Amsterdam is the city of bicycles, historic canals, and it is known for its diverse and vibrant nightlife. Because in Amsterdam “just about anything goes”, tourists need to pay special attention to their surroundings because the laissez-faire attitude creates the perfect environment for petty thieves and organized gangs to operate. While this post focuses on transportation in Amsterdam, one should consider viewing the following related pickpocket information regarding Amsterdam:
Pickpocket and Travel Scams on Amsterdam Public Transportation
Although Amsterdam is the “ultimate fantasy” in urban living due to the manageable size of the city, it is not always possible to avoid using the public transportation. The US State Department reports that thieves are very active in the area around the train and tram stations, aboard public transport and especially in the city center plus on trains to and from Schiphol Airport. Theft of hand luggage and laptop computers are quite common and thieves often work in pairs with one distracting a target while the other moves in on the unguarded property. The US State Department goes on to say that the timing of these thefts usually coincides with train stops, enabling thieves to escape quickly.
Pickpockets and Travel Scams at Amsterdam Trains and Train Stations
There are often official announcements in the train stations and trains warning passengers of pickpockets. Unfortunately, these announcements are in Dutch.
- You have run out of cash and know that the train station will definitely have an ATM, so you go there to withdraw money. While you enter your information into the machine – card and PIN – a man sneaks up behind you, sees the PIN and once the card is ejected from the machine, he swipes the card and takes off with it. Within hours, the man is able to withdraw 500 Euros.
- You happen to be traveling by train during a public holiday in December, so the station is quite full. You are wearing a thick winter coat and have quite a bit of luggage and you are carrying a handbag over your shoulder. You board the train and find your seat. Once you put your luggage on the racks, you realize that your handbag is missing. In the fuss of boarding, someone cut the straps and you didn’t notice because you were trying to manage your other bags.
Solution: When traveling, carry your belongings in the appropriate equipment. Purchase a bag with slash-proof straps and security zippers to keep out pickpockets.
- While traveling on the train, you notice that a passenger forgot their cell phone on their seat. You quickly chase down the passenger, leaving your own laptop unattended for a few seconds, to give the passenger their cell. The passenger thanks you and you return to your seat to find that your laptop was stolen.
Solution: This is actually a scam where a passenger will leave something behind, hoping that another helpful passenger will attempt to return it, while leaving their belongings unattended. If you do travel with a laptop, it is always a good idea to purchase a laptop lock. Anchor your laptop to a secure fixture and feel safe that if you need to step away for a moment, your laptop will be there when you return.
- You are loading your luggage on to a cart in a busy train station, as you lift one heavy bag on to the cart, someone runs into you and pushes you. You turn to see who ran into you and tell them to watch where they are going and while you are paying attention to the rude passerby, his accomplice is paying attention to the fat wallet in your back pocket.
- While traveling on the train from Amsterdam Centraal Station and Schiphol Airport, a man sitting across from you asks if the wallet sitting on the table is yours. You answer, “No.” Once the train arrives to the airport stop, you gather your things and notice that your laptop bag is missing. The man sitting across from you distracted you with the wallet, while his friend stole your bag.
Solution: One way to guarantee that your bag is not stolen is to tie it down to the train. Secure your daypack or luggage with a mesh security net that limits access to the contents of the bag and allows you to lock the bag to the leg of the chair, for example, with a cable.
- A group of relatively young, well-dressed men board the train. There is an empty seat next to you and one of the men sits down. He begins to ask you questions, “Where are you going? Where are you from? Are you in Amsterdam on business or pleasure?”, and so on. You want to be polite, so you answer the man’s questions. Once it is time to exit the train, you are unable to locate your hand luggage. One of the other men in his group stole it while you were conversing with his mate.
- On a train from Schiphol Airport, baggage thieves will knock on your window to distract you, enabling his buddy to run onto the train and snatch your luggage.
- You are sitting on a train from the airport to downtown Amsterdam. You have all of your bags in sight and carry your laptop bag on your lap to keep it safe. Suddenly, a group of young boys enter the train car, make a commotion, grab your laptop bag along with a few other passengers’ bags and run.
Solution: Your laptop is not only valuable because of the price you paid for it; it is valuable because of the content it stores. When traveling by train, keep your laptop safe in a theft proof bag or backpack. Many of these bags offers a snatch-proof and slash-proof straps with built in locks, so they can be anchored to a secure fixture, plus tamper-proof lockable zippers.
- On a train, a man accidentally drops money on the floor. You bend down to help pick up the money and return it to the owner and his partner takes off with your camera bag.
- You had to check out of your hotel at 11 a.m., but your plane does not depart until 5 p.m. For convenience sake, you decide to lock your luggage in the lockers at the main train station. You examine the automatic lockers to figure out how the system works and a man notices you and walks over offering assistance. You finally have your bag secure in the storage locker and leave the station to take a final canal cruise. You reach for your wallet to pay and realize that the man somehow stole all of your Euros. Another scam that occurs here is the man already had a key to an empty locker in his hand and when he helped you he switched the key to your locker with the one that was empty. After you walk away from the locker, the thief comes back and removes your property.
- The ticket machines can be confusing for first-time users. A man offers to help you purchase a ticket using the machine and once you have your ticket, the man asks you for money.
- People may also offer to assist you with ticket machines by pressing the buttons for you and inserting the coins into the machine. You are so grateful for the help that you don’t think to examine the ticket. In the end, the person purchased you a discounted ticket for seniors even though you gave them enough for a full price fare.
Pickpockets and Travel Scams at Amsterdam Trams
The Overseas Security Advisory Council advises travelers to pay careful attention on or near trams that travel within the Red Light District, near hotels and restaurants, especially on trams 2, 5, 16 and 24.
