Pickpockets are the traveller's arch-nemesis. There’s nothing as frustrating or as disheartening as having your valuables swiped by a devious thief, especially when it leaves you stranded without a passport, or with a credit card debt of $9,000 (as one traveller discovered).
We’ve had a great response from our recent pickpocketing articles, with travellers sending through stories of their own encounters with thieves overseas. They’ve kindly shared their experiences to serve as a warning for other travellers - here are just a few.
Train station snatches
Train stations are a notorious hotspot for pickpockets. The busy platforms, tightly-packed groups of passengers and distracted travellers create the perfect environment for thieves. Boarding the train is a common time for pickpockets to strike, who may snatch your wallet, quickly return to the station, and watch you ride away helplessly.
Other train scams to watch out for include the bottleneck technique, where pickpockets obstruct the exit of the train to force the passengers to cram together when disembarking, and fake bag carriers who offer to help with your luggage.
One traveller succumbed to the classic sandwich technique while at a station in Paris. Approaching an elevator, a lady in front of him walked incredibly slowly to block his path while an accomplice reached into his luggage from behind. Another traveller in Paris felt movement inside their backpack and turned to see a child rummaging through it.
One cunning thief in Glasgow targeted travellers as they were arriving to the taxi stand at the train station. They watched where the traveller stashed their wallet after paying the taxi driver, and snatched it while they read the train timetable.
How to avoid
We've received stories from travellers who have fallen victim to pickpocketing at train stations all around the world. Being able to identify when you’re falling into a scammer’s trap is key in protecting yourself from pickpockets, so watch out for suspiciously slow movers, bottlenecks and overly friendly strangers.
Train carriage cons
Unfortunately, the risk of theft doesn’t stop when you board the train. One Aussie couple had just gotten on a train in Rome when they were startled by a police officer apprehending a girl behind them. Asking what the commotion was about, the police officer said the girl had been trying to reach into the wife’s handbag, which was slung loosely over her back. The police officer ordered her off the train where she reported straight to an older man, who may have been the kingpin of the operation.
Another traveller riding on a train to Venice had money stolen from her bags by two female pickpockets, one of whom was heavily pregnant!
How to avoid
Thankfully for the first couple, their carriage was under close inspection of a police officer who caught the would-be thief in the act. It’s great to hear stories like this as it reminds us that there are still lots of people willing to help travellers who end up in a spot of bother.
It’s important to stay incredibly vigilant of your valuables while on trains to avoid becoming an easy target like this couple was.
Helping hand hoax
Unfortunately, some of the craftiest pickpockets target Good Samaritan travellers when they offer a helping hand. For example, one group of travellers was visiting the Portuguese town of Sintra. Their tour guide frequently warned them to look out for pickpockets, and they all thought they were savvy travellers. However, when a short local woman asked one of the travellers to retrieve an item off the top shelf in a grocery store, they found their wallets, credit cards and cash had been snatched without their knowledge.
How to avoid
Travellers should always be wary of people who ask them to do things. It might feel rude to refuse to help, but sometimes it’s the best way to ensure you’re not being conned. Pickpockets often use acted out scenarios like these to appeal to the generosity of travellers, but if you’re feeling suspicious about their integrity, politely move on.
As these travellers learnt the hard way, carrying a lot of money when out and about can be a disaster waiting to happen. If you’re on a day trip, only take as much as you need and keep the rest locked securely in the hotel safe.
Getting to know the locals can be one of the most enriching parts of travelling. While most will be welcoming (and even let you in on some hidden local gems), there are always a few bad eggs in the bunch, as these travellers learned.
While lining up for a bus in Rome, a local couple behind them started up a friendly conversation. It was only when they departed on the bus that they noticed they’d been robbed. The local pair had watched as one of the travellers withdrew 300 euros from an ATM, and stealthily snatched it from their bag while chatting in the bus line.
How to avoid
Just like travellers should be wary of people who ask them to do things, they should also use caution around locals who appear to take an unusual amount of interest in them. It may feel like they’re simply being kind, and in many cases, they will be. However, in situations like the above, this kindness has sinister intentions.
The trick to avoiding being a victim of friendly pickpockets isn’t to avoid conversation with locals. After all, it can be one of the most interesting conversations you’ll ever have! The best way to ensure your valuables are kept safe is to bag your bags well, keep them in sight and at the front of your mind at all times. If you’re standing in line for a bus or a train, wear your backpack on your front and invest in luggage locks.
The hardest scams to stop are often the simplest. One traveller was parked in her rental car in Barcelona when a local man came to her window holding the cover to her tire nozzle. He beckoned her to exit the car to inspect the tire, and when she returned to the driver’s seat, she noticed her husband's backpack had been stolen from the passenger side.
Another traveller in Barcelona was splashed with water while entering a restaurant. A stranger rushed up with a towel to help, but when he went to pay for lunch, he discovered his wallet was gone.
How to avoid
Pickpockets love to use scenarios like this to distract travellers from their valuables. It only takes a second of inattentiveness to have your valuables snatched, so always keep your mind where it matters! Tap your pockets regularly to ensure everything is where you left it.
Some cities like Barcelona are notorious for pickpockets. If you’re visiting a high-risk area, pay extra attention to your valuables and show pickpockets you’re not an easy target.
We thank all of the travellers who shared their pickpocketing stories to serve as a warning for others.
If you have your own story of being scammed or pickpocketed overseas, or any tips on how you protect your valuables from thieves, we’d love to hear it! Please send your story or tip to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us more.
We won’t identify you unless you say we can, and we won’t use the information for any purpose other than marketing. If you’d like a record of the information we hold about you, please contact email@example.com.