Pickpocket Scams in Amsterdam, Netherlands – and Surrounding Areas
With over 1.36 residents (including surrounding suburbs) and about 3.6 million tourists annually, Amsterdam is a prime hunting ground for petty thieves of all sorts. Amsterdam is a city is full of canals, friendly and laid-back open locals and is the perfect haven for pickpockets to take advantage of countless tourists. Regardless if you travel in Paris, Rome or Amsterdam it’s the same, where there are tourists, there are people looking to exploit them. Below are some tips and accounts of tourist run-ins with the clever pocket thieves of Amsterdam. Take a little bit of time to learn about the local tourist culture so that you don’t fall victim to pickpockets in the Netherlands.
The New Zealand Embassy in Holland advises travelers: “Thieves are often professional and work in teams of two or three and are usually observing unwary travelers. Techniques used to distract victims include asking odd or persistent questions, spilling food or drink, or telling travelers someone has spilled something on their clothes, or simply walking off with a bag, suitcase or wallet when the owner is not looking.”
The Amsterdam Experience – Around the City
Amsterdam has many treasures to offer, yet the city itself is smaller than other major European cities, making it a delightful and refreshing area to explore. From the Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum, flower markets to the racy Red Light District, there are many reasons for travelers to explore the narrow streets and circling canals of Amsterdam. Because there is a large concentration of museums, monuments, and parks in close proximity, it creates the perfect hunting ground for petty thieves and pickpockets. The following locations are frequented by pickpockets and swindlers: Kalverstraat, The Red Light District, Dam Square, the Museum Quarter (Oud Zuid/Old South District), near the Centraal Station, on Damrak and the Waterlooplein Flea Market, just to name a few.
Pickpocket Scams in Central Station to Dam Square
The area between Centraal Station and Dam Square is very busy with train travelers passing the time before their next connection and tourists alike. This area is known for petty thieves who lurk in the dark alleys.
- You arrive at the Centraal Station in the evening in winter, so it is already dark. Your hotel is only a few blocks away, so you decide to walk. A man stops you and claims he has a knife, and he demands all of your money.
Solution: Walking in the vicinity of the train station with luggage makes you a target. If you are walking in the direction away from the train station, then you are most likely starting your trip and you “should” have lots of cash on hand. When traveling in the evening hours, take advantage of the easy-to-use public transportation.
- You and a group of friends are backpacking through Europe and arrive by train at the Centraal Station in the early morning hours. Like many backpackers, you arrive without a room reservation. As you walk out of the station, many people offer accommodation. Because it is a public holiday, many hotels you check out are already full. You go back to one of the men who previously offered accommodations and follow him down a dark alley. The man then suddenly runs off and a group of rather large men approach your group with knives.
Solution: If you plan on arriving in the evening or late night hours, ALWAYS make a room reservation before arriving. NEVER follow a stranger to an undisclosed area. There is a tourist information office directly across from the train station, and they are equipped to assist travelers to make hotel/hostel reservations.
- Amsterdam comes alive at night, at it is no coincidence that the incidence of crime also increases during this time. You leave a bar at about 12 a.m. and pass through Dam Square with a few friends. You stop for a moment to tie your shoe, and your friends carry on. As you catch up to your friends, a group of devious looking young men suddenly surround you. Oddly, one of the men goes to shake your hand, and you politely shake his hand. Just then, the man pulls you close to him and puts his leg between yours, as if he’s going to kick you, but instead he shakes your leg. Your two friends see what happens and run over to assist you scaring off the group of men. At first, you are struck by how odd the interaction was, and then you check your pockets to find that they are empty. You turn around to try to chase the men down, but they have already disappeared into one of the dark alleys.
Solution: It is never a good idea to carry a traditional wallet when touring the pubs, bars or coffee shops in Amsterdam. To carry money more securely use a wallet or belt wallet which stays on your person. For example, a product such as this not only perfect and comfortable for traveling, but you can also carry your keys and money safely when jogging too.
