Got pick pocketed today in Rome...

NEVER happened in the forty years of traveling the world, but let my guard down ONCE, and they got me...and got me good/bad.
I know better...have known the dangers forever, but my weak excuse is all I have. The jerk-off that runs the hostel/hotel we stayed at in Rome was extremely rude and shocking to my wife and myself this morning, and he came into our room this morning before 9:30, wanting the keys to our room the hostel door, and the front door. I try to be understanding and get along, so I figured "no harm", and that he needed the keys for a new guest that had checked in early this morning. Stuff like that can happen.
Then while I'm eating my yogurt and his crappy little roll that he calls "free breakfast", he comes back to me and tells me my wife is in the bathroom, and I need to go get her out and vacate our room because he has someone waiting for it. Again, I try to be understanding and explain to my wife we have to hurry to get out so they can clean the room for this new guest.
This is all reasonable garbage you run into when traveling. I thought it was a bit rude and pushy, since it's not even 10:00 am yet.
Here comes the error. I empty the safe and stuff my wallet in my back pocket, with $500 in cash inside that I've been trying to exchange in a bank for the last few days, and I forget I put it there. The money belt goes around my waste, and we finish stuffing our things in the bags to vacate. The owner nearly pushes us out the front door with his phony thank you and closes the door behind us.
I NEVER leave my wallet in my back pocket. I always zip it up in a leg pocket I have on the front of my pants...but this time I left "rattled" and vulnerable.
We walked to the metro stop, and after we bought our tickets and got down to the train, I reached for my back pocket, and my heart fell through my foot. I had been pick pocketed. I had broken the golden rule, "never carry big cash in your wallet", and NEVER put your wallet in your back pocket, especially when you are carry your bags through crowds.
I got it. I don't need any sympathy or smart criticisms, but I wanted to post this just to reinforce to the rest of your travelers, DON'T let your guard down...not even once, cause they are there, and they are waiting, and they WILL get you!
I had to cancel two credit cards and my ATM CU debit card, lost $500 hard earned cash, lost my driver's license and VA ID, etc. Felt sick most of the day, but it's time to move on.
DON'T let your guard down....not even once. They are waiting.

Posted by Kent
Pacific Northwest
7948 posts

Michael, thank you for providing the details.
You aren't the only one to make a mistake of this type. I realizethe recovery from this monumental hassle will be stressful, but best wishes for a good trip despite what happened.

Posted by Dave
Ventura, CA, USA
718 posts

Michael, I'm sorry to hear that. I do think it would be useful to post a review of the Hostel so others can know about the person running it too.
I hope you have a great trip anyway!
Dave

Posted by Michael
Vancouver, WA, usa
29 posts

The hostel actually has pretty good reviews. Live and learn. I think we just assume you can linger around on your day out, if you get out by 11:00, but that's a BAD assumption. I will post a relatively fair evaluation on Hostalworld for this place. I'm very bitter about the whole thing right now, and I have to remember, it's MY fault I got robbed, not this hostal's. I let my guard down. Only have me to blame for that, but it's NOT going to spoil my trip!

Posted by Anita
Long Beach, California, USA
1155 posts

We can all empathize I think...everyone makes mistakes but that doesn't make it feel any better. SO, so sorry this happened to you!

Posted by Pam
Troy, Idaho, USA
1202 posts

So sorry this happened to you, but so very glad you, as a very experienced traveler, posted your story.

Posted by Laura
Rick Steves' Europe
6084 posts

Thanks again, Michael, for your detailed and honest report. Some people go with no plans to use a moneybelt, believing themselves immune, but this can happen even to seasoned travelers. I do find that hotelier's behavior shocking!

Posted by Gail
Downingtown, USA
1640 posts

Thanks for your post and really admire your positive attitude. Good for you!

Posted by Robin Z
Troy, Oh, USA
1660 posts

Thank you for your post, and I'm so sorry this happened. Hope you enjoy the rest of your trip.

Posted by James E.
USA
2824 posts

I bought one of those wallets that fits well in a front pocket and just got use to carrying it there here in the states. Now the back pocket feels odd. Rome, Paris; two biggies for this sort of thing. I even had a Roma girl (real or pretend?) try and open my back pack on the street.............while it was on my back!! Love your attitude. With an attitude like that this event is soon to be just another great story to tell. Sorry it was such an expensive story.

If I could find a money belt that would hold a credit card, and some cash and if I had any common sense; I would start wearing one. But I am just too reckless and lazy.

Posted by Donna
Cleveland, OH
534 posts

Michael, thanks for sharing your experience. I'm going to print this thread and share it with two friends that insist they don't need to wear a money belt. Sorry it happened to you.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
5545 posts

Michael,
I'm sorry to hear this happened to you. I hope it doesn't cause too much inconvenience. I had my wallet stolen out of my purse in a crowded RER train in Paris. We were on our way to the airport to go home (fortunately) and I let my guard down. It can happen to anyone. Anyone! When a person is traveling there are so many ways to become distracted. I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
7275 posts

"... I'm going to print this thread and share it with two friends that insist they don't need to wear a money belt. Sorry it happened to you..."

Amen. Moral of the story: robbers they can get at your pants pocket but not the trusty money belt!

