Beware of pickpockets in crowds - not implying that anyone in this image is a thief!!!

Beware of pickpockets in crowds – not implying that anyone here is a thief!!!

It’s a sad reality that travelers must be vigilant that they are not targeted for theft. Mainly a cause for concern in large city centres, at popular tourist attractions, and crowded places of transportation, it is an ever present and increasing threat as the tourism industry continues to grow.

One that amazes me in its genius is when thieves put up a sign in a crowded area saying Beware of Pickpockets. Then they simply watch while people observe the sign and then touch their valuables giving clear indication as to their accessibility.

Here are some tips on places to mind your wallet (read everywhere):

  • In popular shopping areas: In Paris and elsewhere, young people with clipboards may ask you to take part in their survey. Look a little closer and you will see that their “clipboards” are just pieces of cardboard. Do not stop and talk; confidently carry on or risk your valuables being stolen.
  • In museums. If you are wary of pickpockets you can often spot them. In line at the Louvre I easily picked out a man carefully surveying potential targets. Likewise, crowded around the Mona Lisa you may see children moving through the onlookers in search of an easy wallet grab, from their perfectly small height.
  • On busy streets.   In Florence a bold twosome followed our guided tour until our leader, alarmed in her knowledge that they were a particularly dangerous pair, managed to lose them.
  • On quiet streets. While walking in Rome with my mother, I noticed a motorcycle drive by for a second time but with the driver and passenger reversed (a woman now in front, and a man on the back). Naively I even commented on the oddity until the truth revealed itself when the man pounced from a doorway, grabbed my mother’s purse, jumped back on the bike, and “ciao” they were gone.
  • In restaurants. Mind your phone! Some restaurants now display signs warning patrons not to leave their phones sitting on their tables. Beware “apple pickers” as they’ve come to be known. And according to recent studies it may not be your phone they are after but rather your personal information.
  • Around escalators and metro stations. Did you drop this? A friend told me about a scam where someone picks up a gold ring and asks you if it is yours. As you become distracted and look at the ring with interest, bam, you’ve become a victim of theft. Just one of many clever ruses that may be used to divert your attention.
  • At famous attractions. Outside the Sagrada Familia, our guide warned us about bands of vendors that may pretend they are trying to sell you something and then swarm you for your belongings.
  • At airports and train stations. I foolishly got into what I thought was a taxi at a Montreal airport but was a poser who took me on the scariest ride of my life, a babbling lunatic with crazy driving to match. And, he reminded me to give him a tip. I was so shaken I forgot to get the license plate number.
  • A baby for your wallet? And if someone tries to put a baby in your arms, guess what’s going to happen next. You’ll be hard pressed to put a baby down as someone wrangles your goods. Keep your hands to yourself.

Also, you might want to protect your personal information from scanning devices that specialized thieves use to steal your personal information from your bank cards.  Use card sleeves or wallets that prevent this type of thievery.  Use the safe if your hotel has one and only carry the money and cards that you need.  In big cities, I like to keep a small amount of money in my pocket and avoid pulling out my wallet if I can.

There are as many scams as there are individuals and organized groups conducting them so it’s pretty much impossible to be informed about them all. Research your destinations and only carry what valuables you need and make them difficult to access. Personally, I have never been robbed and plan on keeping it that way, and continue to enjoy the wonder of travel.

Have you encountered any clever scams?