- You stop in Dam Square to watch a street artist sketch a massive piece of chalk art on the ground. While you are watching how the artist develops the drawing, a pickpocket is watching you.
- Panhandlers are a big problem in Amsterdam. While walking on the very busy Damrak, you stop to locate your cell phone in your purse. Once you stop, a person sees you reach into your bag and immediately approaches asking for money.
Solution: If someone approaches you and makes you feel uncomfortable, yell firmly. “Go Away!” or “Ga Weg!” in Dutch. Even if the person pulls at your heartstrings, it is best not to give them money. If you would like to help the needy, there are homeless people who sell newspapers, dak Ozen rant, in front of grocery stores to earn money.
- It is almost midnight, and you and your friends decide to stop at Dam Square to look briefly at your map. Someone approaches you asking if you speak English. You answer, “Yes”, then the man instructs you to look across the street to his friend, who by the way has a gun. He then demands money and any drugs may have.
Solution: Because certain drugs are legal for sale and use in authorized coffee shops, there are naturally drug addicts in the city. If you are in a shady area such as Dam Square, the Red Light District or near a train station (especially at night) and someone approaches you, keep walking.
- In the crowded Dam Square, an odd man starts following you while attempting to play the guitar. He keeps asking for money, only one Euro. The man is persistent and will not go away.
- A Dutch uniform police officer walks up to you and asks to inspect your belongings. Should you allow him?
Solution: If someone approaches you try to ignore them. If they start to follow you, firmly say, “Go Away!” or step into a shop to lose them. Have you heard of fake police? Thieves-in-Dutch-uniforms stop tourists with requests to inspect belongings. Always ask police for ID before showing anything.
- You are walking through the crowded Dam Square at midday, and a man runs towards you trying to introduce himself. You try to ignore him, but he becomes more aggressive and then threatens you, claiming he has a gun. He demands 50 Euros. You pull out your wallet to give the man something, hoping you have only small notes, but you happen to only have a 50 Euro note. You give the man the 50 Euro note to avoid any conflict.
Solution: If someone approaches you and becomes aggressive, try to stand near a group of people; safety in numbers. The incidences of violent crime against travelers are rather low, but if you are concerned that a threat may be valid, try to carry as little cash on you as possible in the case that you do have to “hand it all over”.
- A man approaches you on Damrak offer to exchange your money for a great exchange rate. You give them your money, and they take off running with it.
Solution: Never exchange your money with someone off of the street. Grens Wissel Kantoor (GWK) or a bank is the most reputable place to exchange safely currency.
Amsterdam Red Light District Pickpocket Scams
Cameras, even police surveillance cameras that could help curb crime, are not permitted in the Red Light District and pickpockets know this.
- The Red Light District is the main area where beggars hang out. Most times a simple and firm, “No” will get them to leave you alone, but in the case that they are persistent, continue to walk away – but not into a dark alley.
Solution: Always be aware of your surroundings. When observing the sites, make sure also to observe those around you. If you find yourself in a crowded area, such as an elevator, keep close sight on all of your belongings. Travel with a waist pack with hidden closure and zipper locks
- You have had a late night out and perhaps too many drinks. You walk back to your hotel alone, cutting through the Red Light District. Due to your physical state, you are targeted by a dodgy man and he holds you at knifepoint and demands all of your money.
- You decide to visit the streets of the Red Light District during the day to see what it like, but avoid any issues in the late night hours. You are walking along a canal, and someone pushes you from behind, trying to pass you. Then you notice another person pass you on the opposite site. You are irritated by the rudeness of the passersby, but don’t realize yet that they snatched your camera.
Solution: Carry valuables such as cameras, cell phones or MP3 players in a secure day pack with features such as secure zippers and slash-proof panels and straps. Special travel bags have been developed to be both comfortable and secure.
