Pickpocketing goes back hundreds of years and is still practiced in much of the world today. Although few people endorse the crime, society tends to view pickpockets more kindly than thugs, gangsters, and other common criminals. After all, it is a craft requiring both skill and training. Pickpocketing has also been the subject of many well known plot lines in literature, such as in Charles Dickens’ famous novel Oliver Twist, making it somehow less threatening in the eyes of many.
Although once more common, pickpocketing has become increasingly rare in the United States. Since the 1990s, crime across the United States has fallen significantly. However, pickpocketing has almost disappeared entirely. As a result, many Americans have become somewhat desensitized to the risk of street theft. This is a problem because pickpocketing and thievery are much more common in other parts of the globe, particularly in the countries of Europe. That it is why it is important for individuals overseas to take steps in order to protect themselves. The following are 10 measures that can help travelers avoid becoming victims of pickpocketing.
Limit What’s Carried
Obviously, a pickpocket cannot steal what a person does not have. That is why travelers should carefully consider what they carry on their person when they are out and about. Although a hotel room can be burgled, this is less of a threat in reputable establishments, and guests can normally utilize hotel safes to protect their valuables. Furthermore, dividing up cash, credit cards, and forms of identification between a person and a hotel safe may be a good idea in its own right. If one set of possessions is lost or stolen, the traveler has access to a backup.
It is very common for pickpockets to deliberately target individuals who look lost and confused. As such, travelers should try to acquire familiarity with the area they are visiting prior to their arrival. It is also a good idea for visitors to pay attention to their surroundings and their belongings at all times. After all, one of the most commonly reported crimes affecting tourists and business travelers is the theft of unattended bags, purses, and luggage.
Confidence and Blending In
Most thieves and criminals attempt to target ‘easy marks,’ and will generally not trouble themselves by pursuing more difficult challenges. That is why individuals should try to appear confident and alert when they are in public places. Travelers should also attempt to blend into the local population as much possible, as it is commonly acknowledged that pickpockets prefer to prey on tourists rather than their native countrymen.
Proper Carrying Technique
One of the simplest ways to avoid becoming a victim of pickpocketing is to understand how to transport valuables in the proper manner. Travelers can substantially increase their individual security by simply putting some thought into how they store and carry their personal items. The following are some useful guidelines:
- Wallets should not be carried in the back pocket, but in the front or side.
- If possible, it is best to carry money and credit cards in a money belt or in a difficult to reach pocket or pouch.
- Bags and purses should be carried across the chest, and valuables should be kept deep inside the bag.
- Do not keep valuables in the outside pockets of fanny packs and backpacks. These pockets are very easy for thieves to access undetected.
- Avoid leaving bags on chair backs or under seats, even in reputable restaurants and establishments.
Obviously, some locations tend to attract more pickpockets than others. Travelers should be aware that tourist attractions, shopping districts, and public transport tend to be the most frequently targeted areas. To be sure, any crowded location makes it easy for a thief to operate undetected. However, it is also common for criminals to operate around ATMs and prey on intoxicated individuals at bars and nightclubs.
Watch For Distractions
Although many pickpockets work alone, they often work in teams as well. Normally, these teams operate as follows. One member presents the victim with a distraction, while a second teammate conducts the snatch, possibly, handing off the wallet or bag to a third man.
Although pickpockets are always developing new distractions, there are some common variations found almost everywhere. Some common distractions include: dropping something in front of the victim, confronting the victim with a question, spilling something on the victim, staging an argument, or creating a scene. In one, more humorous, variant the thief convinces the victim that he has bird droppings on his back and offers to ‘help’ clean it off.
Do Not Flash Expensive Items
Conspicuous displays of wealth are a sure-fire way to attract the attention of pickpockets. As such, travelers should avoid displaying cash, valuables, or expensive items in the open. Particularly, individuals should be cautious when talking on a cell phone for long periods of time in public places. Not only does this distract the traveler, the expensive cell phone may present a tempting target for thieves.
Do Not Be Fooled By Appearances
One of the more common stereotypes in Europe is that thieves tend to be either gypsies or immigrants. However, pickpocketing has been perpetrated by all types of people from all over the world. It would be foolish for travelers to make assumptions about individuals based on appearance alone. For example, it is not uncommon for some thieves to be clean-cut and dress in expensive suits. In other instances teams of pickpockets have been known to include both children and senior citizens. Furthermore, criminals have often found that attractive women make a useful distraction to set up a potential mark.
Do Not Underestimate Pickpockets
It is generally true that most pickpockets tend to be nonviolent. However, it is important to understand that there are members of the pickpocketing community who are more willing to use extreme methods. The following are examples of some more radical techniques used by pickpockets.
- Good Samaritan Scams – A thief feigns an injury or emergency to distract the mark long enough for him to be pilfered.
- Grab and Run – A frustrated pickpocket may simply try to forcibly pry a bag or purse away from the victim if he is unable to acquire it in a more surreptitious manner.
- Drugging – Some thieves have been known to slip drugs into the drink of their intended victim, causing them to lose consciousness.
- Assault – Some pickpockets have been known to resort to assault when encountering a victim who fights back.
- Police Imposters – There had been some reported cases of criminals posing as policemen in order to complete an operation.
Have a Post-Theft Plan
Obviously, even the most prepared individuals can fall victim to a skilled thief. That is why travelers should have a plan in place in the event that they are victims of pickpocketing. It is important, for instance, that tourists have a number they can call to report a crime to police and/or the local embassy or consulate. Additionally, it is vital that travelers have the capability to quickly cancel their credit cards in the event of a theft. Visitors should also have a backup plan for getting money if their credit cards and cash are stolen. One easy way to do this is to leave at least one credit card or ATM card back in the hotel safe.