I've been to 8 out of the 10 top cities known to have the best pickpockets in the world. While no one is exempt from being targeted, I can say that I've never lost anything by following a few simple rules.
Barcelona is the known as the pickpocket capital of the world. Other cities that round up the top ten are Rome, Prague, Madrid, Paris, Florence, Amsterdam, Athens, Buenos Aires and Hanoi.
These cities can certainly change at any time, but the techniques used by pickpockets are pretty common across all of them (or any other city), no matter where you are in the world. The tops ones to watch out for:
- Distraction techniques: Watch out for people dropping things near you or on you. The thieves want to distract you just enough so that you take your eye/mind off your belongings. Pickpockets often work in pairs or groups, and so while one person distracts you the other(s) are working your pockets.
- Bumping/jostling techniques: Pickpockets love crowds. They can easily bump into someone without people giving it a second thought - until they realize something has been stolen. This can happen in the open (i.e a crowded tourist site) or in tight places, like trains/metros, elevators, museums, etc. As the crowd of people are trying to get on/off a train or elevator, thieves are standing near the doors or following you closely through crowds and lines, bumping into you. Not unusual, right? Be diligent in museums too. While you are absorbed in the art, someone else may be walking away with your belongings. (See Louvre sign below.). Always be aware of your surroundings.
- Unassuming / non threatening technique: Pickpockets come in all colors, shapes and sizes, so don't be lulled into thinking someone does or does not look like a thief. Because thieves often work in groups, elderly, children as well as well dress businessmen, as an example, may be part of the scheme. The Australian couple certainly became a victim of this.
- Try not to stand out by the way you dress. Don't "scream" tourist - try to dress more like the locals do.
- NEVER keep anything in your back pocket. The only exception would be to use a decoy wallet while keeping valuables elsewhere. Keep valuables like money and credit cards in a neck purse or money belt close to your body, under clothing.
- Keep a small amount of money handy in a front pocket while keeping your larger amount of money and credit cards hidden. People are watching you , and if you pull out a "wad" of money you have just given them notice to follow you.
- Take only what you need - for the trip or for the day. Keep valuables that are not necessary for the trip at home. Keep valuables in the hotel or cabin safe if they are not needed for a day outing. And ALWAYS keep backup copies of credit cards and passports in a separate place, back home and on the trip in the event you have to quickly shut something down.
- Try not to wear any jewelry. Necklaces, rings and especially big watches - these are all invitations. The less flashy the better. Wear items that don't have a lot of value. If you do wear them, make them less obvious and cover them under clothing. If a ring can be easily removed from a finger, keep the gem part hidden by turning it towards the inside of the hand.
- When at a restaurant or cafe, NEVER hang your purse over the back of a chair. Keep the purse between your feet or in your lap. Invest in a purse hook. I have heard that innovative thieves will distract you at your table while a small child crawls under the table to swipe what's available. Awareness is the key.
- Purchase an anti-theft purse/bag/backpack - ones with metal inside the straps. This will help stop thieves from being able to cut the strap off your shoulder.
And my #1 rule that has never let me down? Unless very few people are around me, I ALWAYS keep my day bag/purse in front of me. Always. When going through crowds, I hug it to my body. I don't open it in crowds. I do this while site seeing, at the airport, on a train. Whatever it takes to make it harder on the thieves.
Do you have additional suggestions? Leave a comment!