- Someone drops a pair of glasses on the ground directly behind you and steps on them. They then start yelling at you for breaking their glasses and make a huge commotion. While the one person has your attention, their accomplice unzips your backpack and steals your wallet.
Solution: When traveling through the busy streets of Amsterdam, give yourself peace of mind and use a simple zipper lock on your backpack to secure your zippers.
- Someone on the sidewalk bumps into you and then he and his friend start yelling that you spilled their marijuana on the street, and they want money for it. You try to avoid a conflict and walk away. Because you don’t give the men money, they take the glasses off of your face.
- Pickpockets are most active in the Red Light District when it gets dark.
- Groups of women visiting the Red Light District at night may feel harassed in this aggressive environment.
Amsterdam Shopping Areas Pickpocket Problems
- De Negen Straatjes (The Nine Little Streets) is a quaint and favorite shopping spot for many. Unfortunately, shopping areas are successful picking grounds for pocket and purse thieves – the city of Amsterdam even warns shoppers with signs reading:
Let op zakkenrollers!
Beware of pickpockets!
Hüten Sie sich für Taschendieben!
Attention aux Pickpockets!
- The bustling pedestrian shopping area on Kalverstraat offers a mix of popular chain stores. Many major chain stores accept international credit cards, but many smaller, independent shops do not. You look for an ATM to withdraw more cash. You find an outdoor ATM and just as the cash is being dispensed, a man runs by, swipes the cash and disappears into the crowd.
Solution: Try to use ATMs in bank lobbies during business hours.
- Your friend is souvenir shopping in a tiny shop. The pathways are quite narrow, and the store is full of tourists. A woman is standing very close to your friend and even bumps into her. Your friend says, “Excuse me,” to the woman and steps out of her way. Once your friend goes to the register to pay for a windmill figurine, she cannot locate her wallet. The woman who bumped into her used that as a distraction to lift her wallet from her purse.
Solution: Many women have a purse for every occasion. Perhaps it is a good idea to purchase a specialty purse for traveling. A purse with a combination of zippers, hook closures, and slash-proof straps will provide an extra layer of security for your belongings.
- You stop to ask a group of people sitting on a bench for directions to Albert Cuyp open-air market. While you get directions from the people, a man approaches you from behind and slips your wallet from your back pocket. You later realize that your wallet was stolen, as well as your passport and Interrail pass.
- You want to see the famous floating flower market, Bloemenmarkt. The streets near the market are lively with tourists, locals, and vendors. Someone apologizes for accidentally squirting ketchup on your jacket. You take off your jacket, and the helpful strangers offer to take it briefly and clean it with a few napkins from their pocket. Once you hand over your jacket, the friendly stranger helps themselves to the contents of your pockets.
- You decide to take a quick look at a nearby souvenir shop. You decide to purchase a few items for friends and family and proceed to the cash register. When you indicate that you would like to pay, the man behind the machine motions that you have to go upstairs to pay. You go up the stairs, but there is no cash register to be found. You return to the man, and he reluctantly agrees to ring up the purchase. You hand the man a 10 Euro note and he tells you that it is fake – as he runs the note through a special machine, it beeps each time. Then he takes a 10 Euro note from the register, and when run through the machine, it does not beep. You take your money back from the man and leave the merchandise at the store. Later you realize that he swiped your authentic note for a counterfeit note.
Pickpocket Scams in Amsterdam Neighborhoods and Surrounding Areas
The city of Amsterdam is split into districts or quarters. Many of these neighborhoods are unique and attract many visitors. Areas with restaurants and nightclubs, such as Leidseplein and Nieuwendijk are areas with high pickpocket activity, especially at night.
- You carry your bag hooked over your shoulder while walking with a group of girlfriends. You sense someone walking behind you and turn. When you see the person behind you, he flinches and points to your bag, gesturing that it is open. You check your bag, and it is indeed open, and your camera is nearly falling out.
