Friday, March 18, 2011

Safeguard Against Pickpockets

(This article by Sean O'Neill appeared this morning in Frommer's newsletter.  Since nothing ruins a vacation like being pickpocketed, here are the ways to foil a thief.) 
How to Avoid Being Pickpocketed  by Sean O'Neill

Think You Won't Be Pickpocketed? Think again. You may be in more danger while traveling abroad than you suspect. In a typical major city, more than 100 people may be pickpocketed on any given day.

We've interviewed law enforcement officials and other experts about common fleecing techniques. If you watch out for these five scenarios while traveling, you may be able to beat a pickpocket at his own game.

Where: Front pocket of your pants

Pickability: Low

What to Watch Out For: The human eye has a weakness in how it perceives motion; it has trouble watching an object that arcs rather than moves straight. This means a talented thief can easily distract you by arcing one of his hands in the air. Looking away, you won't notice his free hand robbing you. Even a man who knows he's about to be robbed can be fooled with this technique, according to a 2008 article in the prestigious scientific publication Nature Reviews.

What the Experts Say: Having your wallet in your front pocket is a good defense. It's a relatively difficult spot for someone else to fish objects out of.

Tip: Dunhill has invented a "virtually indestructible" wallet. To open it, you need to press a finger against a digital reader to recognize your fingerprint. The cost? About $825, give or take a few bucks. But putting your wallet in the front pocket of your pants is a good enough security measure. And free.
Where: Inside pocket of your jacket

Pickability: Medium

What to Watch Out For: Someone standing in the lobby of your major urban hotel may not be a guest. She may instead be a "spy" casing the lobby. Let's say you pay your bill at the front desk, placing your wallet in an inner pocket of your jacket when you're done. The spy will see this and use her cell phone to contact her accomplice standing outside. She may describe your physical description -- and where you've stashed your wallet. After you exit the hotel, you'll be followed. This second person has been told exactly where to reach for your money -- yet you've never seen each other before.

What the Experts Say: The safest place to stash your money is in a security pouch that you wear under your clothes around your waist. It's one of the most important items on your packing list, besides any medicine you might need.

Tip: Money belts (from $10) can be purchased on[Wal-Mart sells them for about the same price or less.]

Where: Backpack

Pickability: High

What to Watch Out For: Pickpockets often use objects to divert your attention. For example, the thief may be dressed as a tourist carrying a map. He'll ask for help with directions, distracting you with the map.

What the Experts Say: It's easy for a con artist to open your backpack while you walk. To see video recordings of common techniques, visit the site of a security consultant who has studied pickpockets for more than 20 years (

Tip: Pickpocketing can't always be avoided, especially if you're in a crowd. So it's wise to keep your money in various places around your backpack and other belongings. Visiting multiple countries? Stash a mix of dollar bills and euro coins, which can serve as a universal currency during most emergencies.

Where: Back pocket of your pants

Pickability: High

What to Watch Out For: A pickpocket distracts you with one hand while robbing you with the other. The timeless ploy: He squirts a gooey liquid on you without you realizing it. Then he comes up to you and volunteers to help clean the stain. When he leaves, your money has left with him. Still unaware, you turn to your wife and say, "Aren't the locals nice, dear?"

What the Experts Say: A wallet in a back pocket screams, "Rob me!" If you're going to take the risk, be sure you know what's in it. Limit the number of credit cards you carry.

Tip: Before you travel, e-mail yourself with your credit, debit, and charge card numbers and the international toll-free numbers to call in case you're a victim of theft.

Where: Purse

Pickability: High

What to Watch Out For: A pickpocket will lock eye contact with you as he approaches. Your natural reflex will be to stay focused on his face and upper body. You'll miss what's happening with his hands and with your purse.

What the Experts Say: Leave your purse in a hotel safe. Opt instead for a purse-like pack with a long enough strap that it can be hung diagonally across your body -- this makes purse-snatching more difficult for a thief.

At a café, never hang your purse on the back of your chair. Loop it around a leg of your chair instead, and keep it safe by your feet.

Tip: Store your keys and identification cards away from your money. That way, if your money is stolen (and it's the thing that's going to catch the eye of a thief more readily), the thief won't have any information about you that could enable a follow-up crime.
                                                                             - By Sean O'Neill

1 comment:

  1. The embassy where I lived recommended specifically against wearing a purse diagonally across your body. Why? Because thieves come by on motorcycles, and grab the purse, and women have been hurt when their purse straps didn't break...and they ended up being dragged.

    Better idea: use a purse for a decoy. Put just a little money in it, and no credit cards. Hide your $$ in your underwear.

    Experienced pickpockets WILL target your front pockets when they are sitting next to you on public transportation. They will first feel around in their own adjacent pocket, to get you used to the action, then slip their hand in your pocket.

    Stack your bills individually, biggest bills on bottom, smallest on top. The pickpocket will be able to get them only one at a time, and will end up with not much for his trouble.