How to protect yourself from pickpockets

Pickpocketing in some cities is a real problem you have to contend with when you travel.  There’s nothing like having your wallet or passport lifted from you to put a damper on your trip.  Here’s some ways you can protect yourself from pickpockets.

Know the hotspots

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Tourist attractions  Naturally, pickpockets will go to where the tourists are and there’s no better place to find them than at tourist attractions.  When you’re at an attraction don’t leave yourself overly vulnerable as you take in the sights or take photos.

Public transport  The metro system of subways and buses are prime spots for pickpockets because they are often very crowded.  The crowd creates a natural closeness where someone can easily pick your pocket.  Be especially vigilant in larger metro stations where lines converge as not only is there more confusion and crowds but there are more exits for a pickpocket if they’re being chased.

Train stations  Just like metro stations, trains stations are large and crowded.  They also have alot of confused tourists who are distracted with their travel bags.  When arriving at a station try to get away from the crowds quickly and find a quiet place to get yourself oriented.

Street performances  Large groups of mostly tourists will crowd around a street performance making this an ideal spot for pickpockets to go to work.

Cafes and restaurants  The relaxing action of sitting down for a meal gets people to let their guard down and this is when pickpockets will strike.  A phone or camera placed down on a table or bag slung over your chair are easy targets for them.

The beach  The sun, the surf and the sand – this is a relaxing area to let your guard down and this is what pickpockets are counting on.  Also, rolling up your valuables in your clothes or under your beach towel is just asking for someone to rob you.

Retail stores  Packed clothing and retail stores are an easy place for pickpockets to target tourists.  They also know you’re likely to be carrying larger sums of money to do your shopping.

Who are they?

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First of all, pickpockets most often are not what you’d expect.  They’re not shady looking men or down on their luck bums.  Most often they will actually be young boys and girls around 10-12 years old.

Since people are more trusting of kids and never suspect that they would rob them, they’re able to get victims to let their defenses down easier.  Also, because they’re minors and don’t have any ID, police can’t really do anything with them if they’re caught.

Along with kids, there are also well dressed businessmen who are pickpockets.  Once again, people never suspect that a “successful” business man could ever be a thief.

Pickpockets will almost always work in groups.  A few will create a distraction while another picks your pocket and hands it off to someone else.

Don’t be a target

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Pickpockets tend to target certain types of people and are always looking for the easiest target to avoid any confrontation.  Here’s a list of common types of people they’ll target.

Tourists  No brainer here.  Tourists have money and are easily distracted.  Try not to stand out as a tourist with a camera hanging around your neck and a map sticking out of your pocket.

Chinese people  They are a prime choice for pickpockets because they are usually very rich.  Also, alot of Chinese people don’t have easy access to credit cards so they’ll carry around large amounts of cash.

People with alot of bags  Pickpockets prey on people who are confused and overwhelmed.  Walking around with alot of bags makes it hard to watch over everything and creates a prime target for pickpockets.

Flashy people  Don’t go out flashing your expensive watch, diamond earrings or gold chain for everyone to see.  Not only are you dangling treasure but you’re also advertising how rich you are.

Trusting people  It’s a sick world when the most vulnerable people are the ones who trust the most but that’s the world we live in.  We’re not saying become a cold, untrusting person just that you should always be vigilant with a tinge of doubt.

Pickpocket tricks

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Bump and lift  This is pickpocketing 101.  Someone bumps into to you and skillfully reaches into your pocket to lift your wallet or phone.  If someone bumps into you do a quick check of your pockets.

Paper distraction  One of the most common tricks pickpockets use is to distract you by putting a newspaper or map in front of you.  This will distract you and alter your line of sight.  While one person is holding up the paper, his accomplice will be busy underneath it taking from you.

Phone grab  If you’re using your phone near the door of a subway car you could be a target.  Thieves will reach in and snatch your phone right from your hand as the doors close.

Bird poop  This scam starts with someone spraying you with something resembling bird poop (it could be something like milk, ketchup or mustard).  Miraculously someone else will soon appear to help you clean up this embarrassing mess.  As you’re laughing together about the situation he’s going through your pockets and taking what he wants.

Tip

Most tricks pickpockets use involve some form of distraction.  Always stay alert and aware of your surroundings.

Escalator backup  Once a group of pickpockets finds their target, they will travel up an escalator with him.  Two of the group will be in front of the target while another two will be behind him.  At the top of the escalator one of the people in front will stop and force a backlog of people.  While the confusion is happening the two people behind the target will reach into his pockets and take what they want.

Snatch and grab  Some thieves will drive up behind you on a scooter while you’re walking, snatch your bag and zoom away.  Try to carry your bag tight to your body and on the opposite shoulder from traffic.

Turnstile stall  Similar to the escalator backup, here one person will cut in front of you as you approach the turnstile in a metro station.  While he’s “having trouble” with the turnstile his accomplice will swoop in behind you.

Crowd the metro  A group of kids will push onto a crowded train right before the doors close and crowd around you.  After picking your pocket they’ll all hop off the train as the doors close.  You’ll only realize what has happened the train has left the station.

The drop  Working as a pair one person will drop something in front of you and the other will pick your pocket as you’re reaching down to help pick up the item.

The fake fight  While a group of men will be “fighting”, another will be reaching in pockets during all the commotion.

How to protect yourself

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Only take what you need  Limiting what you’re carrying will limit what a pickpocket can steal from you.

Split it up  Whatever you do take, carry it in separate pockets or areas in your bag.

Wear a money belt  These are designed specifically to keep pickpockets at bay so use it to keep your money hidden away.

Keep it up front  Avoid carrying your wallet or any other valuables in your back pockets.  Front pockets are harder for pickpockets to access without getting detected.

Protect your bag  Use locks on your zippers and carry it on tight to your body on your dominant side.  For extra security, consider getting a pickpocket proof bag that has cut proof metal mesh sewn into it.

I’ve been robbed, now what?

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Don't panic!  Being robbed can be traumatic.  You’ll feel like you’ve been invaded and your sense of safety and security will be gone.  Try to keep calm though.  You’re safe and whatever was stolen can be replaced.

Contact the authorities  Contact the local police and fill out a report with an inventory of what was stolen.  Even if the chances of finding your stolen items is slim, you may need this police report when filing an insurance claim.  If your passport was stolen you’ll need to contact your embassy as well for assistance in replacing it.

Cancel your cards  As soon as you are able to, contact your banks to cancel any cards that were stolen.  If your laptop or phone was stolen you should also change any passwords you had for websites you used commonly especially anything that dealt with online banking.

Contact your insurance company  You should never leave on a trip without travel insurance.  When something awful happens it will at least give you a little piece of mind that you’re covered.  Contact your insurance company as soon as you can and provide them with whatever info they need such as a stolen inventory list or police report.

Be strong  Yes, this will probably be the lowest of the lows for your travels but don’t let this define your trip.  Try to pick yourself back up and continue on with your travels – there’s a ton of great things lying ahead for you!

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