Solution: Secure the zippers on your bags with zipper security clips. The clip does not lock the zipper, but it does make it, so you need both hands to open the zipper – making it nearly impossible for a thief to fiddle it open while walking behind you.
- When in Amsterdam, one must try the French fries! A man comes up to you and your friend and asks if he can have one of your fries. This is a very unusual question and stunned that the man would ask, you give him a fry. The man took the fry and acted very oddly, as if signaling to a group of men nearby that he has selected you ask targets for theft.
- You manage to get lost when walking back to your hotel from the Van Gough Museum. Two ladies on a street corner offer to help you figure out how to get back to your hotel, but the ladies did not know the area well. Another man overhears the conversation and offers to help. He is very kind and helpful and leads you in the right direction. Before he let you go on his way, he persists on being paid for his services.
- You are waiting in the queue line at the Anne Frank museum when someone walks up to you and ask a few innocent questions – it seems common, but it is just a ruse to distract you while another thief removes an item from your purse or travel bag – always be aware of crowded museums and tourist attractions – these are obvious locations pickpockets like to target for victims who may be an easy mark.When walking along a street, hold bags facing away from the street to avoid scooters and bicyclists who zoom by and grab your bags.
- Someone asks for help in changing a 10 Euro note into smaller change. You pull out your wallet to break the 10, and they grab all of the cash they can and run.
Solution: Carry smaller change in your pockets, so you do not need to pull out your wallet in these situations.
- You clearly appear lost, and a friendly stranger offers to give you directions. Once you know where you need to go, the friendly stranger asks for payment for his services.
- A man comes up to you and asks for 50 cents. You give them the money, and they proceed to ask for more, even becoming aggressive.
- A woman approaches you on the street and asks if you speak English. It is difficult to say no because most people in Amsterdam are trilingual, so you answer yes. Then the person proceeds to tell you a very sad, personal story and follows-up by asking for money.
- The US State Department reported in 2007, “… several American visitors reported experiencing excessive drowsiness, confusion, dizziness, and nausea after drinking alcohol in public areas such as hotel bars and night clubs in several cities throughout the Netherlands. These effects may be the result of unknowingly ingesting drugs surreptitiously placed in drinks. These drugs do not have a distinctive color, smell, or flavor and come in powder, liquid and pill forms. Never leave drinks unattended and do not accept drinks from strangers. If you believe you have been drugged, seek assistance immediately. Try to keep the original beverage container, along with any remaining amount of the beverage, to assist the police with their investigation.”
- The Overseas Security Advisory Council advises travelers: “Travelers visiting the city of Amsterdam should pay particular attention to the use of so-called date-rape drugs ‘(such as Rohypnol, which can be added or mixed with beverages or drinks), which render the victim vulnerable to assault. During night hours, visitors to train stations and entertainment areas throughout The Netherlands could become potential victims of crime and violence.” (The Netherlands 2010 Crime & Safety Report)
Scams in Amsterdam Restaurants, Coffee Shops, Bars, and Hotels
A big attraction for travelers in Amsterdam is the night life. The restaurants and bars come alive at night, making nearby areas targets for petty thieves.
- You find a nice table at an outdoor café and it is a warm sunny afternoon, so you take off your jacket and set it over an empty chair. A few minutes later, two men sit at the table next to you. Once you grab your jacket to pay, you realize that the pockets are empty, and the two men are gone. They were able to seat themselves near the coat in a way that they could empty the pockets without you noticing.
- Whether staying in a hotel or hostel, secure your belongings and valuables before leaving the room. Utilize room safes or purchase the appropriate safety equipment to secure your treasures. Hotel room theft is quite common in Amsterdam.
Solution: To store money reserves, passports and extra credit cards in your hotel room while traveling, purchase a portable, travel safe. If a hotel room safe is provided, add your own additional safe lock to keep hotel staff out. There are many products available to keep your hotel room safe and secure.
