Most people think of a pickpocket as some shady looking man, hoodie drawn down, acting alone, etc… but actually, many pickpockets are teenage girls and boys, or someone that doesn’t look like a local (ie another tourist). Working as a group, they do something to distract you while one of the group members tries to take something from you. Once they get something, they scatter in different directions.
Additionally, police can’t really arrest minors, and most don’t travel with any identification, so even if they’re caught the police usually have to let them go. Other times, pickpockets are well-dressed and you’d never expect them to be thieves.
WHERE PICKPOCKETS PATROL
You are a visitor and this is their home turf. They know the attractions and roads like the back of their hands, making it easy to slip in and out without being noticed. Lots of distracted people all in one place who are more concerned about taking pictures than who is bumping up against them. Perfect…
Subways, Trams, Trolley, the Underground, Train Stations, and Buses are prime spots for pickpockets; it is often very crowded with everyone in a hurry rushing past each other, so it is easy to take advantage of the confusion. Pickpockets normally target stations and buses where many transit lines converge because it gives them plenty of places to exit after they grab and before you notice.
One common tactic is for a group of kids to push on a crowded train shortly before the doors shut. They’ll swipe what they’re trying to steal and then they all hop off right as the doors begin to close. By the time the victim realizes what happened, it is too late and the train has already left the station.
Always be wary of anyone who is standing very close to you on a train that isn’t crowded, as they might be up to no good.
Tourists trying to maneuver big luggage is a big indicator for pickpockets. They can snatch your purse but know you probably won’t chase them because then you’d have to leave your luggage behind.
RESTAURANTS, CAFÉS, AND BARS
Many people when enjoying a meal put their bags anywhere; so it’s easy to snatch a purse from the back of a chair or a phone from a table.
Pay attention to your stuff when you’re at the beach. Don’t leave your bag unattended or out of sight because there is a good chance someone will snatch it up.
SCAMS AND TACTICS
Distraction and confusion are part of the plan that all pickpockets use. They want to distract your attention just long enough to take your stuff.
One scam is very popular in Paris. It nearly always involves a group of young girls with clipboards. They’ll approach you and point to a clipboard while signaling that they’re deaf and mute. They want you to sign a petition for charity providing your email. If you give this away you will be targeted with spam emails trying to scam you out of your money. If you sign, they’ll then continue to ask for a donation to the charity. Of course the “charity” is fake. While the tourist is signing/reading the petition, there is often another girl trying to pickpocket.
HELP WITH YOUR BAG
Now this isn’t always the case, but do be careful. I was helped many times by homeless men at the train stations that target tourists to offer to help with bags. Keep right on their side and lead the way (never be lead) with your bags always within arms reach. Once settled, give them a nice tip. I never mind this process as this is a way for them to make some honest income and I don’t have to carry my bags for a brief time.
Never let someone just grab your bags and explain what they are doing as they are walking. They are more likely to take off with them.
BUMP AND LIFT
When you’re surrounded by crowds, it isn’t uncommon to accidentally bump into other people. However, this is a common move performed by pickpockets, so if someone bumps into you, it might be smart to take a quick inventory of your belongings. Escalators, changing transport, busy bridges; anytime there is a one way traffic pickpockets can bump and grab what they want, hop a barrier and be going the opposite direction as you are being pushed in the other.
The bump is a fast way to slash your bag as well to quickly get at your valuables harder to reach for. If anyone makes contact with you in a crowded/uncrowded place just do a brief check to make sure everything’s all right.
Always be a little leery of people who try to help you at ticket machines. Almost all machines offer English settings so you can buy tickets and fully understand what you are doing. Be wary of anyone that says certain cards don’t work in the machines and in return offer to pay for them with their own card in exchange for cash. Many times they will buy you the wrong (cheaper) ticket and pocket the cash. If you are unsure of the ticket machines, you can always find an information desk for assistance or call the number on the machines.
Another good rule is always look for an official name tag. There are a lot of people hired by the city to help tourists find the right ticket office/ shuttles/ trains etc… If they are wearing a badge check it out and if it looks OK continue to accept their help. We found many great deals with people waiting at the train/airport and were official workers of the city.
THE HELPFUL TOURIST
Don’t let pickpockets take advantage of your good nature. Scammers will drop something in front of you and while you’re helping them pick up the mess, the other pickpocket will swoop in and lift something from your bag. That doesn’t mean you can’t help someone in duress, just be careful about your own stuff while doing it.
These gather large crowds of tourists. Large groups = pickpockets, so beware.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM PICKPOCKETS
Just be smart and aware of your surroundings. With a little prep work and mindfulness you can enjoy your trip fully without having to be scared of anyone around you as a potential threat.
LIMIT WHAT YOU CARRY
Pickpockets can’t steal what you don’t have. Carry what you need for the day while sightseeing. Split up your cards and carry only one. Limit the cash on hand. Less you carry the less you lose; or spend!