Last week we looked at how we can avoid pickpockets and avoid looking like a target. This week it’s all about knowing their tricks so you know what to look for.
1. The Drive-by
I read a blog once about a Canadian girl who was walking along a busy street in Vietnam (a distracting feat in itself), and just like that some guy on a moped going the other direction ripped her cross-body bag right off and sped away. This was the first day of her trip and she’d just lost all her money, credit and debit cards, and more importantly, her passport. She went on to praise the Vietnamese people who were just as appalled as she was and even set out after the thief, as well as the employees at the Canadian embassy who helped her get a new passport and stayed in touch with her throughout her stay in Vietnam, and they even encouraged her to go about the two-week visit all over the country. Her story is better than most, but this is a strategy pickpockets and thieves will use. They drive by and literally rip off your bag.
Avoid this: Be aware of your surroundings, keep a hand on your bag strap, even a cross-body bag, and consider getting an “anti-theft” bag with a reinforced metal strap that cannot be ripped or cut off this way. Don’t walk right next to the street if you can avoid it.
2. In the Crowd, on the Bus, on the Train…
Crowds are a ripe environment for pickpocketing in the most literal sense–you could literally have you stuff picked right out of your pockets or bag. This is extremely common not only in high-foot traffic areas but in particular on buses, trains, or other public transportation. Feel someone pressed up against you? You might have just lost your camera.
Avoid this: Do not keep your phone, wallet, camera, or other valuables in pockets that are not zipped or equally difficult to get into. An inner coat pocket is easier to protect than the outer pockets. A purse that’s in front of you is harder to pick than one that’s beside or behind you. Don’t constantly check your pockets or purse because that will let a pickpocket know just where to look.
That guy showing off magic tricks, the woman singing a hymn, a cute kid playing an instrument… Those are all perfect distractions. Stop to look if you like, but I always keep walking. Sometimes pickpockets work in groups or pairs, so that one person can cause a diversion and draw a crowd while their partner makes his way through as if he’s a fellow onlooker. Just like in any other crowded situation, keep your bag in front of you and don’t let the distraction let your guard down.
Avoid this: If you’re solo, keep walking or be VERY aware of your surroundings and your bag. If you’re with others, make sure someone in your group is watching your back while you take a picture or video, then keep moving.
4. Looks Can Be Deceiving
Pickpockets don’t look like any one kind of person. They could look like a homeless person who’s simply begging for change, or they could look like a Wall Street executive–not at all the kind of person who steals and sells your stuff for a profit. He or she could look like anyone, so be kind, don’t be suspicious of everyone you encounter, but be aware. He’s most likely not going to be dressed in all black and wearing a ski mask.
Avoid this: Well, you can’t avoid everyone on the street. But you can walk with purpose and be aware of your surroundings and your valuables.
5. The Best of Intentions
Well, they seem to have the best of intentions anyway. One strategy I recently read about is a person walks up to an unsuspecting foreigner and asks for money for a charity, or perhaps a church. The foreigner pulls out five Euros, but the person says that’s too much and offers to “help” this foreigner look for a smaller bill or change. Next thing you know, this foreigner is missing 20 Euros and that person is nowhere to be found.
Avoid this: If someone tells you you’ve offered too much money for their charity, take the money back and keep walking. Charities are thankful for anything they get, and they will not offer to “help you” find smaller change.
6. Mind Games
The mind is a powerful thing, and pickpockets know how to wield the power of YOUR mind to THEIR benefit. Distractions are not limited to where you’re looking, they can also apply to where you’re thinking. Are you thinking primarily of answering their question? Or are you thinking first of where your money, phone, and passport are?
Avoid this: If someone talks to me, I was raised to speak back to be polite. But if someone comes up and starts talking to me in unfamiliar surroundings, whether they’re asking a question or complimenting me, I immediately think about where my stuff is and if my phone is visible, even in my hand. Do not let your mind go slack, keep it on task.
7. The Bump
Did someone just bump into you with a hot beverage? This tactic allows the thief the opportunity to “help” you clean up the mess and pick your pockets at the same time.
Avoid this: DO NOT let anyone help you clean up. Run to the bathroom or into a nearby restaurant or museum and clean it up yourself. Tell someone what happened, whether it’s the owner of the business you walked into or someone in uniform.
8. Panic Mode
If someone can get you to panic, they’re in luck and you’re out of it. If an unsuspicious person screams, “My wallet’s been stolen!” Your instinct is to check for yours to make sure your wallet hasn’t been stolen. But that quick and instinctive move has just alerted nearby pickpockets of exactly where you keep your wallet. Before you know it, you’re without your wallet and you told them just where to find it. It was all staged and you just got duped.
Avoid this: Never ever react without thinking. Do not panic, and do not give yourself away by exposing where you keep your valuables.
But the Best Advice I Can Offer Is: Search for pickpocket tricks at your destination. Searching for “Pickpocketing in Rome” and “Pickpocket tricks Romania” will yield different results. London’s pickpockets will do different things than pickpockets in India, so to be as prepared as possible, do maybe 5 minutes of specific research to know what you should look out for wherever you are in the world. Don’t be paranoid, be prepared!
Have you been a victim of pickpocketing? Tell me your tale and how (or if) you could have avoided it. #travelershelpingtravelers