- You and your travel partner decide to eat lunch at Kentucky Fried Chicken and find an empty table on the second floor near the window with a great view of the street below. The tables near you were primarily empty, except for two men sitting behind you. While eating, one of the men crawls behind your chair and tugs at your bag. Startled, you yell for help, and the men run away. Once you look at the table they had occupied, you notice that it is empty – they were not eating.
- As you are walking during the day to your hostel, you notice a creepy man lurking in the doorway of a nearby apartment building. The man jumps out and puts a knife to your throat demanding all of your money.
Solution: If possible, try to travel in groups. If you find yourself alone, be aware of your surroundings and cross to the opposite side of the street to avoid shady characters.
- You arrive at your hotel and there is an odd character walking back and forth in front of the main entrance. As you approach to buzz the reception (many hotels, offices and private buildings have secured main entrances), the man tells you that the hotel is full, and he can take to you a place where you can sleep for nearly nothing.
Solution: Never go to a second location with a stranger. If a hotel is full, they will help you to find another accommodation.
- You arrive in Amsterdam, and a man at the train station offers to show you to a nice and well-priced hostel. Once you arrive the man asks for a tip for his services. The next day you see the man again, and the manager of the hostel is giving the same man money – probably a commission for booking your room.
- Female travelers who want to go out at night need to buy their own drinks and keep watch of them to avoid being drugged. If a drink smells or tastes strange, stop drinking it.
Explore Amsterdam like a Local
- Dress like the locals. Avoid wearing shorts, running shoes, baseball caps and casual t-shirts.
- Learn a few Dutch phrases. Although probably every Dutch person can speak fluent English, it shows respect for their culture to say simple things like “hello,” “please,” “thank you”, and “go away.”
- Use a pocket-sized travel map; it is easier to use and easier to carry.
- Familiarize yourself with the local currency in your hotel room, not in a public square. You can even research the different Euro bills online before leaving home.
- It is great to be patriotic, but try to avoid wearing the US flag on your backpack or clothing. This again indicates that you are a tourist.
To show you the degree of pickpocket activity in Amsterdam, the photograph to the right was taken on Pentecost Sunday in the picturesque old Nine Streets of central Amsterdam. This was an obvious busy day where the streets were crowded with locals and tourists. Local Amsterdam police were riding on this horse-drawn cart carrying the large sign that you see.
If you look at the sign closely, you will see that written in different languages is the words “beware of pickpockets,” obviously due to the depth of the pickpocket problem they have. What’s unique about their pickpocket problem is the level of sophistication these pickpockets have mastered.
If you look closely at the sign again, you will see that the police sign is alerting people about thieves who use fishing poles to “fish up” valuables from tourist boats that pass under bridges.
How to Keep Your Belongings Safe from Pickpockets
Travel companies have developed products that provide an additional level of security for valuables, thus giving travelers peace of mind. Such products include special slash-proof backpacks with locks, a portable travel safe, plus travel wallets, waterproof pouches, and wrist, arm or leg wallets. To find your perfect travel solutions, visit www.corporatetravelsafety.com.
When making a tour through Europe by car, use a cable locking system with an alarm to help detour thieves. Whether in the trunk of your car or in your hotel room, the Retrasafe Cable Lock with a 24-inch retractable steel cable will keep your belongings secured in place.
To carry your passport, money, tickets and credit cards safely around town, hide your belongings in a neck wallet. This version of the neck wallet has a slash-proof strap, three secure pockets and is light weight and washable making it difficult for pocket thieves to locate and access.
Don’t miss that great camera shot because your camera is locked securely in your travel pack. Use a CarrySafe 100 camera security strap to keep your camera easily accessible and safe. Avoid the threat of “cut-and-run” with this steel reinforced strap, comfort neck pad and the ability to directly attach to the camera.
To fully learn how not to be a victim check out Traveler Beware! An Undercover Cop’s Guide to Avoiding Pickpockets, Laptop Theft, and Travel Scams by Detective Kevin Coffey, before you travel.