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Has anyone actually fought back?

I've been to Europe twice and used Rick's info both times. Before my first trip in 2000, I got myself so freaked out over pickpockets in Rome and Florence that I almost missed all the joy of what was around me. Of course nothing happened. Second trip didn't hit any hotspots. Now I'm getting ready for my third trip in April, to Paris. My first time there was pain-free, but I've been reading how bad it has gotten, and there is no shortage of YouTube clips showing the people who were robbed as well as thieves in action. I'm getting stressed again, and the thought goes through my head.. If I saw it coming and recognized it, what would I do? Since I'd have my money belt, just let it go on and wait it out? Yell and scare them away? Or actually fight back and teach them a lesson? Has anyone actually struck back?
(Sorry for the long post, I've been wondering about this for a while...)

Posted by
8984 posts

The pickpocket situation in Paris hasn't gotten any worse/better than any other time. Anywhere there are tourists, there are gonna be thieves...it's been like that for a hundred years, it will be like that for another 100+ years:) As long as your are using a money belt, you don't need to worry about pickpockets or even think about them. If you happen to get targeted (odds are you won't), you won't know what happened until they are long gone. Let them have that measly 50 euros in your wallet, and enjoy the rest of you vacation;)

Posted by
72 posts

I just got home from Paris yesterday and didn't have any problems with pickpockets myself. I did however see a group of two Gypsy women approach a young tourist couple with a piece of paper (probably asking them to read it). At that point a police officer ran up and pushed the two Gypsy ladies away from the couple and probably saved the tourists from an attempted pickpocket. This took place on the sidewalk next to Palais Garnier. Like others have said, just be smart and use your money belt wisely. If somebody approaches you and wants you to read or sign something tell them no and keep moving. You inspired me to do a YouTube search and I found this interesting video where a man describes how he got his wallet back after it had just been taken. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOEVH3p6ymY Don't worry just be smart and have fun!

Posted by
5555 posts

"I've been to Europe twice... Now I'm getting ready for my third trip in April, to Paris." Your chances of getting picked in Paris are greater than in many other European cities, but I'll bet that 99 out of 100 visitors to Paris have an incident-free stay. The odds that you will lose money through opportunistic sales clerks and merchants, or through overpriced services and meals, are probably greater. "Anywhere there are tourists, there are gonna be thieves..." That's like saying you can get dysentery no matter where you travel. As the numbers bear out, the risk is clearly greater in some cities and countries than in others.

Posted by
11805 posts

I think a good yell is more than enough. It draws attention, which is the last thing they want. They'll disappear quickly. I'm not a yeller, I don't carry much to attract pickpockets and am not careless with what I do carry. They go after easier targets than me.

Posted by
116 posts

I just bought a Columbia coat that has a hidden pocket on the outside center. I think it is a genius idea - the tiny zipper is totally hidden and it is a deep pocket. The hidden zipper is next to and runs parallel with the center zipper - it is hidden behind a flap. I love that I do not need to open my coat to get to I and nobody is going to be able to get to it either because it is right under my face.
I think it is great to use in the winter season where it is cold.

Posted by
2876 posts

As far as fighting back - it wouldn't be at all unlikely for your pickpockets to be 13-year-old girls. What do you do then? Preventive medicine - money belts, neck wallets, etc - works best.

Posted by
73 posts

I have heard of unslashable backpacks with steel fibers, where would I find those?

Posted by
2065 posts

DK: if you want to spend the money...pacsafe.com

Posted by
13063 posts

Try Pacsafe. I wonder how many YouTube videos one can find of people who have NOT been pickpocketed ? But I guess no one bothers to film that.

Posted by
4535 posts

You've been twice and use a moneybelt and yet you're still worried sick? Relax and stop looking around online for video clips and stories. It only feeds your obsession. If you are approached by the gypsies, immediately yell "NO!" and even give them a little push away if you need to. They will move on quickly. But DO NOT "fight" them or "teach them a lesson." You could well wind up in a Parisian jail cell for most of your trip. Most pickpockets act alone and use stealth. Chances are the victims never know they were picked until much later when they reach for a wallet. So "fighting back" is not an option. Using a money belt or other secure method will prevent almost all attempts.

