Generally Pickpockets do not want to hurt you – they just want your money, ID, credit cards, etc. Thieves generally strike when you are distracted, in dense crowds, overloaded with bags, playing with a camera or video camera. My husband and I travel extensively and we have been a victim of theft once in Dublin, Ireland.
We were walking through the Temple Bar area of Dublin and had to go down a narrow street. I was carrying a backpack as we were walking I felt a light tug on my bag and pulled it forward. I noticed one of the pouches of my backpack was unzipped – we quickly looked behind us but no one was there who stood out from the milling crowd. The pickpocket managed to get my husband’s diabetic kit. He was trying to get to my wallet but it was buried under my Rick Steves travel book and as he tried to get underneath it I felt the pull. We were lucky that my wallet was not stolen as I was carrying several thousand Euros (BIG mistake!) and that would have ruined our trip. Luckily we were easily able to replace my husband’s diabetic kit.
Below are a few tips we have for avoiding pickpockets.
- Always wear a money belt or a money pouch and keep your valuables and credit cards there.
- Avoid keeping anything in your pockets that is important.
- Avoid getting into crowds of people with your purse open.
- If you carry a backpack make sure that the backpack has something that you can hook your wallet too.
- Carry your backpack in front of you.
- Keep passports and valuables in the hotel safe.
- Keep your purse closed and clutched close to your body.
- Be careful for people trying to distract you. In Paris thieves will drop a ‘gold’ ring in front of you and ask you if you dropped it – as you are talking to them their partner is trying to lift your wallet.
- Don’t count your money in public – and don’t carry tons of cash if you can help it.
- Don’t leave your purse unattended in a restaurant or hung over a chair.
Above are some pointers that will reduce your vulnerability to pickpocket thieves. There is something to be aware of that we have learned from experience, reading, and talking to authorities around the world: pickpockets tend to work in teams. There is a spotter who alerts the team to a potential mark; then there is a ‘distracter’ or two who create a diversion to draw the intended victim’s immediate attention – this can include bumping or jostling or starting an argument or loud conversation nearby; then there is the actual pickpocket who swoops in as a stealthy invader at just the right moment and grabs the goods; then the pickpocket passes the stolen property to a speedy get-a-way confederate who is gone in a flash – meanwhile the actual thief remains walking or standing inconspicuously with the crowd.
Yes, pickpocketing is a serious organized criminal activity with very minor penalties in most civilized countries, making it a popular and lucrative enterprise. The nicest cities in the world have serious pickpocketing problems – be aware of this and help yourself to avoid an upsetting and possibly vacation ruining experience. Remaining alert to pickpocketing and guarding reasonably against it should offer almost certain protection. Once you develop simple safe habits you can relax and enjoy your vacation in peace.