you cart along, the less likely they'll end up in the hands of a criminal.
Don't Get Tipsy
Cheers! You're on holiday and can't wait to let your hair down with a few cocktails, or glasses of wine. By all means, kick back and enjoy your vacation, just don't go overboard. Stumbling around drunk in an unfamiliar locale ups your chances of becoming a victim of theft. Your awareness is impaired, and strange, or dangerous circumstances that you'd avoid when sober might go unchecked during an intoxicated haze. Pickpockets love sloshed tourists who are sloppy with their valuables, and oblivious to a sneaky hand reaching into a bag or coat pocket.
Study Up on Your Destination
A few years ago, Trip Advisor released its list of cities with a reputation for pickpocket crimes. Destinations such as Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Florence, Prague, Amsterdam and Athens made this unsavoury list. If you're planning a getaway to any of these places, be sure to do a little homework before you go. Your research should uncover areas to avoid such as remote alleys, underground parking garages, or public squares that are abandoned at night.
If your favourite city didn't make Trip Advisor's naughty list, it's still important to realize that any large city, busy cruise ship, or bustling hotel could be a potential pickpocket hot spot. Studying up on your destination pre-trip, and being aware of your surroundings and belongings during your stay can save plenty of heartache.
Take It With You
When traveling by train, never leave valuables such as MP3 players, cameras, tablets, e-readers or purses at your seat when visiting the restroom, or food car. If you leave them unattended, you're granting thieves a one-stop robbery spree in your absence. Take these items with you and let criminals prey on someone else. If you fall asleep during train journeys, make sure that your belongings are hidden out of view, or zipped securely within your bag. Hug your purse on your lap, or wear the strap across your body to keep it tethered to you.
When snapping photos of Rome's Trevi Fountain, climbing on or off subway trains, or lining up to enter the Louvre, be aware of the hustle bustle around you. Pickpockets relish these opportunities to rack up new victims. If you're busy with your camera, jostling for a seat on the train, or reading a museum's brochure, a crook could single you out as an attractive robbery subject. Much like the distraction schemes mentioned earlier, an absentminded tourist is the perfect target for a thieving opportunist. Airports, shopping malls, popular tourist sites and festivals are all places where travellers are often preoccupied. Be alert, and stay safe.