Posted by
1832 posts

Here's a Ytube in words. We have never been pickpocketed, hassled or even thought we might be in any kind of trouble. That's in Philippines, India, Scotland six times, all over western and eastern Europe. We have been in portions of cities where the lower economic strata live. We have been where there was more drinking along the sidewalk that any whre else. We have been in bars where my wife was the only woman. Once in a while we give to the poor because not all countries have social welfare programs, India, for instance. We have never felt unsafe. I use a zippered inside front pocket for my wallet and passport. I use a neck wallet or hidden pocket if I'm carrying a lot of money, say the $1000 I'm about to buy through AAA. We don't let paranoia guide us, but we are careful and nothing untoward has ever happened to up.

Posted by
11450 posts

so frustrating on this board,, typed out long response then it wouldn't post,, hate that ,, fix that ! Anyways, yes, I have fought back , twice, once in 1985 and once a few years ago. Both times guy got nothing but me yelling bloody hell at them and me shoving them away,, in both cases I caught guy in act. In both cases they ran away. In both cases I feel I had been acting like a target, distraced, looking at a map, not paying attention until last second.In both cases they ran away. Both times young males between 20-25. Neither of them appeared to be "gyspys". Do not be paranoid,, just be aware of yourself,, do not let anyone close to you,, in both cases thats what alerted me,, someone got in my "bubble",, do not let anyone get within an arms length of you ,, well not anyone,, don't be weird about ticket sellers, waiters etc,, lol,, just a stranger who gets to physicallly close.

Posted by
635 posts

The odds of any one tourist being pickpocketed is very small but the loss of credit/debit cards, cash and passport can really mess up a vacation. I have known a few people victimized and none of them had a clue until they reached for their wallets. I've been to Europe a fair number of times and have never been successfully hit. I carry a decoy wallet with nothing in it but hand wipes and tissue. One time in Prague while staring at the clock I felt a slight bump by my wallet. I instinctively swung my hand down and hit a hand. When I turned around, I couldn't tell who it was. I personally carry my passport, cards and significant amounts of cash in my money belt which is always under my clothes. If I am going to get cash I'll have the card out but either go directly back to the hotel or a restroom where I can easily move the bulk of the cash into my money belt. Cash for the day is carried in a shirt pocket. Most of my travel shirts have zippers or buttoned pockets. I wouldn't let the fear of pickpockets ruin your trip. I wouldn't suggest you do anything physical to a thief or you may find yourself in more trouble than you bargained for. You would be the aggressive foreigner that jumped on a poor citizen of the city. Unless they have your wallet on their person, you have no proof. I just got back from Paris. There are signs warning about pickpockets at the Louvre. In the Orsay there were several PA warnings about pickpockets. Pickpockets have worked the streets of Paris for at least 1000 years.

Posted by
31471 posts

DK, If you take reasonable precautions (Moneybelt, vigilance) you shouldn't have any problems with Pickpockets, so there's really no reason to be "freaked out". While a PacSafe Backpack will prevent "slashing" type attacks, I haven't seen too many examples where that type of crime has occurred. In my experience, the "scammers" tend to operate more by stealth, rather than direct attacks with a weapon. However, I do use a PacSafe Wallet, as I feel the chain may provide some time for me to react to an attempted theft. Fighting back would be a last resort for me. Keep in mind that the "scammers" don't typically operate alone, and there could be a couple of "no-neck thugs" waiting in the area. Unless you have the same type of skills as This Guy, you probably wouldn't fare well in a street situation. I've never had any problems in any of the European cities I've visited, even though I'm usually packing expensive Camera gear. That includes Prague (which has somewhat of a "high risk" reputation) and Naples (which some travellers won't even venture into). Try to be "situationally aware" and don't become so mesmerized by the incredible sights to the point where you let your guard down. Happy (and worry free) travels!

Posted by
8984 posts

"...Using a money belt or other secure method will prevent almost all attempts..." Of course money belts don't prevent one from being robbed, they simply cut your losses. Instead of a thief being able to ruin ones vacation by stealing passport/cards/cash in one swoop, they can only access a days spending money in a wallet/purse. If they target you, they will rob you.