Posted by Alexandra
Houston, TX
55 posts

As others have said, I regret that this happened to you. I don't think any of us can be constantly on our guard. In fact that runs counter to my sense of having a fun, relaxing, and confident holiday experience. We can only do our best to stick to our safeguards and know that they might not always be enough to keep trouble at bay. I hope you can let it go and enjoy the rest of your vacation. Life is an adventure!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
20068 posts

Michael,

Sorry to hear about your misfortune in Rome, both with the unscrupulous hotelier and the pickpocket. Be sure to post a review of that establishment on Trip Advisor as well.

Thanks for posting about this, as it's a good reminder for everyone here that even the most experienced travellers can be victimized, even with a momentary lapse of attention. FWIW, one of my former colleagues also had his wallet pinched on the Rome Metro, and it was in a zippered front pocket.

Hope the rest or your trip is problem free.

Posted by Leigh
Missouri
377 posts

Thank you for posting. It is a very good reminder. It is easy to let your guard down when you have never had a problem on so many trips, etc.... I hope the rest of your trip was a good one.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
2466 posts

I'm sorry for your problems, and I once was pick pocketed at the bottom of an escalator in Paris.

I don't carry any wallet any longer, and I carry relatively little cash at any given time. And when in crowds, my wife walks closely behind me at all times. If someone "gets in my space", I'm very aware of it and am proactive in getting away from them.

North Americans have a tendency to be too nice and cordial in some crowd situations. If someone trips in front of me, I'll turn into a complete jerk. And at 6'3" and 230 lbs., they don't mess with me.

Posted by Maryam
Washington, DC
707 posts

I am also sorry to hear of your troubles. I am starting to use my moneybelt here in DC when I'm out and about on the streets and the Metro with my three-year-old twins. They are very distracting, so with them around, my attention is too divided to be fully focused on my purse/wallet in the crowds and the bustle. Besides, my bag is usually full of their stuff anyways.
I also do admire your attitude!

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3016 posts

I think the lesson that can be learned, and thanks for sharing your unfortunate experience Michael so others can learn, is that it can be VERY easy to get distracted and that is when thieves will strike. Many people seem to think, "Well, I'll carry a wallet but be more alert while riding the metro," or "I have an inside pocket with a zipper and I'll just zip it up each time," or "Of course I'll notice if someone reaches inside my pocket..." The lesson is that pick-pockets thrive on your distraction, or make their own distraction for you.

Michael's distraction was different than the examples above, but the reality is it is soooo easy to forget something or get distracted while trying to figure out what you are doing or where you are going or racing out of the hotel to make a train or 'cause the rude owner all but kicked you out...

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1525 posts

With due respect to Michael, I don't think the crucial lesson is to "never let your guard down". As sensible as that is, it is impractical. Everyone lets their guard down from time to time. It is unrealistic to expect yourself not to.

What you CAN do is develop habits at home that are conducive to not being vulnerable in risky situations (and let's not forget there is risk walking around many places in the USA, too). As a guy, I've never carried my wallet in my back pocket. It wasn't anti-theft wisdom. I just never liked that feeling of having a bump on my butt when sitting down. I put my wallet in my front left pocket every time I have it, no matter where I am. Doing any differently would feel as wrong as cutting meat with the opposite hand. Even in a situation when I'm "rattled", that's where it would go without ever giving it a thought. My front pocket tends to be either rather tight (jeans) or deep (other pants) and my hand is usually hanging right there, in front of my pocket, even when my mind is wandering. When I began exploring Europe, I considered the usual safety measures (all resulting in a change in my habit) and rejected them in favor of what I was already doing. It's not that I consider my choice wiser, it is that I consider my habit more critical to keep.

Is it a perfect solution? No. I could still get hit. But my point is that what matters most is what your habit is. Once you deviate from your habit (yes, even wearing money belts or other pouches) you open yourself up to being caught with your "guard" let down.

I don't think there is any evidence that any place in Europe is more dangerous re pickpocketing than similar places in the USA, so why would we behave differently in one place than the other? Don't be cavalier in either place. Be safe in both.

And my deep condolences to Michael. It could have happened to anyone. I admire your attitude about it and willingness to share your experience.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
3829 posts

I think that Randy has a point about developing smart habits at home that they can be carried forward to other travel. I still remember when I first moved to Madison from Chicago and my realtor placed her purse on a chair that was on the other side of the table at lunch. I was used to putting my purse on my lap, or if it was on the floor, but feet were totally entangled in the straps. And, I never, ever put a purse on the back of chair. But I have a colleague here in NYC who a few months wasn't thinking and put her purse on the back of her chair in Hale and Hearty. Her wallet was lifted. So, I always use a cross body bag and put it on my lap or directly next to me. I look to see where my table is placed. I do this here and I did in Madison.

Another practice involved thinking about where you put a purse in a car. I remember when there was a string of purse snatchings from women who put their purse on the front seat of the car when they were driving alone. The simple change of putting on the floor in front of the sear decreased the risk of it being grabbed.

We think of these things as only happening in big cities by trained thieves, but sometimes, it just kids with opportunities. Developing habits that keep you personal belongs safe is something that everyone should do.

