How To Foil A Pickpocket In A Foreign Country
“Vicki and I have been perpetual travelers, PTs, for nearly three decades” writes Intrepid Correspondent Paul Terhorst. “We’ve seen a lot of what this world has to offer, good and bad…including pickpockets.
“In Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Milan, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Bangkok, Mumbay, and Portland, pickpockets work trains, buses, airports, and other crowded places.
“Pickpockets have tried to hit either Vicki or me perhaps two dozen times over the years. I’d estimate that 1 out of every 10 times I get on a subway, I see a pickpocket at work. One went after me last week here in Buenos Aires…
“How do you spot a pickpocket? And how can you protect yourself? Not to worry. They’re easy to foil.
“First, as a rule, pickpockets are young and skinny. I’ve never seen a fat pickpocket. Once Vicki saw a little old lady working a subway car, so the general rule fails now and again. But, for the most part, pickpockets are young, agile adults.
“Second, they often work in pairs, with the pickpocket quickly passing the score to a partner. That way a pickpocket is never caught with the loot in hand.
“Pairs also work scams together. Vicki saw a middle-aged, motherly woman chat up and desensitize a woman. Then, suddenly, at a stop, ‘Mom’ got flustered, jumped up, and shoved off, and, in the process, pushed the woman’s purse toward an accomplice.
“Similarly, friends were hit by a pair working a hospital elevator in Portland, Oregon. The front man pretended to get caught in the elevator door. While the front man shouted and carried on, his accomplice rifled purses.
“Third, pickpockets bump into you. If you feel someone bumping you, especially around the legs, a pickpocket is likely checking to see how aware you are. Pickpockets love to bump those who seem distracted, those with babies or small children, for example. To test your attention, they bump. On a crowded train, pushing is normal, bumping is not. If a pair is working a mark, one might bump hard on one pocket while other softer, quicker hands slide into another.
“Fourth (here’s the most vital point), pickpockets stick close by. When you get on a crowded subway car, you often get stuck in the doorway. That’s where pickpockets operate. If you move into the car, they stick with you. They push through behind you and stay very close by.
“Finally, pickpockets want you to look up, not down. A pretty young girl thief will wear a revealing blouse, a boy will wear outrageous jewelry. These people want you looking up, preferably at them, rather than down where they’re doing their work.
“How do you protect yourself?
“You can wear a money belt under your clothes and tuck your money and credit cards into the money belt. If you carry a purse, make sure it’s closed and latched.
“Unfortunately I’ve found that people seldom follow this simple rule. So many pickpockets operate the Paris subways that, when we lived in Paris, we repeatedly warned visitors to make sure their valuables were tucked away. Yet nearly every one of them got pickpocketed. I mean that literally. In our experience, tourists who ride Paris subways often will get pickpocketed. Period.
“We recommend that you keep money in three places. The big money, credit cards, and passports go into a money belt under your clothes. More money and perhaps one credit card go into a more easily accessible change purse or zippered pocket. Finally, small money, for tips and taxis, goes into a front pocket, where most pickpockets work. This way, if successful, they get only the small stuff.
“Finally, push your way into the car. For whatever reason, in France, Italy, Spain, and Argentina, locals crowd in the doorways rather than walking through to the open spaces inside. Pickpockets count on the fact and work the doorways. Your best defense is to push through, excusing yourself along the say. ‘Pardon‘ in French, ‘con permiso’ in Spanish.
“If you’ve attracted a pickpocket, he (or she) will follow you in. This is highly unusual behavior in this context. As I said, in the countries mentioned, locals stay crowded in the doorways. The young man or woman who follows you deep into the train, and stays close to you, is a pickpocket. At that point if you’re carrying a purse or bag, hold it up in the air to discourage the guy.
“Pickpockets probably hit thousands of tourists a day around the world. Follow these simple steps, and you’ll avoid them.”