Pickpocket Prevention- Be a Difficult Target

BY Beth Williams

Be a Difficult Target – Make it Hard for Pickpockets and Sneak Thieves to Get to Your Valuables

Pickpockets have been targeting tourists for as long as anyone can remember, and tourists have fallen for their tricks as long as anyone can remember. The following tips will help you develop your own pickpocket prevention plan to outfox pesky pickpockets. Don’t be a target and let a pickpocket ruin your trip.

Video of Pickpocket Stealing a Woman’s Purse

If you had problems finding the thief try to steal a wallet from a woman’s purse, watch from time code 2.12 forward. You will see two men come from the top left screen and walk across the store to the top right. The one thief will use a newspaper to hide his hand as it goes into the victim’s purse. The thief’s accomplice walks up behind the first thief and tries on a hat to block the victims view.

Don’t Advertise What’s in Your Pocket

Have you ever noticed that most men carry their wallets in their right back pocket, and that keys and cigarette lighters are generally kept in the front pockets? All a professional needs to do is determine how your items are stowed and they’re off to snag their prize. This may seem trivial but the position of your items will determine the technique that the perpetrator will use. Don’t carry your wallet in your back pocket. Keep it in an inside pocket or securely hidden underneath your clothing in a security waist wallet. If your phone fits inside the waist wallet, even better.

Walk with Purpose and Keep Moving

Pickpockets have a choice of whom they will victimize.  While their acts may seem random to some, most pickpockets – if not all – have a selection process that they use to select someone to pickpocket.  Typically pickpockets find someone they feel would be a good victim who is distracted while walking or is walking slowly. Another obvious give-a-way someone is uncertain of where they are going is a map visible – another top indicators of a distracted person and therefore a good target.  To counter this type of indicator, take the time before you leave a safe area (a restaurant, your hotel, the train platform) to check your surroundings and directions before heading out. Perhaps write a few key indications (direction and street names) on a post-it for quick reference.

If you have to look at a map or stare at a landmark, consider stopping somewhere where you can put you back up against a wall or some other object which would prevent a pickpocket or group of gypsy kids from surrounding you.  If this is not available, consider moving to a wide open space where anyone approaching can be seen.  When viewing a map, consider ducking into a store for directions or to consult your map.  You should also be alert to how new technology can really help in this area – if you have to stop and map-check, try using a mobile device instead of a paper map.  There are now many apps for phones and it’s little less obvious and you’re a few clicks away from dialing an emergency number if something happens.

Be Unpredictable

If you suspect you are being followed or targeted by a pickpocket, change directions, stop and go in a different direction, or cross the street. Enter into the nearest shop for a few minutes to collect yourself and perhaps to make them lose interest.

Don’t Stop to Talk or Answer Questions from Strangers

Chances are, you look like a tourist more than you would like to, and pickpockets have learned how to recognize a potential victim.  It is very unlikely someone will need to stop you and ask for directions or assistance in English if you are in a foreign country. In all actuality, a thief already can tell you are a tourist and they may use the age old distraction of asking for directions to create a distraction in order to distract your attention so a partner of the thief can lift your valuables from you during this moment of inattention. We all want to be compassionate and help others, but when you are vulnerable with luggage and finding your way, think of yourself first. Walk with purpose.

Don’t Broadcast You’re American

Some travelers worry about being pegged as an American when they travel. They think it makes them a target, both for pickpockets and petty thieves, and to most times they are right.  Pickpockets, as well as law enforcement around the world will always tell you that Americans, usually carry the best and most expensive items to steal.  Where we are going with this is that when traveling overseas don’t blatantly advertise that you’re an American tourist.

Don’t get Fooled by Diversions

Professional pickpockets frequently use a variety of diversions to  get their marks confused or attention diverted.  Techniques such as swarming, spilling and flashing are the most common tactics used by pickpockets to distract travelers. Occasionally diversions can get very elaborate and over the top, such as a staged fight. It is the moment that you are engaged in the diversion that you are vulnerable.

When Traveling in Groups, Designate a Lookout

If you’re shopping or traveling with a group of people consider designating someone from your group or family to keep an eye on your surroundings. Keep the more susceptible members of your group on the inside and the more attentive members at the back.

Protecting Your Belongings – Make it Difficult to get to Your Stuff

We strongly suggested that if you have to travel with a purse or travel bag, consider one that has locking zippers or other security features designed to prevent pickpockets from stealing items from within it.  If you don’t want to buy a travel security purse or security travel bag, may sure that you only carry a bag or purse that has a single zippered entry, preferably one which also has a flap that covers the zipper, in order to make it more difficult for a pickpocket to get inside it.   Make sure you carry the purse or bag in front of you, so you can keep an eye on the entry point.  Carrying a day-pack or messenger bag on your back is also an invitation for slick fingered pickpockets, especially in crowded situations like buses or subways. Use a backpack with anti-theft zippers to secure your valuables. Check out these bag styles with built-in anti-theft technology,for additional protection.

Video of women who had her passport stolen from her purse – Learn from her mistakes

While Eating Outside, NEVER Put your Bag on the Ground or Hang it on the Chair Behind You

Your purse, travel bag, day pack, or camera bag is easily stolen while you’re dining. Put your bag on your lap or on the table if it’s a small purse or bag.  Better yet, consider of the many new security travel bags which have detachable shoulder straps that allow you to quickly secure your bag to your chair or table

Cross body travel purse with detachable strap

Cross body travel purse with detachable strap

Don’t Keep Important Items in ANY Outside Pocket of Your Suitcase, Jacket, or Purse

If you have to give pickpockets access to something, make sure it’s not worth taking. Keep underwear in outside luggage pockets and not important documents. Use inside pockets of jackets and purses that have a zipper and/or button to hold important documents, and take advantage of clothing layers to keep your documents buried as much as possible.

Use a Money Belt

This is perhaps the single most important thing you can do to lower the impact of a pickpocket. Use a money belt to keep your passport, extra credit cards and cash safe and out of sight. Keep that day’s cash and a credit card in your day purse/wallet for easy access. If you must get into your money belt, do it in a safe area like a bathroom stall or changing room. Getting into your money belt to make regular purchases is not an effective use of it and draws attention to where you store your money. There are security belts and wallets designed with various options. You’re sure to find one which will keep your valuables secure and handy for peace of mind. Check out our favorite collection of travel belts and security pouches, here.

If you have your heart set on a neck wallet, consider a security neck wallet like this one that features a wire embedded into the neck strap.  The same concept is also made in a security waist wallet like this one so you can actually wear it around your waist and tucked into your pants.  Other options include a variety of leg wallets and belt loop wallets like those featured here.

Stand Defensive and Prepared on Trains, Buses, and Subways

Swing any backpacks around to the front of your body and put your arms through the straps to keep your hands free. Not only will this help you keep an eye on it, it will make you more appreciated by regular riders as backpacks usually swing into people and take up more room.  Make sure all you tie all cords hanging off your backpack and secure all zippers together so they are harder to open. If rolling a piece of luggage, place it in front of you between you and your handhold, as close to a wall as possible.

Don’t Stand Near the Door of Buses, Subways or Metro Cars

Do not stand near the doorway of the bus or subway train. This is especially true if you feel that a person is (oddly) blocking your way and keeping you from further entering or exiting.  As soon as the doors-closing-beep starts,  a thief, who is already on board, will quickly dash past you and out the door, grabbing your purse, daypack, travel bag, or even your wallet on the way out.

A Final Note

Use your instincts and a little common sense to avoid becoming a target, so you can enjoy the sights and beauty of your trip.