Posted by
11450 posts

yup,, money belts do not prevent attempts ,, why would they?? I don't wear one, but just leave my stuff in the safe at the hotel,, unless actually travelling, then I do wear one. Nope, if they got in my purse they would get 50 euros at most,, but that would still p%ss me off..

Posted by
5568 posts

You can often head off the problems when you see them coming. Walking up to a major tourist site in Paris (i.e. Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur), I could see the obvious hustlers standing around eyeing the crowd, looking for victims to pick out. At Sacre Coeur, I saw a couple guys checking me out, starting to move towards me with the string "friendship bracelet" scam. I stuck out my arm in the universal HALT gesture, looked them in the eye, laughed at them, yelled at them "your scam won't work on me - F*CK OFF". They immediately turned and headed for someone else who would obviously be less trouble. Having been "bumped" once or twice by suspicious characters in a line/crowd, I would quickly turn to face them, give them a hard look and square off my stance. They typically slink away. Of course, I have my money in a money belt, my camera/day wallet secured, and am not afraid to make a stink. I'm male, have some attitude, can run really fast, and do not embarrass easily. Remember, they're looking for people that are unprepared, and who spook easily. Honestly, I think that if you carry yourself correctly, make it obvious you're not going to be their sucker, scammers and thieves will steer clear of you. They know there are easier marks out there - your job is to not be one of them.

Posted by
197 posts

I had a friend that was riding a train in Italy and was wearing a fanny pack. She was sitting there and noticed the young girl next to her was trying to unzip it. She smacked her hand and told her to get outta there! She took off. I thought it was pretty funny. This was just a few months ago.

Posted by
507 posts

DK, I think you're much too concerned about this possibility. Like others have said, take reasonable precautions, don't worry, and enjoy yourself. Doesn't mean it can't happen, but if you spend your entire time stressing about it you won't enjoy your trip, so why go?

Posted by
11450 posts

Fanny packs are just asking for trouble. plus they look bad.

Posted by
31471 posts

@April, You may be aware of this, but one point to mention..... Don't use the term "Fanny Pack" when travelling in the U.K. or Australia, as it has a considerably "different meaning" in those countries.

Posted by
2349 posts

Don't be freaked out. I admit to finding a little fun in interrupting the gold ring scams when I saw it taking place, but that was in broad daylight in crowds. While I'm a firm money belt person, can we all just agree to divide and protect our money and belongings, rather that insist it has to be a money belt? If you leave most of your cash in the hotel safe, fine. Divide and protect. I went through Sacre Coeur with my messenger bag across my body. When I got out I realized it had been unzipped in the crowd. But my large cash and passport was in the waist money belt, and the daily cash was in my bra. No harm done to the maps and water bottle in the bag.

Posted by
12882 posts

My compliments to you, David, on your belligerent stance and attitude at Sacre Coeur. That is absolutely one place where one is going to see the scammers. I saw them there in July, went there expecting to see them there. And I did.

Posted by
3580 posts

About ten years ago in Rome, I was surrounded by three small women/girls. As I walked briskly down the street one of them got directly in front of me. I kept on walking as I pushed her aside with my forearm. The other two were behind me and possibly aiming for my daypack. I don't know if I could actually hit someone, but I don't mind a little shoulder or elbow if needed. Last year I was walking up some stairs in the Paris Metro when a young man reached for my bag. It startled me. I looked into his face and he was smiling. My instincts told me he was ok and was trying to help me. After all, I do have gray hair. That young man carried my bag up the stairs and returned it to me. Of course, I thanked him. So, not all unexpected actions are malicious!

Posted by
283 posts

I kicked a guy on the Metro once years ago, when I saw him reach onto my husband's back pocket (He keeps a handkercheif there that can look like a wallet.) We have been going to Paris yearly for along time and this problem is not so big anymore. Be safe and take care of your belongins, but the flicks have really made an effort to crack down on pickpockets.

