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Athens Airport Metro Pickpocketing Gang

We had been warned about the pickpockets in Athens Airport metro, but I am not sure if I saw recent posts in this forum about anyone detailing the way (or perhaps one of the ways) they work. Well, we experienced it first hand today. It seems like there is a gang of several people who earmark tourists (even though you try all you can to not stick out). Then as you try to get down, not sure what they do so that the door gets stuck and does not open. This was unexpected, at least for us. While you are busy trying to get it to open, with of course them helping and giving directions, others in the gang open your purse chains, jacket chains and steal wallets, passports and whatever else they can. Fortunately i caught one of them opening my cross body wallet chain and saved our passports, but could not save my husband’s wallet- some cash and a few cards that we managed to block while they tried to withdraw cash and charge.
There will be onlookers (people who are not a part of the thieves) who just watch while knowing full well what is going on, so this must be routine.
So again, don’t fall for “friendly” people who try to help you open stuck doors on Airport metro. We were surrounded by them, but just push past them if you can and get out from the next door and of course wear money belt and wear a smaller cross body under your clothes—- tough lesson learnt.

Posted by
8375 posts

Oh goodness, I am sorry that this happened to you. Thank you for sharing your story, to remind others to be wary.

Posted by
6283 posts

Good advice, TravelBug, and thank you for sharing your experience, as bad as it was. Based on what happened to me in 2018, I’d say the Athens Metro in general, not just for the airport, requires extra diligence. On a downtown metro, my wallet got stolen from my purse - it was a well-dressed “businessman.” He got the little cash that wasn’t in my moneybelt. My husband and I spent over an hour canceling credit cards over the phone.

But any victim should also contact the Athens Tourist Police. Surprisingly, 3 or 4 months later, my wallet showed up in the mail, somewhat dirtier for the ordeal. Credit cards and my driver license were still inside. I have to guess the thief just grabbed the cash, and pitched the wallet in the trash. It probably stood out, a pink Lancel leather wallet I’d gotten as a treat in France. An observant refuse collector must’ve noticed it and turned it over to the Tourist Police, who traced it back to me. Lesson learned - I’m never taking that wallet on vacation again, and am even more vigilant on public transportation. Athens metro was the first, and only time that’s ever happened to me, anywhere. I hope the rest of your trip went well. it’s a shame there are such lowlifes, and that traveling is sometimes part survival game.

Posted by
3 posts

Cyn, thanks for your kind words and for sharing your experience. We are still quite jilted by the whole thing, feel vulnerable and a bit of a failure for not doing enough to protect ourselves. But we are counting our blessings, it was quite bad, but could have been much worse.
It also seems like such people have become savvier over the years by immediately attempting to use the stolen cards. Not sure how they do it without the PIN though. Cards providing fraud alerts are a good idea too. For us it alerted us to their activity (substantial charge amounts, within minutes of theft) and let us respond to texts from the bank/credit card companies immediately blocking the transaction. This buys some time before make calls to cancel cards.
We have used public transport all over Italy, Spain, Portugal, Singapore, Japan etc without any incident, but I guess good experiences tend to makes us complacent.
Like you said, be smart, be vigilant (now that we think about it there were red flags- not that we could have done much about it, we were being tracked and were surrounded by 3-4 may be more right from the very beginning), take steps to minimize loss ahead of time, don’t talk to strangers and before traveling have a plan, in case something does go wrong.

Posted by
2573 posts

Oooh, sorry this happened! I am glad you managed to save your passports since that would really have cost you some vacation time. But I hope you can bounce back and that the rest of your trip is smooth!

Posted by
2963 posts

Sorry your vacation had a bad start. And yes, your advice about a plan is good. I had read that thieves are also looking for cell phones.

Posted by
1775 posts

There will be onlookers (people who are not a part of the thieves) who just watch while knowing full well what is going on, so this must be routine

Witnessed it on more than one occasion on the metros - last one on the underground in Prague. The perps are standing at the door and jamming their foot against the door so it won't open - just waiting for all the "able assistants" to help them get that darned exit open.

I had read that thieves are also looking for cell phones.

A locked smartphone only has scrap value - the grab and runs are looking for immediate gratification.

Posted by
1013 posts

I have traveled over the last 6 years with pants/shorts from Clothing, they are designed to not be pick pocketed. So, far this has never happened and we have been on metro's in Italy, France, England, Spain and Athens. The clothes are designed with internal pockets with zippers that would be extremely difficult to remove anything without you knowing it. Also, they are made of a material that dry's quickly after sink washing. I usually take one pair of pants, one pair of convertible pants and one pair of shorts when I travel.

Disclaimer: I don't work for this company or have any affiliation, I just like their products.*

Posted by
463 posts

I avoid public transport, particularly metro/subway, to/from any European airports because of the pickpockets...particularly bad for Paris CDG, especially after your arrival when you are jet lagged. You really can never fully protect yourself against these thieves, no matter what you do. Your hands are full with bags, you probably have a backpack on, you are distracted or jet lagged, and the thieves know it and prey upon tourists when they are at their most vulnerable.

I take taxis or arrange a private service pickup upon arrival from the US after the long flight...less stressful, too, not fumbling with money or CC to purchase a ticket, etc.

The OP mentions never having had trouble before, and includes Japan. Japan is maybe the only country we visit (we are thinking about going again in May), where we use the public transport to/from the airport, mainly because pickpockets and crime are literally non-existent there.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you Donald. I had looked at them before, but thought it to be not necessary thinking this is not something that would happen to us- we research our destinations, travel light etc. etc. I forgot about the home team advantage phenomenon. I am going to invest in some advanced security clothing as soon as I get home.
And jojo rabbit, smart strategy with regards to the travel to and from the airport. Being in a new environment does disorient you and adds to your anxiety no matter how well prepared you are. Taking a cab for airport travel might be well worth it for the peace of mind.

Posted by
12596 posts

I used to be a big believer in public transit from airport to hotel. But now, with a few exceptions, I will take a cab or a pre-arranged car service.

With luggage and age, it's just easier. And safer.

Posted by
13675 posts

There is protection from the bad guys when you take the RER after landing in Paris. You won't be the only person with luggage in the RER. Never had an incident, never came close to a potential incident. I don't expect bystanders/onlookers to help. All the better if they do but I don't expect it. I take the usual precautions, ie, neck pouch , hidden pocket. , certain items go into certain pockets, etc.

I never take a taxi from CDG to Paris. I land in the morning after the overnight flight, awake and fresh. It becomes routine taking the RER.