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2018 Vienna Pickpockets Alert

Today, I was listening to this week's episode of Rick's radio show (Program 528a), and in the open question segment, a Texas gentleman vividly describes his brush with pickpockets on a subway in Vienna. As told, he felt something, yelled at two young females behind him, and managed to get his wallet back. I wish I were as fortunate.

On my last day of a week-long visit this month, I lost a significant amount of cash from my wallet, as I walked between the ticket office and the entrance to the Belvedere museum (they are in separate buildings). In retrospect, I realize I made many mistakes: carrying more cash than necessary; revealing the contents of my wallet at the ticket office; and taking too many selfies along the walk. Things would have been far worse if my wallet was not chained to my purse.

When I reported the incident to the ticket office, a manager pointed out that there IS a "beware of pickpockets" sign posted in the office, but suffice it to say that he had to look to find it.

So my ears perked up when I heard the account of the Texan on today's radio show. I checked, and Vienna is currently listed as a low pickpocket risk. Is it possible that that risk assessment needs an adjustment? In any case, beware travelers.

Posted by
12326 posts

Compared to Paris and other cities, Vienna is indeed low on the pickpocket scale. I was there this time for a week and stayed two weeks last May/June. I carry the cash and credit cards but not all in one place on me, they are dispersed. I use the hidden pocket and a waist belt. I take only public transportation in Vienna...trams and the U-Bahn.

Posted by
2157 posts

I was in Vienna last month as well as last May for several days and a week in 2014–I rode public transit extensively, visited many museums and spent time amongst crowds and never felt any more at risk there than in any other European city.

Posted by
5011 posts

"Low risk" is a relative term. It can happen anywhere.

Posted by
25 posts

Thank you, Fred, for your prompt response to my post.
I too only took public transport while in Vienna. But, looking back, I realize that I was targeted when I got off Tram no. 1 at Burgring to transfer to Tram D for the Belvedere. I believe the pickpocket gang followed me onto the tram, then to the ticket office. I actually caught a suspect in one of the selfies that I took, and I remember noticing him on the tram as well as on the way to the ticket office. What caught my attention is that he was carrying an umbrella on a sunny day. I now believe he was using the umbrella as a decoy as he tailed me on the walk and worked his tricks on the zippers to my purse and wallet.

Yes, from now on I will probably be using a waist belt as advocated by Rick, not just to deter pickpockets but also because museums these days do not allow backpack style purses, which I prefer. (By the way, the cash was taken from a zippered wallet chained to my purse, zippered with a zipper guard. I had the misfortune of crossing path with a pickpocket artist of very high order.)

Posted by
6332 posts

In retrospect, I realize I made many mistakes: carrying more cash than necessary; revealing the contents of my wallet at the ticket office; and taking too many selfies along the walk.

I know that nobody 'deserves it' or 'asks for it' when they are pickpocketed, but this comment highlights some of the things that you can, and should, do to lessen (or even eliminate) the chances of that happening to you. When you make a target of yourself, you attract thieves and pickpockets.

Posted by
25 posts

Nancy: No one wants to make a target of themselves. I consider myself a seasoned traveler and I take measures against pickpockets. I exercise care. But it is difficult to be on guard at all time. I started this thread to share my experience with others so they won't make the same mistake. My biggest misstep this time was carrying more cash than necessary on this particular day, something that I don't normally do.

Posted by
2588 posts

I'm really sorry that you had that experience in Vienna.

I had a local in Vienna tell me that he had friends come visit, and the wife walked out of the hotel with something like 700 euro in her coat pocket. It was soon lifted, and the wife spent the rest of the visit talking about how much she hated Vienna.

I carry a wallet in a front pocket in my pants when in Europe, but it has nothing in it but 10-15 euro in spending money; I haven't had it taken yet, but I imagine it's just a matter of time before it is lifted.

Posted by
4323 posts

Been living here for 11 years. Myself and my husband have never been pick pocketed. We take public transportation only. I wear a backpack every day with a fancy iPhone and a wallet with cash and cards. I’d consider Vienna very low risk.

Posted by
8945 posts

Back 2016 I encountered an attempted mugging in Vienna. It was raining out and was wearing a rain poncho that has a large (unzipped) center pocket that only had a pack of tissues. I guess to the bad guy the outline looked like it could have been a wallet, he forcibly pushed me up against a building and attempted to get his hand into pocket. I manged to push him away and yelled a bit to scare him off. It happened on that narrow street that has that yummy finger sandwich cafe. For the remainder of visit when I walked by the street I noticed that there was always a police car parked in the square at the opposite end of the street, so perhaps there some other victims.

Anywhere in the world there are tourists, there will always be thieves to take advantage. Always use a money belt or the hotel room safe.

Posted by
12326 posts

"I believe the pickpocket gang...." That is news to me. I don't believe I have seen that. If they were around, I certainly was not aware of it. True, it is difficult to be on guard all the time. I carry more than the needed amount of cash, but the bad guys don't know that since they don't see it.