Sadly, even with these habits can slip up. So, sorry Michael. I know how you feel. I was sight-seeing in NYC with family a year or so ago and got distracted by a niece and nephew and boom, my wallet was gone. I'm still dealing with ID issues. :(

Pam

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1525 posts

A few weeks ago I was on the main tram line in Istanbul, heading toward tourism central in the middle of the day. The tram was packed. No chance at a seat. I had to stand near the doors with people coming and going at every stop but so tightly packed that avoiding physical contact was impossible. It was a situation tailor made for pick-pocketing. I stood my RS backpack on the floor wedged between my legs. My slim over-the-shoulder camera bag was worn under my Scottevest jacket. My wallet was in my front-left pocket - along with my hand. There was nothing of any value in any other exterior pocket. The Scottevest jacket has lots of interior pockets (including one large enough for my iPad). I was watchful, but I also felt well-protected. However, there is nothing different I would have done anywhere in the USA (except that I would have been less likely to have had the RS backpack with me). Everything I did and every place I put things was exactly the same as I would have put them anywhere. Habit is key (and also the key for simply not forgetting things - which is probably far more likely to happen than theft).

Posted by MarieB
120 posts

Very unfortunate and sad this happened to you. I know you stated you did not want a lot of sympathy or critiquing. As written, it can happen to the best of those who are always on guard.

Despite that "anything can happen" even after four decades of safe, careful and attentive traveling, some responsibility lies with the hotel owner. Had he not made such a big fuss about you and your wife getting out in "five minutes," you would have paid more attention (like you did on previous trips) to where you put your money.

Sadly, the hotel owner's silly behavior had a domino effect. Although it is a personal choice, I would not give that owner nor his hotel any rating. A skimpy breakfast, a "push" out the door to paying guests is not a place I would recommend nor ever go again. I do not know the details of course, but how come the hotel man did not specify a certain check-out time? I am sure, had he made it clear he did not like people to stay past 9 or 10AM, you would have complied.

Aside from this hotel owner's rushed check out, the other responsibility lies with the person who stole your wallet. But, of course, they do not care and have no conscience.

Good luck.

Posted by Edgar
Medford, OR, USA
940 posts

Yes, Randy of MN has a good point about placing one's wallet in a front pocket. I started the front pocket practice to avoid piriformis syndrome (fat wallet syndrome) from sitting on a fat wallet on transcon flights and long drives to Lake Tahoe. A back pocket placement is look less secure and harder to "hold onto ones wallet".

My son had a close call in Spain having grabbed a hand partway in his front pocket. He let the pickpocket go not wanting a confrontation.

As an aside, when you are in a big American big city like NYC are you more concerned about getting mugged or getting your pocket picked? Neck pouches and security purses aren't much good when confronted with a mugger packing hardware.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3016 posts

While Randy's advice is good, I'm not sure it is very applicable to most people in the US or Canada that travel to Europe. Very few people live in places where pick-pockets are common. And so few people ever take precautions or develop habits against it. Traveling to Europe presents a completely different risk than people are used to.

I carry my wallet in my pocket and almost never worry about it. But I'd never do that in Europe. On the other hand, here at home, when I look at my phone or iPad on the L, I hold on tight and try to be aware of my surroundings. I don't know if "Apple picking" is common in Europe, but I'm sure I would do the same thing if riding the metro or sitting on a park bench.

And frankly, a front pocket is no safer a place for a wallet than a back pocket...

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
3829 posts

Edgar, clearly you have not been to NYC recently. It is as packed with tourists as Paris or London. And crime has been dropping consistently here for years. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/30/new-york-city-murder-rate-2013_n_4520192.html And realize that this rate includes all the boroughs. Of course there are places that you should not go alone at night. There are places like that in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Paris, as well.

And I heartily disagree that it is only in NYC that you need smart habits about storing your belongings. Thievery happens anywhere there are people and an opportunity presents itself. It's not just hardened criminals, but stupid kids can ruin things by stealing a purse in Madison, WI as easily as a Roma stealing one on the Paris Metro. Neither experience is any fun and is a pain.

Pam

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1525 posts

"Traveling to Europe presents a completely different risk than people are used to."

Frankly, that is an urban myth, and it would be best if we on the RS Helpline didn't perpetuate it.

Of course, there are people who think that visiting "Europe" means central London, Paris, and Rome. But that is not Europe any more than NYC, Chicago and Los Angeles are America. If you spent a week each at tourist destinations in those three American cities, you would be subjecting yourself to every bit of the pickpocket risk as those three European cities. And to add icing on the cake, you would be at greater risk of physical assault in the USA. Rubes who travel to "Europe" are not putting themselves at risk because of Europe. They are putting themselves at risk because of tourist centers in large cities. If they want to avoid getting picked, they had better develop some safe habits ANYWHERE they go.

We have been fortunate to spend about 180 days in Europe over the last seven years and probably 120 of them were spent in small towns or rural areas where we were NO MORE LIKELY to be picked than small towns or rural areas in the US. Likewise, the 60 or so days we spent in big cities we were NO MORE LIKELY to be picked than we would have been at tourist sites in US big cities. Meanwhile, we felt generally safer than in the US due to the much lower likelihood of anything more serious happening.

Develop good, common sense habits that you use EVERYWHERE and use them EVERYWHERE, all the time. That will not make you immune to trouble, but it will bring you closer to it than any other behavior.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
8480 posts

Michael.. sorry this happened ,, and I can understand the fuss of the forced fast check out would be distracting, what I am still confused about is why were you carrying 500 american dollars ? I don't wear a money belt except in transit ( as you were ) but why wouldn't one only have one days cash in their purse or wallet> And why carry so much cash you can't use in Europe? I am not unsympathetic to all the circumstances that led the pickpocketing.. those thieves are professionals... but I have never carried more then I could easily afford to lose. and I have never brought my currency to Europe but have always just used an ATM card to withdraw a few days local currency .. stashing bulk in money belt or safe.. but never in my purse.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3016 posts

Of course, there are people who think that visiting "Europe" means central London, Paris, and Rome. But that is not Europe any more than NYC, Chicago and Los Angeles are America. If you spent a week each at tourist destinations in those three American cities, you would be subjecting yourself to every bit of the pickpocket risk as those three European cities. And to add icing on the cake, you would be at greater risk of physical assault in the USA. Rubes who travel to "Europe" are not putting themselves at risk because of Europe.

