Protecting Yourself from Pickpockets

Two recent events have been the catalyst for me writing this.

My sister-in-law had her purse stolen in Paris and, tragically, an Australian travel agent was stabbed and killed in Phuket, Thailand whilst trying to save her handbag from being stolen by two thieves on a motorbike.

Fortunately, my sister-in-law can cancel and replace her cards that were stolen. It will be a hassle, but she is in Paris where the Australian Embassy can be of help. Australian Consulate staff in Phuket had to deal with a situation that was far worse, and you can never replace a life, especially one that is taken away so callously.

No matter where they visit, tourists do stand out, and are often an easy mark for thieves. Mostly, thieves are just after money and valuables and never use violence against a target. In many cases, pickpockets are so good you won’t even realise that you’ve been robbed until well after they’ve disappeared into the crowd. They do cause you great inconvenience, but at least you are physically safe.

In the case where there is a physical confrontation, such as occurred in Phuket, police will always advise you to give up your possessions. If thieves blatantly grab your purse, let it go, because those types are often armed with a weapon, and will use it if they feel the need. You life and well being are ultimately much more valuable than your possessions.

When I travel I have certain rules that I always obey:

– Always take out travel insurance to cover yourself for medical expenses in case of harm, and for emergency money in case of theft

– Leave most valuables in the hotel safe and take with you only what you need, this should include passports, jewellery, cash, spare credit and debit cards. I also keep spare glasses there as its one thing to be broke, but it is far worse to be practically blind

– Never ever, unless of course you are in transit, carry all of your valuables, cash or cards with you when sightseeing

– Don’t keep everything in the one place – I like to wear cargo pants with many pockets and I do keep cash in different pockets as thieves need to be quick and will only target one place. I also prefer to carry around local currency in small denominations so that if some is stolen, I still have access to more

– Many thieves target women as they tend to carry all of their valuables around in a handbag – if you are a woman learn to be a man and choose clothes with have many hiding places for valuables, then stuff your cash and valuables in those pockets; by all means carry a handbag, but just keep necessities such as tissues etc in it so that if your handbag is stolen, the thief won’t get much; also keep your bag in front of you to lessen the chance of it being stolen

– A simple trick for those carrying small purses and wallets is to put a rubber band around it and keep it in a front pocket, that rubber band (because it rubs on your clothing) makes it hard for a thief to extract it from your pocket without you knowing about it

– If you do need to carry cash, cards and valuables with you, keep them secured inside your clothing – I have a pouch attached to a strong cord which I wear below my armpit under my clothes it’s not obvious that it’s there so it doesn’t get targeted; ok, armpits aren’t pleasant places, but nobody else has to sniff my valuables

– Be vigilant but not paranoid – when you travel you do see many marvellous things and have wonderful experiences, but always be aware of your surroundings, and observe what others are doing; thieves tend to target those who are totally focussed on the attraction they are visiting, thieves are very observant if they detect that you are aware of your surroundings it is likely they will leave you alone. Be aware, but not paranoid, pickpockets are a problem in most major tourist areas, but it is still rare to become a victim, be cautious but still enjoy your trip

– Always photocopy the main pages of your passport, credit cards, travel documents, etc – leave copies at home with family and email copies to yourself so that if anything does happen all you need do is go to an internet cafe and print out the copies for yourself, embassy staff, police and your insurer

– Use e-tickets as much as possible – the days of paper airline tickets are almost over, if you have an e-ticket that has been sent to your email address it is always available at the next computer terminal; likewise with hotel bookings, etc if you book online a copy of the booking always remains with your email address

– Open a cloud email address – these are addresses that can be accessed anywhere and they are free, the most popular being gmail, hotmail, yahoo etc; having one of these simply means you can open them on any computer anywhere, if you have an email address that is associated with your internet provider of a web address just forward copies to your cloud address

– Don’t blatantly advertise that you are a tourist – thieves are very canny and will probably know who the tourists are but they’re still wary about who they target; there is no need to advertise your nationality by having your national flag emblazoned on your clothing, or dressing like a tourist because all you are doing is making yourself stand out in a crowd and helping thieves to make you their target, look at the locals and try to dress like them; of course if you are in a country where the people are noticeably different from you, just take the precautions that I’ve outlined above

If you want specific information about avoiding pickpockets in Paris the U.S. Embassy has a page with excellent advice for you.

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