Although the number of pickpockets in New York City dropped to less than 5,000 at the turn of the century, pickpockets remain a pesky problem for travellers in other countries. Pickpocketing in Europe is certainly a hot topic at present – with loads of pickpockets in Paris and other big cities.
I should know first hand about pickpocketing in Europe. I was on the metro in Barcelona and had my wallet stolen (out of my zipped purse) because I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings beforehand.
Don’t be the next pickpocket victim!
Travel safe, remain aware of your surroundings and, most importantly, follow these great tips about how to avoid pickpockets in Europe and elsewhere:
Steer clear of large crowds
Back when New York had a pickpocket problem, Times Square at midnight attracted them all. The takeaway? It’s easy for a thief to steal away with your wallet in the midst of a bustling commotion. If you see a crowd, walk on the opposite side of the street.
Pickpocketing in Europe operates similarly. In Europe, pickpockets often have their associates create a distraction, such as a fight, while the pickpocket steals your stuff undetected. If you want to know how to avoid pickpockets in Europe, steer clear of any commotion you may see on the streets.
Secure your valuables
There are times when you can’t avoid a crowd – such as on the metro or subway line. To deter thieves, use a money belt, which you strap on under your pants or shirt. Thieves are less likely to be able to steal what they can’t see.
Consider leaving valuables, including jewellery, in the hotel safe. Of course, you don’t want to visit the Eiffel Tower without your good camera. Keep it in your hands or on your body at all times.
If your bag or camera has a strap, wrap the strap around your wrist. Don’t leave your bag, camera, or smartphone on the table or, worse, on the back of your chair, at restaurants. Keep it in your lap, in your pocket, or around your wrist.
Not surprisingly, smartphones are one of the most frequently stolen items today. Thieves often approach tourists at restaurants, showing them a map or newspaper. As the paper conceals the tabletop, a second pickpocket grabs the smartphone. Putting a tracker on your device can help you recover it, but it’s even smarter to prevent pickpockets by keeping your valuables close.
Stay on high alert in high theft locations
Pickpockets often take advantage of subway riders. In one classic manoeuvre for pickpocketing in Europe, the thief jumps on the train, pushing or shoving you while stealing your belongings (what happened to me in Barcelona). Next, the thief jumps off before the door shuts. Pickpockets also use the same trick at subway turnstiles. They will leave you on the other side of the turnstile with no recourse.
Trust no one
A European pickpocket may not be who you expect. Increasing numbers of pickpockets are boys and girls, ages 10 to 16, because they are harder to arrest or charge with the crime. The scruffy person on the metro is less likely to be a pickpocket than the 30-something male in a business suit who looks like a fellow traveler.
Be prepared for a worst-case scenario
Even the smartest travelers may let their guard down. If you get pickpocketed, don’t blame yourself. It can happen to anyone. But how you handle the situation after-the-fact can protect your identity and credit rating.
Before you travel, make copies of all your important papers and your credit card numbers and leave them with a trusted friend in the states. It’s even better if you can memorize your credit card numbers plus the phone number on the back of the card to call for fraud protection. If that’s too many digits floating around in your head (understandably), store the fraud protection numbers in your phone and keep paper copies at the hotel, in case the thief steals your phone, too. Call and cancel your cards as soon as you realize they are missing. In most cases, your creditors won’t hold you responsible for fraudulent charges.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a great time traveling through Europe. Just be aware of this very real danger and take steps to protect yourself. On the bright side? Europe has very low rates of violent crime. As long as you’re safe, your wallet and everything in it can be replaced.