The above is partly flat-out wrong and partly mis-understood. The average tourist to Europe visits London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, etc... Not the small towns for the most part. But you are correct, the big cities is generally where the risk is.

While I can't speak for NYC, I can tell you that Chicago is NOT a high risk for pick-pockets. It happens on occasion, but NOWHERE near the levels found in many European cities. But something like Apple picking is a concern. And you are correct, the risk of physical assault or mugging in a US city is far greater than Europe. Which is why you mis-understood my post. The risks are different than what people are used to. Pick-pockets in the US, not so much. Ring scams and roving bands of Gypsy kids, not so much. Muggings, Apple picking, aggressive panhandlers? Absolutely.

And I did not claim that traveling to Europe was "risky." Sorry if you mis-understood that. My point was that the risks to persons/property are different than what people are used to in the US. In fact, as you state, it is very, very safe to travel to Europe. And even if you fall victim to a pick-pocket, it might ruin your day or trip, but certainly not have any long lasting consequences.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7710 posts

The moral of the story, to me, is whenever you are flustered you need to be extra careful. Many thefts begin with some sort of distraction to put you off your guard - running into you, spilling a drink on you, confronting you, asking directions, asking if you dropped something, stopping in front of you, crowding, etc. It's best if you just assume the worst and turn your natural defense mechanisms up a notch or two.

I lost a camera years ago on the first day of Oktoberfest. I was riding a bus, with too many things to keep track of, and was very flustered from my efforts to find lodging.

The other learned lesson was always reduce everything you are carrying to one handle (one suitcase, one day pack, one shopping bag), it's way easier to keep track of one thing than multiple things. Thieves know that and will target people who seem flustered or who are trying to keep track of too many things.

Posted by Michael
Vancouver, WA, usa
29 posts

Appreciate all the great posts. Awareness is key, hence my reason for the post in the first place. Maybe my misfortune and sharing will spare some others the pain of such an incident

Pat, I almost never carry so much money in my wallet...at home or abroad. I was hoping to do a transaction at a bank to compare the exchange rates from my ATM withdrawals. I'm realizing currency exchange kiosks are nearly always poor deals. I simply should have replaced the cash back into money belt once the day was done, and I got lazy and careless. It ended up being the biggest loss when I lost my wallet to the pick pocket. It never should have been in my wallet that day...a traveling day, when is had no intention to exchange dollars for Euros in the bank. Just plain carelessness

I did have some cash in a clip, inside my zippered front pocket that I usually rely on when I travel. Fortunately that was enough to cover the train tickets, the cafe to access wifi to cancel the cards and eats, etc. the wallet was the mistake. It just shouldn't have been exposed, loaded with cash, as it was.

Hope that clears up some of the mystery. And the comments about "occupied with too many items" was fitting as well. I had also bought a damaged small suitcase so I could bring home a few bottles and other souvenirs at the end of my trip. My wife is still kicking me in the butt for ever doing that. No, the bottles aren't that important...in hindsight.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
12069 posts

Since you didn't mention any distractions and it is rare for pickpockets to operate alone, is there any possibility that the billfold could have just fall out in the taxi or somewhere else when you were sitting? Second, was the billfold that obvious in your pocket? I have got to the point that I don't carry a billfold of any type in Europe.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
3829 posts

Well, Doug, you might want to avoid the connection between the Blue line and the Red line. It was a number of years ago, but I would be surprised if it had changed. I was took the El in from O'Hare with my niece, and changed downtown for to the then Howard line. When I got to Gino's East, I discovered that my pocket had been picked. Fortunately, Gino's staff was very understanding. The weekend with my niece was a wee bit more stressful than anticipated.

I had other friends whose pockets were also picked. These were people who were working in Chicago and got careless with purses and wallets A simple google search on Chicago and Pickpockets immediately brought up a November reference to a warning about holiday pickpockets. It looks like the police roll out the warning every November.

Personally, having lived in both Chicago, NYC, the Bay Area in California and Wisconsin, I think that anyone who is blasé about their personal belongings is begging to be robbed. Develop good habits and you'll reduce the risk. That's what it is all about--risk reduction. Michael's post is a case in point.

Pam

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
8480 posts

Micheal.. you most likely were pickpocketed as you assumed.. but Frank has an interesting view.

I personally saw a mans wallet fall out of his pocket while I was on a bike tour in Paris, The man and his wife were on the tour with us. I was behind them. His wallet fell on the ground.. and he continued riding on... I stopped .. picked it up and gave it to him. I suggested that the back pocket was not a good place( whcih you already knew I know) . He put it BACK in that pocket. The truth can be strange.

Posted by Sarah
United States
215 posts

Michael,
Thanks for your story. I hope I will think of you the next time I feel like stuffing some cash in a pocket 'just this once'.....
Sarah

Posted by Edgar
Medford, OR, USA
940 posts

Hello Pamela of NYC,

Thank you for the NY Times article about NYC's declining crime rate. Yes, it's been 20+ years since I had to travel to NY. Company use to house us midtown near Madison Square and walking to/from Times Square got a bit scary at night.