Posted by
1368 posts

This is the European hit list regarding pickpocketing:

  1. Barcelona
  2. Prague
  3. Rome
  4. Madrid
  5. Paris
  6. Florence
  7. Amsterdam
  8. Athens

Vienna is not on the list, but that does not mean that there is no pickpocketing.

The scene described from Rick's radio show is typical, and I have experienced that myself when sightseeing with friends. Young girls are trained as pickpockets in Romania, working mostly in a scrum in public transport, at train stations, but also trying to empty offertory boxes in churches. As they are younger than 14 years of age, no prosecution is possible according to Austrian law, even if they are caught red-handed.

My wallet was stolen during the few seconds I needed to climb a train with a suitcase in either hand.

This is the downside of having let Romania and Bulgaria join the European Union, although the living standard in these countries (as well as all other standards) are way below of the rest of the European Union. Given free travel and free choice of residence the clans of Sinti and Roma have organized the pickpocketing and panhandling systematically.

Posted by
12326 posts

Since a particular city or capital is not on the list, if you're a betting person, I would bet against getting hit/picked since the chances are against it. Of course, it can happen and does happen. I figure on the odds.

Posted by
3208 posts

Before a trip, I take anything out of my wallet except what is necessary for the trip. Less to lose and have to replace. Any time I’m in a crowd the wallet goes in my front pocket and my hand stays with it. In very crowded areas, it goes in a hidden zipped pocket near the bottom of my backpack that has many extra pockets sewn into it. Sorry you had a bad experience.

Posted by
12326 posts

@ mlliu....Reading over your post on what you think most likely happened that this gang followed you on to tram, then got off as you did, and followed you to the ticket office, etc I see these guys were pretty persistent. My take on this is that you let your guard down when taking those selfies. No problem with carrying more cash than you need, be it 50 Euro or 700 or more as point out above, as long as the cash is secure.

I wear the fanny/waist belt regardless of it's recommended, in style or not, but that's me. Part of this waist belt covers the left front pants pocket where I keep the wallet, snug, deep in the pocket. It has to be almost yanked out.

Do I have bills in waist belt? yes, but they aren't visible even if the zipper is unzipped since the cash bills are in a plastic sheath behind the lining of the fanny/waist belt, Even then if the bad guy's hand should reach that far, (unlikely), that plastic containing the hidden bills is fastened to the lining by two binder clips one at the each end. This is the secondary defense. . Those binder clips have be undone first before the bills can be taken out.

Posted by
25 posts

I thank everyone who has responded to my post.

It was not a pleasant experience, but it could have been far worse. So I think of the incident as a teaching/learning moment.
Here is the thing: you carry cash/credit card to make transactions, so at some point you have to reveal your wallet in public. A pickpocket makes note of that and, if the take is lucrative, you will be targeted. It is not possible to always keep your hand on your purse/pocket, or to apply zipper guards (safety pins, etc) after each transaction -- I know more often than not I neglect to use them.

The lesson, to me, is NOT to carry excess cash in the wallet that needs to be revealed in public. My thinking is: on future trips, I will (1) use my backpack purse to keep personal items and a thin wallet with very little cash for spending money for the day, (2) wear a waist belt (which should never be revealed in public except in emergency) that holds a credit card, a photo ID, emergency cash and emergency phone numbers, and (3) leave my passport, extra cash and extra credit/debit card in the hotel safe.

What do you think? Suggestions are welcome.

Posted by
7585 posts

Ok, but no backpack. They are too vulnerable and not allowed in most museums. Try a cross-body messenger bag.

Posted by
2132 posts

This is one reason I have changed my thinking on going from transit to residence. My wife and I had previously been fond of walking, but when you have 1-3 heavy suitcases, you are at maximum risk. Now, I think taxi or tram. You have no free hands, and are clearly a tourist.

Posted by
12381 posts

After over 20 years of travel and with many frieds that travel as much or more I only have first hand knowledge of 3 incidents. 2 in Paris, one was a foiled attempt against me, one I witnessed and the one in Vienna involved a friend on a tram. The Vienna one was the most bothersome because people on the tram watched it happen and when my friend confronted the thief, no one assisted.

In all three ocasdions the thief was a young lady in ethnic dress. In Paris, the one I witnessed was a well orchestrated team, the others were solo.

Posted by
12326 posts

In a way it is an art to deprive you stealthy of your assets, instead resorting to brute force, a much simpler way of communicating. Either way you are a victim, I stand more of a chance against a pickpocket, in a battle (isn't it?) of wits.

