Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst, so the old saying goes – advice that is especially helpful than when you’re enjoying the hustle and bustle of an exciting new city.
Pickpockets are everywhere, and they’re not just the crafty con artists that you see in cartoons. These clever con artists come in all shapes and sizes, from the helpful young man at a ticket kiosk to the old lady who accidentally spills ketchup on your shirt.
Here are five places where you need to put your spidey-senses into high gear and hang on to your handbag.
1. Public transport
If you are standing near the door or exits of a bus or subway car, make sure you know where your belongings are. Clever pickpockets will grab your bag, just as the doors close, leaving you powerless to act, and potentially miles away when you can report the theft. Another place to be vigilant is ticket kiosks. If you’re unfamiliar with a city’s transit system, spend some time figuring out the ticket machine. The “helpful stranger” that is giving you a hand might turn out to be the pickpocket who takes off with your credit card. At stations, politely decline assistance from anyone except uniformed staff.
2. Crowds and street performances
Crowds are part of the fun of a big city, but anytime you are in a congested situation, be careful. If you’re enjoying a local street performance such as a magician, or a busker, be aware that this is an excellent venue for pickpockets. Be careful of the “bag slash”, a technique where the pickpocket will simply cut the bottom of your backpack, and help themselves to the contents as it spills out. Carrying a small bag on your front may look a little silly, but it’s a great way to prevent against this type of theft.
3. Lineups and queues
Spilling a drink, or sauce, such as mustard or ketchup on your clothing is another way that clever street scammers will try to distract you. While they apologise and offer you a tissue, their associate is busy grabbing your wallet. Another popular trick is when a scammer plants bird poop (or something that resembles it) on your shoulder, and then helps you wipe it off. While you are distracted, and possibly even taking your jacket off, or putting your backpack down, a second person is standing by, ready to swipe your stuff.
4. Bank machines
The safest ATMs are inside a bank. Always check to see that the slot where you insert your card doesn’t have some kind of device attached. These cleverly camouflaged inserts can cause your card to get stuck (necessitating the help of a “friendly passerby”) or worse, contain a device called a “skimmer” that can read your card number, while a small camera records you typing your PIN. If your card gets stuck in a foreign bank machine, warning bells should ring.
5. Cafes and bars
It’s such a thrill to sip cocktails and sample local cuisine in a new city, but be careful. In crowded bars, watch out for “the bump” – an easy distraction technique. While the person who accidentally hit you is busy apologising, your belongings could be making their way toward the exit. Don’t keep your phone or wallet in your back pocket, and never place your handbag or backpack on the floor. Check for small hooks beneath tables or under the bar where you can keep your bag close against your knees.
If you are unlucky enough to be the victim of theft while you’re travelling, don’t blame yourself, feel stupid or allow the negative experience to tarnish your impression of an otherwise incredible world city.
Pickpocketing will ruin your day, but it doesn’t have to ruin your entire vacation.