Today's NYC must be feeling safe to tourist. French woman offering food to NY homeless man dumpster diving?
http://gma.yahoo.com/blogs/abc-blogs/french-tourist-gave-food-hobo-richard-gere-dont-193817013--abc-news-celebrities.html

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3016 posts

I think that anyone who is blasé about their personal belongings is begging to be robbed. Develop good habits and you'll reduce the risk.

Pamela, depending on what you mean exactly by "blasé," I can agree. I also agreed with Randy basic premise, summarized again above by you. Develop good habits to keep your things secure.

My point is that few Americans have such habits when it comes to wallets and purses. In general, people are not at high risk in the US to pickpockets. And so they don't do much, if anything, to mitigate that risk. So when traveling to (big) European cities, they need to take different precautions than they ordinarily do. Geez people, why do we have all these thread explaining to people about moneybelts, neck pouches, Pac Safe purses, etc? Because almost no one uses them in the US.

I also never claimed that Chicago doesn't have pickpockets. What I said is that it is nowhere near the problem as in many European cities. You can pull out a regular holiday warning to shoppers along the crowded Mag Mile about pickpockets, and the same might be true at the Taste or Lolapalooza, but it just isn't a major concern for people here except on those rare events. I don't know a single person that has had their wallet pick-pocketed in Chicago but I won't claim it hasn't happened (I'd bet we all know of people it's happened to in Europe). I do know people that have been crime victims. What does happen, a lot, are phones getting grabbed. Muggings. We get roving bands of teens creating huge disturbances along the Mag Mile. Flash mob robberies. Foreign visitors getting their heads smashed in with baseball bats to steal their purses. Thankfully the last ones are relatively rare.

PS - I used to walk those tunnels everyday. Never had a problem. Never saw any disturbances. Sometimes great street music though.

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1525 posts

Douglas;

You may be partially correct if you want to approach this as a matter of statistics. Or you may not. Frankly, I don't know what the stats are for pickpocketing in NYC vs Rome. I doubt those stats are available, and really....I don't care. They would not be accurately reflective of reality anyway. Some guy in NYC reaches for his wallet at a restaurant and realizes it isn't there, chances are his first thought is "Damn, I can't believe I lost my wallet!". The same guy in Rome thinks; "I was warned, I was careful, and those dang thieves got me anyway!!". We'll never know what really happened. There is the psychology of expectations at play here. We don't "expect" to get picked in Chicago so when 99/100 people return from a visit without trouble we figure our expectations have been fulfilled. Meanwhile someone else "expects" pickpocketing to be rampant in Paris and 1/100 return having lost something from their pockets and we figure "Yep, I KNEW it!!". You see what I mean?

As it happens, when I wrote my last post on this subject my wife was sitting on the couch reading a Facebook post from a friend who was reporting that she just got pick-pocketed at Millennium Park in Chicago. Meanwhile, I don't personally know of anyone who was pick-pocketed in London. What does this prove? Absolutely nothing.

The reason we see so many posts from people here asking about money belts and such is not because they are absolutely needed. It is because they are worried. They are worried because they have heard "things". Those "things" are mostly anecdotal and not necessarily representative of reality. The only reality that really matters is that it's wise to not walk around with lots of cash; it's wise to not flaunt any cash; it's wise to be aware of your surroundings; and it's wise to maintain safe, organized, simplicity-based habits and stick to them always.

And even if it is a tiny fraction more likely that you could get pick-pocketed in Rome than Disney World (and I am not for a moment conceding that it is true), It's no more than a tiny fraction, and not enough for genuine travel-enthusiasts to blow out of proportion either for themselves or for others who are eager to "hear things" and regurgitate them to satisfy their own fears/expectations.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3016 posts

While I think it wise to end this discussion as we won't completely agree, a cursory Google search brings up plenty of reports about certain European cities being notorious for pickpocketing in the past few years. Barcelona usually tops the list. Rome, Paris and Madrid are always near the top. US cities? Not on the lists.

The US State Department provides a specific travel advisory warning for Spain about pickpockets. I suppose they see enough citizens come in with missing passports to have a pretty good idea of just how rampant the problem is.

In Paris recently, the Louvre shut down because staff staged a walk-out to protest the rampant pickpocketing that occurs there.

Even some of the pickpocketing reports for Chicago that Pamela referenced note that the "art" of pickpocketing is dying out or on the decline in recent years. And if Pamela is referring to a Howard Line train, her experience must be at least 30 years old. A few old-timers still call it the Howard - no offense Pamela ;-).

Finally, here http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2011/02/thelostartofpickpocketing.html is a Slate article from 2011 noting the decline of pickpocketing in the US. Lots of stats and academic studies referenced. Fact is, it's a lot easier and more lucrative to steal phones and tablets.

And again, please don't think I am trying to fear monger. I always try and advise reasonable precautions in whatever way a person is most comfortable with. We have the "deep storage NEVER access a valuable in public" group on one end and the "just stick your wallet in a front or jacket pocket and be aware of your surroundings" group on the other end. I personally fall in the middle. My only point was that expecting people to take the same precautions in European cities as they do everyday at home is not a very realistic approach since for most people they don't take any precautions at home (even IF they should).

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
1596 posts

"While I think it wise to end this discussion as we won't completely agree"

@Douglas, if you really felt this way why not just stop with this sentence?