Posted by
292 posts

It's possible to be a victim of pick pockets or street scams just about anywhere in the world..that said, Vienna is one of the most unlikely places and especially if you are relatively careful. I cannot recall how often I've been there...it is not only one of my favorite destinations, it's also a place where I have never worried about being picked.
That said, I try to blend in wherever I go..I don't wear ball caps, crazy sneakers, white belts, cut off jeans, T shirts with Mets or Cubs logo's, Swiss Army backpacks etc. You know the drill I hope? Having lived in Europe and traveled a lot I tend to dress more as a European than the typical American tourist and yes we do stand out. I can always pick out a silver haired American couple just got off the river cruise from a crowd on any street. I can also pick out Aussies, Germans and Brits pretty easily. Start watching!
I do not usually carry a money belt...the only place I have ever done it was in Rome. I carry my wallet and cash and my passport. I never leave my passport anywhere...if you've ever experienced being without it at a border you'll understand why. Hotel safes are not as safe as having the documents in your hands. Carry a PDF and paper copy with you, that's what I put in the safe...the copies...keep them on the cloud in a file. I never carry air tickets..I get them at the airport.
Use street smarts, stay out of sketchy places, expect to be picked and act accordingly and you'll be fine.
NYC is a far worse place to visit......

Posted by
2157 posts

I leave my normal wallet at home and use a small Coach wristlet that measures about 4" x 6" (or another brand would work just as well); it has a loop that can be unlatched and the leash measures 12". It holds my credit & debit card, some coins and that day's cash. I fasten it with a big safety pin to the very bottom lining of my cross body bag (or, some bags have a clip inside that works for this), and I can open it and take out what I need while it's still in my purse--I don't ever remove it completely. I never take out a wad of cash, just count or remove from the wristlet. I would certainly notice if a thief got their hand that far into my bag and somehow pulled the wristlet up far enough to open it, let alone remove it. Spare credit card and cash are in my belt loop pouch inside my jeans.

It's pretty much assumed that everyone is carrying cash and cards on them, you just don't want to make it possible for a thief to get it.

Posted by
12381 posts

That said, I try to blend in wherever I go..I don't wear ball caps,
crazy sneakers, white belts, cut off jeans, T shirts with Mets or Cubs
logo's, Swiss Army backpacks etc. You know the drill I hope? Having
lived in Europe and traveled a lot I tend to dress more as a European
than the typical American tourist

Naaaaaaaa, if I have to do that to feel comfortable some place, its time to move on to a new place. I travel as exactly what I am. Sometimes its the Dixie Chicken t-shirt and bass fishing trousers, sometimes its the Silver Beaver and the J.L. Mercers. Its led to good conversations, many acquaintances and a few good friends. I've been spending 4 to 8 weeks a year in Europe for the last 10 years and about half that the 10 previous years. It's all been good.

The one and only issue I have been victim of was the previously mentioned attempted theft in Paris, but who hasn't had that happen in Paris?

Posted by
7585 posts

I love all the I-look-lika-local stuff. My French sister-in-law had her pocket picked after using her own bank’s ATM, on a Sunday, in her own neighborhood by the nicest young man holding a map and asking directions. She lives on the Riviera and thought she was helping a lost tourist. So it can happen to anyone. I doubt she was wearing a Yankees t-shirt. Stuff happens.

And she knows that the map, the newspaper, the petition are the oldest accessories around for this scheme.

Posted by
12326 posts

Dixie Chicken t-shirt...fantastic!

I don't wear any of that sort of clothing either...no baseball caps or caps of any kind, no polo shirts or university T-shirts, no cargo pants or shorts, no cross over, messenger bag, or day pack, but I do wear basically white sneakers and a fanny/waist belt. It's not my intention to blend in as any local giving me second or third glance will know I am a tourist or at least an outsider. That much on more than one occasion I have been told so in Germany, even more so in France.

Posted by
1368 posts

I would certainly notice if a thief got their hand that far into my bag ...

That is what most people assume before being pickpocketed the first time.

Posted by
1353 posts

I'm a big proponent of either the Scottevest or Exofficio brand jacket/vests with several inside zipper pockets. The companies make summer and winter-weight options. I don't carry a purse; just a day pack for snacks and drinks. So far, that's worked for me. Good luck!

Posted by
3173 posts

So my ears perked up when I heard the account of the Texan on today's
radio show. I checked, and Vienna is currently listed as a low
pickpocket risk. Is it possible that that risk assessment needs an
adjustment? In any case, beware travelers.

There are always going to be lowlife pieces of garbage who think your money should belong to them. Keep your eyes open. Don't show off your money and never go into your money belt (or neck belt) in public.

What caught my attention is that he was carrying an umbrella on a
sunny day. I now believe he was using the umbrella as a decoy as he
tailed me on the walk and worked his tricks on the zippers to my purse
and wallet.

What can be done with an umbrella that it can be used as a decoy? I don't understand.

NYC is a far worse place to visit......

Only in the summer like this upcoming weekend when it will be hotter than hell. 90ºF+ for 4-5 days! Noooooooooo.