Expert Tips for Identifying and Avoiding Pickpockets

pt1We all know about the ‘clumsy’ passerby who bumps into you and rifles through your pockets, or the ‘helpful’ photogue who offers to snap a few shots of you and your loved ones, only to make a daring escape once the camera is in his hand. Many of us even know that, ultimately, the best way to avoid being stolen from is by keeping wallet, passport and other valuables in a fanny pack (call it a ‘money belt’ if that helps you). But as some telltale pickpocket moves have become widely known, these crafty little buggers have been forced to invent new ones.

The Old Poop Ruse

Although some cultures consider it a sign of good luck, most of us would rather go about our day without catching a direct hit from a pigeon, seagull or other species of sky rat. And should we end up with poop on our shoulder or head, the kindness of strangers becomes invaluable. But if a concerned individual approaches and offers to help you clean it off, you may just want to politely decline. According to Bob Arno, arguably the world’s foremost ‘professional pickpocket’, not only is this character probably a pickpocket — chances are he or she is the one who adorned you with bird droppings. And while practitioners of this trick have historically used fake feces, many use the real stuff today.


Go Against Those Natural Urges

Here’s an old police trick: when questioning suspects during a traffic stop, watch their eyes when they are asked if a gun (or drugs, kidnap victim, et. al) is inside the vehicle; if the answer is yes, then one or more will almost certainly glance toward wherever the contraband is located. According to HotelClub Travel Blog, pickpockets also know this trick (to be fair, it’s pretty much Psych 101). So if you’re in a crowd and someone shouts out, ‘Thief!’, the last thing you should do is give yourself a pat-down to ensure your belongings are secure. Chances are someone is watching you, and when you think the coast is clear that’s when they’re likely to lift your valuables.

Keep an Eye on Your Lens

Some thieves want your money, and others want your passport. According to Paul Wilson of BBC’s The Real Hustle, there are even pickpockets who want your camera lens. These thieves typically work in pairs; one will approach the tourists and inquire about something innocuous, while the other casually slips a hand into their camera bag and deftly removes the lens without being noticed, or even causing that much damage to the camera (it won’t work, of course, but the lens can be replaced). All the more reason to Instagram your vacation, or at least keep your camera really secure whenever you’re in a public place.

No to Money Pouch Lanyards, Yes to Velcro

John P. Harrington of The Boston Globe recently described an altercation he had with a would-be thief in Barcelona, and the valuable lesson he subsequently learned: “wallets don’t belong in back pockets”. In general, travelers should practice ‘defensive tourism’ by reducing their overall vulnerability to pickpockets. Don’t bother with those money pouches that are worn around the neck. “The cord around the neck is a dead giveaway,” Harrington notes. “The thief is going to rip it off, and it will hurt.” A traveler’s “best friend”, he says, is Velcro; not only are Velcro pockets sealable, but they produce a distinctive sound when opened. Or as Harrington calls it, “a built-in alarm on your pants”.

pp1Don’t Hate on the Housekeeping

A common misconception among travelers is that leaving your valuables in a hotel room is just as risky as carrying them on your person — chambermaids with sticky fingers, and all that. But not so, says European travel guru Rick Steves. He encourages tourists to leave behind computers, tablets, smartphones, and other expensive items — as long as they’re tucked away and out of sight, hotel staff probably won’t even bother. If the hotel has a safe, all the better. But don’t assume that every hotel employee wants to swipe your stuff.”Theft happens, of course, but it’s relatively rare,” Steves says. “Hoteliers are quick to squelch a pattern of theft.”

The Worst Cities for Pickpocketing Are…

Many American tourists envision Europe as a giant pickpocket manufacturing facility, but the reality is that the incidence of thievery is much higher in certain cities. Like Barcelona. According to The Huffington Post (and pretty much everyone else), this shimmering Mediterranean destination is the world’s worst city for pickpockets. The other main offenders (ranked in descending order) are: Rome, Prague, Madrid, Paris, Florence, Buenos Aires, Amsterdam, Athens, and Hanoi. Way to represent for petty theft, Europe!

By Brad Nehring 

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