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
4425 posts

I do take precautions in the US (car keys ready, not carrying a lot of cash) because thieves here tend to be more violent and confrontational. It's the violence that bothers me, not losing something to a thief. People worry about this more in foreign travel, I think, because of being in unfamiliar surroundings, the time-consuming report/replace process when they are scheduled for every hour, and the stories about theft that they hear (sometimes from people who have never been out of their geographic comfort zones). I don't have stastistics (where is Roberto?), but a casual reading of this forum shows few reports of being victimized, lots of anecdotal material from people who saw some attempted pickpocketing (sometimes successful, sometimes thwarted), and lots of "how to prevent being a victim".

Anxiety is normal to a certain extent, but some of the "advice" is xenophobic, or worse.

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10063 posts

"And even if it is a tiny fraction more likely that you could get pick-pocketed in Rome than Disney World (and I am not for a moment conceding that it is true),"

Speaking of anecdotes... as much as I love Disney World, that's the only place where I've ever had my pocket picked (someone tried in St. Petersburg, but he didn't get anything)... I think, noting Randy's remark about perceptions. Two people bumbed into me in a crowded line. I didn't think anything of it immediately, but when I later checked, the cheap throw-away cell phone I bought for the trip and kept in an open pocket was gone. The buttoned pocket where I kept my wallet was untouched, thankfully. What kind of person goes to Disney World to rob people, anyway?

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
12069 posts

"And even if it is a tiny fraction more likely that you could get pick-pocketed in Rome "

Unfortunately it probably is not a tiny fraction. Several years a leading travel magazine had a report on pickpocketing in Europe that concluded that 1 in 4 (25%) of all tourists (not just American tourist) had theft problems. The conclusion was based on Interpol reports and some "adjustments" for under reporting. Of course, the positive side that is that 3 tourist out of 4 have no problems.

Because of our sons we are frequently in New York and Chicago. We always use money belts in both cities even though we are fairly familiar with the territory especially Chicago since we lived there 34 years ago. And, yes, it is the Howard line. During the past year or so, our Chicago son has constantly advised us not to use our cell phones on the train platforms. Being cautious in a non familiar area is a good habit to develop.

Posted by susansalz
7 posts

Thank You for this information. We are going to Rome soom (8 of us -on our own) for the first time. So, we will heed
your advise.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
3559 posts

@ Michael...my sympathy that this happened to you in Rome, another example of putting a lot more vigilance in a visit in Italy.

On the mugging issue, definitely true for an American city, I am well more guard on being mugged, since most likely I am walking alone in the city, like Chicago, much more so than I would me in Frankfurt, Munich, or Berlin, let alone the smaller cities in Germany. Pickpocking presupposes a certain skill or finesse which thugs here don't have.

Posted by Edgar
Medford, OR, USA
940 posts

Urban Europe crime vs. Urban North American crime?

Could it be that urban European street crime is economics driven? That is, its a job. A successful pickpocket would have to be trained and practice that skill to a high level of proficiency. And reading all the forum stories about pickpocket teams, a high degree of organization and planning.

North American street crime on the other hand seems to include a lot of drug user driven crime. American muggers don't seem to possess the skills of the Europeans. And now we're hearing/reading about Apple Pickers. It use to be Rolex snatchers but it seems that folks are using phones to tell time and more.

I suppose that the idea pickpocket victim is a North American with bulging leather wallet in his back pocket reading and texting on his iPhone in a crowded plaza.

Posted by Kristen
Chicago
492 posts

Frank technically it is the "Red Line" but the Howard stop is the north end of the line. So I see why people would call it that.

I consider myself as likely to get pickpocketed in Chicago as I am in a European large city. And I have several friend/family that I have been pickpocketed. And since I lived within a half mile of Wrigley for a good part of my life, I witnessed the aftermath of many tourists being pickpocketed. Common practices- distractions on the El, a nicely dressed man or woman using a coat to cover a hand and reaching into a purse at a crosswalk, taking advantage of crowded tourist sites. I even witnessed a "Three card Monty" scam on the Red line which I thought only happened in old movies. And people were falling for it.

Obviously I am much MORE likely to be a target of a violent crime in Chicago. And I think this is why the pickpocket focus goes to European cities. And I think the thieves in Europe get more creative.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
4769 posts

I've read some of the comments here and I'll jump in to comment on the subject of pickpocketing in European cities as opposed to American cities.
First of all we all agree that violent crime is much higher in the US than in Western Europe, but what about petty property crime, such as pick-pocketing?
Petty property crime is driven by economic conditions. Aside from some regional differences, I'd say that economic conditions between North America and Western Europe are similar. Similar average standards of living and similar poverty levels. It is therefore reasonable to expect similar levels of property crimes. And in fact, looking at the criminal statistics, it does appear that property crime does not differ much between the average North American city and the average Western European city. What changes however is the type of property crime. Pick pocketing is rampant in Europe but not so in North America because of opportunity differences. I was reading in an Italian newspaper that 90% of pick pocketing occurs on crowded city public transportation or other transit venues (crowded train stations etc.). Even Michael here, seems to have been pick pocketed on the Metro.

The reason why this doesn't happen in America much, is because in North America people don't make much use of public transportation, including tourists. That is true in almost every city, with the possible exception of Manhattan. Visitors and locals alike on an average American city (Washington, San Francisco, Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Chicago) don't use public transportation to the same extent as Europeans do. The opportunities for pick pockets are therefore fewer in America, because you can't pickpocket a tourist that is traveling in a taxi or in a rental car. I bet that in America the only city where you can possibly have some level of pickpocketing is NYC. But even there they probably don't reach the level of Rome or Paris. Taxicabs in NYC or DC are very convenient and ubiquitous. They are almost as cheap as the subway.

