Pickpockets can be found in every country on the globe and they can ruin a vacation. There are steps you can take to limit the chances of falling victim to pickpocketing. This article will shed some light on ways to protect yourself, your money and your belongings, to help ensure that they remain in your possession instead of falling into the hands of thieves. I will also cover some of the various scams used by pickpockets to try and steal your belongings.
Before heading on my Paris honeymoon I read up on how to best protect yourself against pickpockets in Paris. Though every tourist destination has its share of pickpockets, the crime of pickpocketing is rampant in the city of lights. It is such a big problem that tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower and the Notre-Dame cathedral have signs warning you about pickpocketing. I am pretty sure that its due to my diligence that we didn’t fall victim to their scams.
Though the violent crime rate in Europe is very low, pickpocketing is increasing at an alarm rate. Police in general do what they can to curb the problem, but the issue lies with the justice system. Most times pickpockets will target tourists. In order for a pickpocket to be successfully prosecuted, the victim of the crime has to appear in court. Since most tourists only stay in a country for a few days or a few weeks, trials are usually months removed from the crime. A victim would have to fly back to the country in which he or she was robbed in order to testify against the defendant. Since this rarely happens, pickpockets are usually set free or receive but just a small slap on the wrist.
Ways to protect yourself
- Use a money belt or a sling neck purse. Only carry the money you’ll need for the day in your wallet. If you need more, you can always go to a washroom and take out more cash from your money belt or sling neck purse.
- Never carry everything in the same container. Don’t carry your wallet, cellphone, cash, passport and other valuables in the same purse or bag.
- Keep your passport in the hotel’s safe and only carry a photocopy with you. Its also a good idea to give photocopies to family back home who can fax it to you if you lose your passport.
- If carrying a backpack, never carry it on your back in places where there are a lot of people. Always carry it on your front. Its very easy for someone to unzip and rummage through your backpack if you can’t even see it. I used a messenger bag instead of a backpack and I always had it slung to the front.
- If carrying a purse or a messenger bag, make sure that the zipper is not facing your back but instead is facing in front of you. Its harder for someone to try to open it if the zipper is in plain view. Never use a purse or bag that only has flaps and no zippers.
- Sling your purse or messenger bag across your chest. Having a bag that loosely dangles from the shoulder is an easy target for a purse snatcher.
- Write down your credit card/bank card numbers, health card, driver’s license information and other important documents along with contact numbers and keep them in your hotel’s safe. If things do disappear you’ll have all the information you’ll need to cancel your credit cards/bank cards and it will also be easier to get things replaced when you get back home.
- Make sure you know where the nearest embassy or consulate of your country is, along with their contact information. Its also a good idea to know the contact numbers for the local police.
- Don’t dress or act like a tourist! Pickpockets in tourist areas will mostly only hit tourists. Don’t pull out a map in the middle of the street or on the metro. Plan your routes ahead of time. If you need to look at a map, make sure you do so discreetly, like inside a restaurant/cafe or a store.
- Display confidence. For the most part, pickpockets are a cowardly lot.
- Never travel alone if you can. Always travel with someone else or a group and make sure to keep an eye on one another.
- Move around. Its easier for someone to take your wallet or belongings from you if you’re standing still.
- Men keep your wallets in your front pant pockets. Tight jeans won’t stop a professional pickpocket from stealing it from your back pocket. Jacket pockets are also very easy to pick from.
- Keep your valuables and jewellery at home. Don’t take something irreplaceable with you. Only wear the absolute necessary jewellery on you.
- Be alert at metro or train stops where thieves can easily dash on and off the train.
- Don’t use a fanny pack. Using one is an open invitation for would be theives to steal from you.
One of the best tricks used by pickpockets is distraction. If you’re busy concentrating on something you won’t notice someone riffling through your purse or taking your wallet. These are some of the most well known cons used by pickpockets in Paris.
- Someone, usually a teenage girl, will approach you asking if you speak english and if you could translate a piece of paper for her. As you’re busy reading the paper and translating, either the person asking for the translation or a second person will strike. At the time of my vacation, this was rampant at the Arc de Triomphe and the Notre-Dame cathedral.
- Someone will bump hard into you, hard enough to make you fall. As the ‘good samaritan’ helps you up and makes sure you’re OK, an accomplice will try and steal from you. A similar scam is one where you’ll be sprayed with something. As a good samaritan helps you clean up, he or she is really busy stealing from you.
- A person will pretend to drop something at your feet. As you’re distracted someone is busy riffling through your stuff.
- The gold ring scam. Someone will pretend to pick up a fake gold ring from the ground and ask you if its yours. They’ll then insist that you keep it. One of 2 things will happen. Either an accomplice will be stealing from you, or the scam artist will then ask you for money for food in exchange for the ring.
- In lineups, whether its at the metro, at a museum or climbing the stairs at the Eiffel tower, a person in front of you will abruptly stop, causing everyone to bump into each other. As you’re being bumped from behind, that person may be taking your wallet.
- An older woman will be overdressed and carrying an overdressed baby on her arm. Usually the arm holding the baby is a fake, with her real arm free to take things from you.
- Be wary of men holding anything over their arm, like a newspaper or jacket.
Pickpockets can be anyone. They can be a 5 year old child, a well dressed business man, a woman with a baby or a homeless looking gypsy. Be alert and be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. You’re on vacation to enjoy yourself and by being prudent you can ensure that you won’t lose any time from having to deal with things being stolen from you. But even if you are a victim of a pickpocket, you can limit the amount of damage they can do so that you can still have a good and fun vacation.