There are people who have made a very lucrative career out of pickpocketing unsuspecting ‘marks’. A ‘mark’ is a victim specially chosen by a pickpocket (or group of pickpockets) that is viewed as an easy target or mark. They have mastered their craft and are exceptionally good at emptying your pockets without your knowledge. You may think that you would notice if someone had their hand in your pocket but, rest assured, they are so slick and so fast, that you will be, essentially, clueless until it’s too late. Even if you do ‘catch them in the act’, the penalties for pickpocketing are not harsh enough to warrant their getting another career. So, as a traveler, the onus is entirely on you to protect your valuable belongings.
1. When you look like a tourist! Camera dangling around your neck, luggage in tow, tote bag thrown over your shoulder…..oh, yes….you’re a tourist! Being this obvious may set you up as a ‘mark’ ripe for the picking. A single pickpocket, a pair, or a group of pickpockets may have you robbed blind in a few seconds…and you may be blissfully unaware.
Try to dress like the locals do.
2. In large crowds – Pickpockets love crowds! They can get in, scout out a vulnerable ‘mark’ and, like a pride of lions, move in for the attack. Once they have stolen your wallet, credit cards, watch, or other valuables, they are able to make a quick getaway, disappearing back into the crowd.
3. Watching a performance – Pickpockets thrive in a crowd that has gathered to watch a street performer, a concert, or even an argument- which can be staged to get your attention away from your valuables. While you’re mesmerized by the entertainment or by the scene taking place, another member of the pickpocket crew takes advantage of your inattention to nab your wallet and other valuables. You won’t even notice, they are that good at their ‘craft’.
Always keep an eye on your valuables, especially in crowds.
4. When wearing a knapsack – A knapsack makes you particularly vulnerable to pickpockets. The distance between the exterior of your backpack and your body makes it nearly impossible to be aware when someone opens a compartment and removes contents.
5. Flashing cash – You should never do this whether you’re at home or traveling. A pickpocket will see all that cash, watch where you stow your wallet, and wait for his opportunity to slip it out of your pocket. Make it a habit to carry only the amount of cash that you’ll need for the day in a readily accessible wallet.
6. When carrying several things at once – You’ve been shopping, and you are carrying several bags as well as your handbag. It’s difficult to know if someone removes something from one of your shopping bags, or from a compartment in your handbag. Even a zipped compartment is fair game if you aren’t protecting your handbag.
7. When you carry your wallet in your back pocket or handbag over your shoulder. How many men with bulging wallets poking out of their back pocket have you seen? We see it every day! Carrying your wallet in a back pocket is like a gold-gilded invitation to help yourself to it! How easy would it be for someone to come up behind you, slide your wallet up and out of your pocket and be gone in a flash? Way too easy! The same with a handbag.
Keep your bulging wallet out of your back pocket.
How often have you seen a woman with their handbag over their shoulder and hanging behind their elbow? Often times with compartments in plain view, even unzipped! Again, it would be ‘like taking candy from a baby’ to stick a hand in and pluck out whatever you want. And, unlike the baby, you won’t cry… until later when you realize what has happened!
8. When you’re distracted – A ‘nice’ person comes up to you and asks for the time, or directions, etc. As you’re being ever so helpful, their partner in crime is rifling through your pockets, taking whatever their ‘sticky fingers’ latch onto.
9. When a person bumps into you – “Oh, I’m so sorry!”, says that person when he/she bumps into you. Again, this may be a ploy to feel out where your wallet is stashed or to reach into your pocket and take what is in there.
10. When you’ve had one too many – You are especially vulnerable when you’ve been drinking. A pretty lady (or handsome young man) may approach you and be a little ‘touchy-feely’. Just when you think you’ve made a new….um….’friend’, they take off! What just happened?? Well….you might want to check your pockets; chances are…they’re empty!
Mind your alcohol.
Okay…now that you know when you’re most susceptible to pickpockets, what is the solution? How can you keep your valuables safe and secure?
1. First of all, travel safety dictates that you be aware of your surroundings at all times!
2. If you must carry a handbag, keep it in front of you at all times, ensure that all compartments are zipped up, and keep your hand over the top of it.
A zipped bag is good but a locked one is even better.
3. Likewise, for a wallet. Store it in a front pocket, and keep your hand on the opening.
4. Consider carrying a ‘fake’ wallet that contains no, or very little, cash.
5. One of the safest ways to protect your valuables is to wear a money belt which is hidden from view under your clothing.
6. Or, store your cash, credit cards, and passport in a neck stash which you wear under your shirt next to your body.
7. Carry only the cash and one credit card, that you’ll need for the day, in a wallet that you can protect by keeping your hand on it.
8. Don’t access your neck stash or money belt in public. If you need to add more cash to your daily allotment, it would be prudent to make a trip to a restroom stall to transfer cash from your money belt to your wallet. Don’t flash your cash!
Hide your stash. Don’t access it in public!
9. If you plan to have a few drinks, prepare in advance by carrying a minimum amount of cash. Lock the rest in your hotel safe. This is to your advantage for 2 reasons…you won’t lose a large amount of money if you DO get pickpocketed by that Greek god or goddess… and, you won’t have a hangover the next morning because you weren’t carrying enough cash to get too drunk
10. Don’t carry valuables in the outside pockets of your knapsack. It’s too easy for anyone to unzip or lift a flap and help themselves to the contents without your knowledge.
It’s up to you. Too many travelers have had their vacations ruined by pickpockets making off with their valuables. Practice travel safety, be aware, and have fun!
Written by Emma Ghattas