Also another opportunity venue for pick pockets is the train stations. When people travel to Europe, tourists make a lot of use of trains to travel from city to city. Train stations are places where pick pockets lurk and take advantage of distracted travelers that might leave a bag unattended for a second. You don't have the same level of opportunity in America. When a visitor travels within North America, he or she will likely use a rental car or an airplane. In the former you are in no contact with any crowd, therefore there are no opportunities for a pick pocket. In the latter case, airports have too much security for pick pockets to risk loitering around. The TSA will search their sphincter and send them to Guantanamo if they hang around airports too long. American petty criminals have to use other means to steal, because the opportunities for pick pocketing in North America are too few. Mugging someone at a Seven-11 or liquor store at a gun point is a much safer and preferable option to the average American criminal. That's why armed robberies and burglaries are more prevalent in America, while pick pockets are rare.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
4425 posts

I would add to Roberto's comments: the ability to obtain and carry a weapon in the US also makes violent or potentially violent crime more ubiquitous than in Europe.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
3559 posts

Like Georgia can we expect more states to follow Georgia's lead in expanding the number of places where you can bring a gun? What if the pickpockets over there had that to contend with?

Posted by Maryam
Washington, DC
707 posts

I just wanted to somewhat disagree with Roberto's comment about DC not being a walking and public transportation town (cannot really speak to the other cities mentioned). The metro system is crawling with tourists (driving is definitely not recommended for visitors), and when the government shut down, Metro was losing money by the millions because of the lack of commuters. Granted we have the worst traffic and accident rates, but that's mostly the outer suburbs that most tourists would never even get close to (although our public transportation does stretch well into the suburbs!). We are also the fittest city running a couple of years now because of the biking, walking, and public transport being the best option in the city.

Now, I can't speak to the pickpocketing rate on the Metro, but there are plenty of overhead announcements warning of such things. I know I've started carrying my money belt when traveling with my two preschoolers on public transit (just cant' keep an eye on them and my stuff at the same time!). Snatching handheld devices has become somewhat of an issue.

Posted by Bob
Reading, PA, USA
301 posts

I have lived and worked in both Chicago and DC and rode mass transit everyday along with a million other people. Never once during those years did I ever think about pickpockets but, if I had to stay late a work, I was worried about being mugged.

Of course, one big difference is that in the US, at home or traveling, I carry very little cash. If something costs more than $10, I charge it. I use less than $30 a week in cash. Now, why should this be any different when I travel in Europe? The only reason I see for a large amount of cash is that some hotels I am staying at during an upcoming trip to Italy give a discount for cash (have never seen that in the US). To get enough cash for a 3 or 4 night stay will require getting the max out of an ATM a couple of days in a row.

Having a credit card stolen while in the US would be a minor problem, but while traveling overseas it would be a major pain, so yes I will protect them with more care. Also, there is keeping your passport safe. When I worked in Germany for several months I never used a money belt and never had a problem. However, for traveling in Europe I now use a money belt. Getting a little more cautious with old age.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
4769 posts

Fred asked what would happen in Europe if pick pockets had to contend with people carrying concealed guns.
I'm not sure that would change much. I still remember searching a discotheque near Florence armed with a search warrant because a Carabiniere in plain clothes, fully armed with a Beretta 9mm, was pick pocketed while dancing on the dance floor (I grew up during the Saturday Night Fever days). We found his wallet and badge behind a chair. Obviously the pick pocket realized he hit the wrong target and got rid of the loot as soon as a bunch of Carabinieri came in and swept the place till we found the badge.
I don't think criminals would stop committing crimes just because their potential victims may carry a concealed weapon. If that were the case, Texas would have no crime.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7710 posts

I'm not sure a gun would make a difference one way or another in Europe, the thieves are completely different.

Europe's thieves, at least most of them, aren't trying to subdue you and take what you have - they're trying to get what they can, without you noticing, and get away cleanly. In Europe, if I were in the wrong part of town, I'd be less worried about being beaten and more concerned with being surrounded by people with fast fingers.

In big U.S. cities, there is a certain amount of people breaking into parked cars and stealing your stuff (similar to Europe), but we also have thugs that will either assault, or threaten to assault, their victims and take their wallet, purse, watch, jewelry and anything else of value. A concealed weapon can ward off a thug, if you know how to use it; or add to their collection, if you don't. Virtually all big cities don't allow someone from out of state to carry a concealed weapon, so American tourists aren't any more likely to be armed in the U.S. than they are in Europe.

I live on the outskirts of DC and prefer not to go into town when I don't need to. Lots of people live here and feel you're safe - as long as you avoid the bad areas (and, unlike tourists, they know where the bad areas are).