- For an unblocked view of the city, you go to the back of the tram and stand at the door. You are looking down every small street and trying to take everything in. Suddenly at the Leidesplein stop, someone grabs your purse and jumps through the closing tram doors, making a quick and secure escape.
Solution: When traveling, carry only necessary items in a security travel purse that you can wear across your body. When on a train, try to keep your hand on the top of the purse or bag, so you can feel if someone tries to tamper with it.
- You board the extremely full number 2 at the Dam stop. Suddenly, you notice an odd feeling in your front, right jeans pocket, but then it suddenly goes away. You reach into your pocket to see what it was, but there is nothing in your pocket. You frantically search your other pockets to locate where your tram ticket and 20 Euro note is, but you cannot locate it. The pickpocket lifted them.
- While on the tram in the center city, a man tries to push you as the tram comes to a stop. The behavior is quite odd, especially because so far the locals have been so friendly and polite. You find your balance and hold onto the above handrail. Once you go to exit the tram, you find that your camera is missing from its case.
Solution: You might be able to live with losing you camera at the beginning of your trip, but it would be truly heartbreak to have it and hundreds of memories stolen at the end of a trip. It is always safest to carry cameras in cases specifically made for them. The CamSafe V3 is an example of a bag designed to carry a camera while traveling. The bag has a slash-proof, adjustable shoulder strap with a built in combination lock that allows you to lock the bag to a secure fixture.
- You managed to find a seat on the full tram. You set your purse on the ground behind your foot, away from the aisle. As the train fills, every seat and standing place is taken. A man in the aisle sets his bag and coat on the ground so he can hold onto the handrail. Just before he exits, he reaches down to grab his coat and his bag. He exits the train. A few stops later, you reach down to pick up your purse before exiting, but the purse is missing.
Solution: The man set his coat on the ground, so that when he picked it up, he could cover his devious activities – he also “picked up” your purse. Thieves may also use newspapers or long scarves to hide their sneaky fingers.
Amsterdam on Wheels – Scams to Look Out For
It is not advisable to drive within the Amsterdam inner-city due to the congestion and confusing one-way streets. Further, taxi regulations in Amsterdam are quite lax making it quite easy for taxi drivers to scam unassuming tourists – only ride in licensed taxis. So when in Rome, do as the Romans do and rent a bike. There are bike lanes all over this “bikers rule” city making it a great way to not only enjoy nice weather but have a perfect view while on a journey.
- Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world, and it has the highest rate of bicycle theft in the world. If you choose to tour the city with two wheels, make sure to use a minimum of two, quality locks.
- You are checking out the wares of the Waterlooplein market and you notice some great prices on bikes, even cheaper than renting one. Beware of prices that seem too good to be true, the bike is most likely stolen. There is a joke among locals when a large group of cyclists pass by, “Hey, that’s my bike!” and a few of the bikers will get off their bikes and disappear.
- You pick up the rental van from the airport and make your way into the city. Once there, you find a parking spot and have your partner and children wait in the van while you check into the hotel. While you are on your way to the hotel (2 blocks away), you wife gets out to check the bags in the back, shuts the door again and then steps back into the van. Without your partner or children noticing, a passerby opens the back door to the van. Your partner believes that he/she did not close it properly and steps out to check the vehicle, she sees the man and yells at him to go away. While he/she is out of the car, another person on the sidewalk reaches in and steals the hand luggage from the front seat.
Solution: It is always a good idea to anchor smaller bags to secure fixtures when traveling. To avoid straps being cut by slash -n-run thieves use a bag with slash-proof straps.
- You pick up a rental car one night before making a tour of Europe. You put most of your luggage in the trunk overnight, so you can get an early start. The next morning you go to the car to find that the back window was busted in and the luggage from the trunk missing.
- Vehicles with foreign or non-local license plates are a clear target for thieves in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam Taxi Scams and Concerns
- You decide to take a taxi from your hotel to the Centraal train station. Once you enter the taxi, the driver informs you that the train to the Airport is currently not running due to technical issues. You, of course, agree that it is best that the driver just take you directly to the airport.
Solution: Even if this is true, go to the train station to find out for yourself. If the train is indeed not running, there will be plenty of other eager taxi drivers waiting to take you on your way.
- Though it is difficult for a tourist to notice, beware of taxi drivers who take you on a little tour, rather than being driven directly to your destination.
- Unlicensed, illegal taxi drivers often operate at the Amsterdam Zuidoost train station.
- You have to see the Red Light District for yourself. You ask a taxi driver to take you to a sex club.
Solution: The taxi driver will take you where he/she can get the highest commission. Once you leave the club, the commission, sometimes as high as 75 Euros, will be added onto your tab. This can also happen with restaurant recommendations from cabbies.
How to Find a Cab in Amsterdam
- Ask what the fare will be before stepping into the taxi.
- Never go with a taxi driver who walks around the train station entrances or airport arrival halls recruiting customers. Stand in the taxi rand to increase the chances of a legit taxi fare.
- Ride only with taxi drivers who are members of the Central Taxi Exchange – licensed.
- When possible, order a taxi through the hotel rather than standing in line at a taxi rank.
- If you do stand in a taxi rank, you do not have to select the first taxi in line. Look for a licensed taxi carrier with posted prices.
To fully educate yourself about petty theft and pickpocket crimes, check out Traveler Beware! An Undercover Cop’s Guide to Avoiding Pickpockets, Laptop Theft, and Travel Scams by Detective Kevin Coffey, before you travel. Learn about theft prevention while traveling and advice on how to outsmart the crooks and stay safe.