Whether you’re traveling in New York, Rome or Sydney, street crime can be a problem. Pickpockets lurk in subway entrance tunnels and ride crowded buses, hoping for the perfect opportunity to swipe your wallet. Some pickpockets can dip into your purse so smoothly that you don’t even notice. Others work in teams – a “distractor” engages you in conversation, jostles you or offers unneeded assistance, while the true pickpocket nabs your cash.
Fortunately, you can foil most petty thieves by preparing in advance and understanding their tactics. Here are some ways to prevent pickpockets from ruining your travel experience:
- Wear a money belt or pouch. Your first line of defense is taking your money, credit cards and passport out of your purse or wallet and wearing them close to your skin. Yes, a money belt can be uncomfortable, and around-the-neck money pouches show under shirts and blouses. Wear them anyway. Pickpockets have dozens of ways to get at your wallet, and a quick thief can grab your purse in a flash. Don’t take a chance. If you really can’t stand the feel of a money belt, sew pockets onto an undershirt or camisole, add Velcro closures and keep your cash there.
- Store your camera securely. Cameras are theft targets because they are easily fenced. Don’t sling your camera bag casually over your shoulder; keep it close to your body. If someone approaches you with a partially-opened newspaper, be prepared to push them away. The newspaper-bearer is a “distractor,” and another pickpocket, perhaps a child, will try to dive under the newspaper to grab your camera or fanny pack.
- Carry a decoy wallet. Put a couple of fake credit cards and some change into an inexpensive wallet and carry that in a pocket. Keep your cash, ATM card and passport in your money belt. If, by chance, you are bothered by pickpockets, all they’ll get for their pains is your thrift shop special.
- Protect your laptop. Especially in airports, laptops are prime targets for thieves. If you must bring it, consider carrying the laptop in a nontraditional case. Never let go of your laptop bag while in an airport.
- Dress like a local. Leave the Washington Redskins sweatshirts, plaid shirts and blazing white shoes at home; you might as well wear a neon sign flashing, “I’m a target!” Wear neutral colors. Leave your expensive jewelry at home; not only will it brand you as a tourist, but it will mark you as a wealthy, tempting victim.
- Display a confident attitude. Stand tall. Act as though you know where you’re going, even if you are lost. Don’t make eye contact with gypsies or street vendors. Pickpockets prey on insecure tourists, usually by distracting them and creating an atmosphere of confusion.
- Read up on tourist scams and find out where pickpockets work. Many guidebooks and travel websites provide information about pickpockets. You can also search online bulletin boards for travel scam information. You’ll quickly discover that pickpockets have devised dozens of ways to separate you from your cash. Identify problem areas before you leave home and take extra steps to protect yourself when you travel through places famous for street crime.
- Devise a defense strategy. Decide what you’ll do if bothered by pickpockets. Will you shout loudly? Push them away? Walk quickly in another direction? All of these strategies work if you’re dealing with traditional, unarmed pickpockets. Learn a few words in the language of your destination country, and include words such as “no,” “help,” “police,” and “fire”. Of course, if you are approached by someone with a weapon, hand over your wallet or purse without resisting and head for the nearest police station.
- Carry back-up information. If the worst happens, it will be easier to replace passports, tickets and credit cards if you’ve made copies of these documents. Leave a copy of your passport at home with a friend or relative and carry a copy with you. Bring a list of credit card and transportation contact numbers.
Preparing in advance, securing your valuables and keeping a clear head are the best ways to prevent pickpockets from targeting you. Stash your cash, relax and enjoy your trip.