Posted by
86 posts

We pass through Paris at least four times a year, and spend time in the touristy areas as well as off the beaten path. I must echo the words of most others who have responded. RELAX! Use a little common sense and a hidden money belt or pouch. I've had two attempts on me ( that I know of ) and neither was aggressive. In one case two very well dressed men came onto a metro car, with one of them "accidentally" stepping on my shoe / pants cuff. The other immediately bent to brush it off, apologizing in French. They were looking for one of the ankle wallets, with no luck. A near by older French man watched this unfold with a worried look on his face, but I smiled back at him and gave him a thumbs up. They were off the metro car before the doors closed. Learn one useful word in French, and use it loudly...... Arrêt which means STOP. (Pronounced ah-RET ). This is not to say you will need it, but it also comes in handy for the young girls who want you sign their "petitions" or the "ring drop" scam artists. Suggest you wear clothing that does not shout out AMERICAN TOURIST. If you get into an area were the ring drop is going on it can be amusing to stand off to the side and watch. I actually had four different people try this on me in one day near the Place de la Concorde and des Invalides.

Posted by
46 posts

I have been traveling to Europe for years and never had a problem like this until this recent trip to Berlin. My wife and I were taking the Ubahn, I was carrying a Christmas shopping bag from the KaDeWe. One man got on the train in front of me, another cut in front of my wife and was directly behind me. The guy in front abruptly turned around and I was sandwiched between the two men, instinctively I pushed the guy in front of me away. He started acting like I was crazy but interestingly both men got off the train before the doors closed, I guess waiting for their next victum come along. I did notice during the remainder of our time in Berlin the constant police in the train stations and on the platforms. I just happened that night to be in the one station where the police were not visible.

Posted by
76 posts

Don't be freaked out! I've been to Europe many times and never been picked pocketed. I have been only once, in Cincinnati, Ohio, at a McDonalds. I don't dress any differently, but I don't wear any jewelry at all.

Posted by
669 posts

My teenage autistic son has a hard time with personal space and judging where he is going. In Venice (St. Mark's Square), he was yards away from us, and in his own zone, bumped into a fellow tourist. We got a good laugh when we noticed the man patting himself down to check to make sure his valuables were still there. My only suspected almost pick-pocketing (in Europe) was in Bolzano when I heard someone rapidly gaining on me from behind, but when I turned around and glared at him, he turned and took off in the other direction. He was a blond, white male. I have been the victim of an attempted "bump and grab" (smart phone in hand and purse) in Seattle waiting for the bus, however. I take precautions in Europe, but I have had more experiences with my daily walk and bus commute here than I have over there.

Posted by
11450 posts

Cate brings up a good point,, do we all get so cautious that we glare at innocent people bumping us,, I mean I have on occaison bumped someone and would hate to think they think I am trying to pickpocket them,, I will just say "pardon" and smile and so far no one has decked me,, thank goodness having a Canadian accent and appearing like a tourist does have some advantages!

Posted by
791 posts

The only time I've had an incident was in Rome around 2001. I'd often read about a scam ran by the gypsies where they send a bunch of kids at you waving cardboard or newspapers to distract you while one of them goes through your pockets and always thought to myself "What kind of idiot would fall for that?" Well, I almost did. I was walking down a side street near the train station when I saw a group of gypsies just ahead of me headed in my direction so I prepared myself. As the group of kids surrounded me waving newspapers I started physically pushing them away when it suddenly occured to me what was happening so I looked down just in time to see an old gypsy woman's hand pulling away from me holding a 50,000 lire bill. I smacked her arm as hard as I could, she dropped the bill and I picked it up as I continued to push the little brats away. In the end they got nothing but I never would have believed that someone could get in and out of my front pocket without me even feeling it if it hadn't happened to me.

Posted by
565 posts

I was just in Paris in September, and had zero issues with pickpockets and thieves. I was in Prague and Berlin in April, and had exactly zero problems there, as well. I am a petite woman who travels solo, only speak a smattering of German and absolutely no French, carried my usual purse and wallet, and did not use a money belt. Perhaps it's because I live in a very densely populated and busy neighborhood in one of the largest cities in the US, and as a woman, was taught to be more vigilant, that I have avoided any trouble. Perhaps not, I'm not a sociologist.
What I would advise, however, is do what smart women in large cities are constantly taught: Keep your head up, your personal things close, and enter shops or restaurants if something doesn't feel right. Your chances of something bad happening will greatly decrease if you follow these simple rules.