Posted by sswright
1 posts

I got pickpocketed on a crowded subway Friday at noon in Paris on way back from Eurostar London. There was nowhere to sit, we were packed in like sardines and I held onto my suitcase in one hand and the hand rail in the other. They got my wallet out of my fanny pack, including license, cash, credit card but not my passport. I went to the Police to file a report, crying, and they said that these thieves are good, they do this for a living. I went to the American embassy and they handed me a paper, "welcome to Paris" So you were robbed, this is what you need to do....." they were about to close, but because another American was there and her passport was pickpocketed along with her money, they had to stay open to issue another so that she could leave the country. They let me stay and use their fax machine to notify my credit card company. My husband felt bad that they got my cash and wallet. Later walking down the Champs-Elysees, he spotted a small wallet at the Gucci store to replace my wallet; his eyes went wide when they told him it was $800!!! We later went to the Eiffel Tower, he bought me a small wallet with the Eiffel Tower on it for a few dollars, I have it to this day to remind me of Paris. We went back to Paris 10 years later, but now I was savvy and wore my money belt. At a crowded museum, thieves tried the "I found this gold ring, I already have one, do you want to buy this one from me" trick, we laughed. A few minutes later, a man grabbed the pocketbook of a tourist waiting in the long line, but was tackled by undercover police, and purse was recovered and thief went to jail. We all cheered! I learned to use a moneybelt the hard way. On another trip, a couple gave their valuables to their kids to carry in their packpacks, thinking kids wouldn't be the target of pickpockets. A friend was pickpocketed in Italy, she had pants with deep pockets, but when she sat up from sitting on the crowded bus she found her pants unzipped and wallet missing...that thief was good! Moral, use money belt!

Posted by MarieB
120 posts

@ss, It is really sad and frustrating travelers need to be so concerned with having monetary as well as identifying personal documents stolen from them. These thieves have no conscience - all they have is greed and the challenge of preying on the vulnerable, naive and distracted traveler.

Travelers share their stories of ruined or delayed vacations because these jerks have the gall to take advantage of the innocent traveler. They "bank on it."

The woman you referred to, who had her shoulder bag snatched off her shoulder (obviously I do not know all the details), probably did not even think about it. I realize some carry back/day packs, etc., but I advocate for a cross body as well as a money belt or neck pouch (whatever is comfortable for the person) so I have some control over my belongings. Some European men use a satchel of some sort to carry their documents, etc.

A zipper, a button, a pocket, a bag - are all invitations to thieves. Sadly, Italy gets a bad rap for thievery. One can get robbed anywhere.

I see women in the market/stores leave their purse/handbag unattended in the "baby seat" and walk to get whatever off the shelf. A big no no. People must be aware of their surroundings at all times, no matter where they may be, and practice safety as much as they can.

Posted by John
Blue Bell, PA, USA
48 posts

my sympathies bro, can happen to anyone.
I was stopped in Barcelona by a guy standing out front of the train station on the passenger side of a car with the door open.
he gave me his camera and told me to take his pic....then he asked for mine to take a pic of me and my wife.......ha!...I said forget it...obviously his plan was to jump in the car and have his buddy drive away....lots of jerks in the world but karma is a b**ch.

Posted by sonja
Alaska
1 posts

Oh, so sorry, Michael! We are just leaving Rome in the morning and I wonder where you stayed, that is awful! I would be so rattled and knocked off center by that host's behavior! I think we've been very fortunate, although pretty much constantly on guard, but one thing I am trying to learn is not to overdo it or lose my calm. Of course I did that again today; after touring the Vatican on our second day after two sleepless nights and a 25-hr flight, we decided to give up on some of the sights we had planned, likely to include a stop at Pompeii tomorrow on the way to Sorrento just because we are exhausted and we don't have locks for our bags for the bag check at Circumvesuviana stn at the ruins (saw another post about this just now, thanks RS Forum!). We are Europe travel beginners, having not been here in 45 years and not used to locking our bags at all since new TSA rules and...well, I keep saying this is my practice trip to Europe and I hope there will be many more and Vesuvius won't erupt again till after I'm long gone and it will be better to have a nice trip than to check off everything on my planned itinerary...any of this resonate with anyone? Thanks again Michael and hope your trip gets really great from here on out! Sonja

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
3559 posts

@ Dave...good tip on the use of a dummy wallet. I don't know who's going to be more sorry ...you for having been picked or the wretch who ended up with no currency.

Posted by Laura
Washington DC
45 posts

"I have lived and worked in both Chicago and DC and rode mass transit everyday along with a million other people. Never once during those years did I ever think about pickpockets but, if I had to stay late a work, I was worried about being mugged."

Totally agree here- the differences in the nature of the crime (pickpocket vs. a more violent theft) means you're on guard in different places and at different times. I'd be more nervous about an empty metro train than a crowded one, and a deserted dark street than the crowds at the Cherry Blossom festival. And yet, in many European cities, it is these crowded situations where you have to be on guard the most.

I don't like money belts, tried once and it was uncomfortable. Plus, I don't like to carry around a lot with me anyway- leave my passport in the hotel safe and carry a photocopy. I also tend to spread out what I do carry- a bit of cash in an easily accessible pocket, another stash (but not a lot) in a deep pocket of my purse, and a credit card yet somewhere else. It is interesting though that zippered pockets are being targeted, because I do tend to think of those as more "safe" and that I'd notice if someone was unzippering the pocket next to my knee!

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
3559 posts

The list shows pretty much what I had expected in Europe. Aside from Paris, pickpockets or not, I'll still go, not interested in the others, or they're quite low on the trip list. At least, Marseille didn't make the list. The list tells you where to go if you want to ditch this problem.

Posted by Michael
Des Moines, IA
2193 posts

Indeed, some of those same cities are also on other lists for having much more violent crime as well, so this list is not too surprising. It’s almost shocking how some cities seem nearly crime free, especially for tourists. Seoul, Singapore, and Tokyo come to mind. Obviously, crime exists in these places, but typical tourists would never know it.

Posted by Kent
Pacific Northwest
7948 posts

Cultural differences? (re post immediately above)