Posted by
833 posts

When my husband and I were in Istanbul this November, a little boy ran up to us and started jumping around my husband waving his arms in the air, grabbing my husband a bit. We had talked about pickpocketers, so immediately when he approached us my husband stuck his hand on his wallet which was in the front pocket of his jeans, protecting it. He felt the little boy slide his hand into my husband's jacket pocket, but there was nothing there for him to take. He was a young boy, 9 or 10, acting alone, not in a group to distract us or anything. My husband had no money-belt, but was alert and safe. Sure, it is possible that anyone can be pickpocketed anywhere. Being alert and smart, however, has a lot to do with whether you will become a victim or not. We traveled through countless cities, some in very crowded situations, and kept everything safe. Don't be so scared of pickpockets that you let them ruin your trip, just be cautious and wise. If that means wearing a moneybelt, then do it. Otherwise be alert and most of the time you should be safe. (We just got back home after 4 months overseas, lots of traveling, no thefts.)

Posted by
73 posts

I didn't realize this thread would get so many replies! I thank everyone for their advice - I already knew that all I could do is try my best to limit the loss if something DID happen (as I mentioned in the OP, I WOULD have my money belt so all is ok).

Posted by
1 posts

I've been to Europe and the UK many times and have rarely been in a threatening situation. Coming down the steps from the Sacre Coeur in Monmartre a large man (an immigrant to France who spoke minimal French and almost no English) grabbed my arm and said "I show you." He started twining beads and string around my wrist. I told him to stop (Arretez!) and he continued. I said Arretez! in a louder voice and yanked my arm away. He then backed off. I later ran into a woman who'd had the same approach and did nothing because she "didn't want to appear rude." It cost her 30 Euros. The only other incidents were very minor. Once was on the Paris Metro when some young guy shoved his hand into my bag and came up with a pack of tissues; I just smiled and him and he smiled back. On the infamous #69 bus in Rome a guy pressed up against me and actually felt for a money belt (cheeky!!), but I wear my belt "backwards" so it's against my back. As a Roman Reward I got a crotch grab and a wink. Memorable for sure, but not a threat. When gypsies approach me I turn and walk away. It's really pretty simple. Again: I always wear a money belt, with copies of all important documents and monetary stuff. I carry a generic bag that looks like a market shopping bag and wear regular clothing that doesn't scream tourist (no white sneakers, either). They'll always be able to tell that I'm American, we just stand out. But I don't go out of my way to make myself a target.
Carry yourself confidently. Be aware of your surroundings. Find a relatively private place if you need to check a map. If you find yourself in a situation that doesn't feel right, leave. Learn the word(s) for help!, stop!, and police! for each country you visit. And enjoy Europe. It's a wonderful place.

Posted by
507 posts

Though I stand by my earlier response (i.e., don't stress about this stuff), I did have two incidents on my first trip to Europe 30+ years ago. The 1st was in London. Two high school age girls confronted me and demanded that I give them my money. "I've got a knife" one of them said. Not sure whether to believe her I looked at the other girl, she said something I don't remember, and the first girl again demanded I give them my money, saying "I've got a gun". I said "I thought you said you have a knife". She hesitated a bit and then said "I've got both - I've got a knife AND a gun". I said "I don't think so" and took off running. Second incident was in a market in Morocco. I felt a tug on my back pocket and whipped my hand around faster than I thought possible and caught someone by the wrist. I turned around and saw an elderly man staring at me in great fear. I shook my head at him and gave him the "evil eye" and let him go. Later, I told the Moroccan friend I was with about this and he said I shouldn't have let the guy go - I should have turned him over to the police who would have dealt with him harshly. I wasn't sorry I let him go, but it did teach me to take sensible precautions not only when travelling abroad but also here at home. Good life lesson. I've travelled to Europe several times in recent years, including Paris, and haven't had any similar incidents.