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Athens Metro Pickpockets

My wife and I just returned from a 14 day self-guided trip to Greece. Our experience on the Athens Metro was not good at all, four rides and twice targeted by thieves. Both episodes were arriving to or departing from Syntagma station. First encounter cost me my wallet. Two pickpockets (young males) positioned themselves at the central luggage rack and I stepped in between them to retrieve our suitcases. As the train slowed for arrival to Syntagma, it lurched violently three times before coming to a stop. Everybody was scrambling to hang on and I was struggling with two suitcases. Anyone standing was bumping into each other. After getting off the train I checked myself over and immediately realized my wallet was missing. In hindsight, the two suspects had arrived at the luggage rack within a minute or two of each other. They stood next to each other but never spoke or exchanged glances. Both played a similar video game on their phones. Their behavior was out of place enough to draw my attention, I was anticipating they might grab a suitcase when the train stopped at a station. Jetlag prevented me from realizing they wanted what was in my pocket. And yes, that will be the end of me ever carrying a visible wallet in a pants pocket.
Second encounter was departing Syntagma, mid-morning when trains were still quite full. Group included myself, wife and Mother-in-Law. I was much more aware by this time and better prepared. First thing that caught my attention was young man pushing his way into the crowd to get in front of me. Before the train car doors closed he even stepped aside to make more room for me. Soon after the train departed the crowd was adjusting and moved back in my direction. Thief #1 pressed up against my side and I felt something by my pocket. At this same moment, my 75 year old Mother-in-Law falls to the floor (was pushed by thief #2) with her shoulders down by my feet. I helped her up but maintained a tight grip on my backpack. I checked myself and realized a 10 Euro note was missing from my pocket. (That’s all I had in the pocket besides a few coins) I was quite sure who had taken the money but did not actually see him do it. I confronted thief #1 verbally, loud enough to be heard by other passengers. He looked at me and soon disappeared into the crowd, along with his accomplice. Purses and backpack remained in our possession. It took a few minutes of discussion to figure out what had just happened and that the two thieves were working together.

My wife and I were not new to public transportation. We have used it extensively in several large European cities (Rome, Paris, Vilnius) and never had a problem prior to this trip. We do not look like the locals but were not wearing anything expensive and very modest jewelry. First incident was reported to Tourist Police but since I did not lose a large amount of cash or passport, they were not interested in hearing from me. I had to insist on filling out a report, which I wanted in case of later identity theft. Their advice was to be careful on the Metro, especially when train doors were open. Told us there are no cameras on Metro and thieves know it. I can add that there were no security officers visible either.

Besides these two incidents there were a number of other attempted scams that included short changing and trying to charge inflated prices, guidebook was great help in knowing what the price should be. Hotel and restaurant management/owners were always friendly and honest with us. They have a reputation to maintain and invariably asked us to post comments on FaceBook or TripAdvisor. I have to say the attractions in Greece are great and most people are decent. The two incidents with thieves and numerous other minor scams detracted from overall experience. We were constantly on guard against the next attempt. Hopefully, this description of what we encountered will help somebody recognize a situation in time to prevent a loss.

Posted by
11496 posts

Very sorry to hear about your misfortune but this...

...carrying a visible wallet in a pants pocket

...was your first mistake. Never, ever carry anything of value in your pants pockets, in an unsecured purse or backpack. This applies not just to Greece and not just on Metros but just about anyplace at all in Europe that tourists frequent, Paris, London, Rome, Barcelona, Brussels, etc, and on just about any mode of public transport. The light fingers are very, very slick and people often don't even realize they've been "picked" until after the fact.

Pickpockets are rarely ever caught.

It doesn't matter if you're wearing anything expensive as you are easily identified as a tourist, and tourists always have cash (often in large amounts), credit cards and other desirables on them.

Methods of keeping valuables safe are many - moneybelts, locking-zippered cross-body bags, leg wallets, neck wallets, interior safety pockets - and using them will prevent the vast majority of travelers from becoming victims.

Posted by
208 posts

oh, bendlich, I am so sorry to hear this, and I really appreciate your sharing your experience. It serves as yet another reminder that this is happening. All. The. Time.

During my last trip to Europe (last October), when my cruise disembarked in Athens, and we stayed there a few nights, we decided that it is just plain worth it to book a private transfer. Even though we only travel with "carry-on", and are accustomed to using public transit, it is just so much less stressful.

Regards,
Vivian

Posted by
2525 posts

Pickpockets are just part of being around people and are one of the factors managed during travel away from my village where almost all men wear their wallets in a back, unsecured, pants pocket. Pickpockets love crowds, whether on public transit, near popular attractions, etc. Deal with it properly and have a grand time in Europe.

Posted by
20598 posts

This is unfortunate. And, unfortunately, you should have been here prior to your trip rather than afterwards. But your posting does reinforce the drum beat on this site about not carrying anything of value in your pockets. A billfold - front or back pocket - simply cannot be protected. And you do need to be alert to these sandwich situations. I think it is a little unfair to accuse the police of not being very interested. You just have nothing for them to work with - descriptions, etc. I am sure there are cameras but it is unlikely that a camera will see a hand in a crowd slipping into your pocket. They are more concerns with big bombs. Hopefully you future trips will be more pleasant base on a little extra learning experience.

Posted by
3355 posts

Thank you for posting. You are fortunate that your mother-in-law wasn't injured during these disgusting pickpocket antics!

Posted by
3249 posts

I continue to be perplexed by the need to carry a wallet or billfold in Europe, or anywhere really. I don't use one at home and neither does my husband. At home I carry more cards of various types, but when I'm in Europe, I don't need many of those. I did take my Costco card with me to the UK last year, and I had a blast visiting the Aberdeen Costco. It won't go with me to Italy next week.

As for Athens, we rented an apartment there in 2014 following our RS Istanbul tour. My husband caught a nasty cold at the end of the tour and he stayed in the apartment the whole time. I went all over the place on my own by metro, bus and on foot. One would think my age and slight mobility challenges would make me easy pickings, but nothing happened. If I was a victim of any more subtle scam(s), I wasn't aware of it.

Fortunately, I also never had to stand on the metro or on a bus. There was one time when the metro was quite crowded, but there was an empty seat next to a young Muslim woman. She motioned me over and I sat with her. I wondered if the seat was empty because people were afraid to sit next to her. She was dressed in a black hijab, but her face was not covered. She was beautiful and I was thankful for the seat.

Posted by
6410 posts

man its cold world;
but what can you do but keep on travelin when you love it and can afford it. could be worse

Posted by
30932 posts

I may have missed it, but were either / both of you wearing Money Belts? That's the usual advice here on the forum for avoiding pickpockets. It's prudent not to carry anything in your pockets that you can't afford to lose.

Posted by
4498 posts

Sorry it happened to you but thank you for posting your experiences. You perfectly described how most pickpockets work. Most are in a tandem or team with one using a distraction and the other making the slip. They know exactly how things work there, like jostling trains or the timing of closing doors and work such things to their advantage. And yes, some even resort to making people fall to create the distraction.

What you also show others is that common advice from some people like "situational awareness" or holding on to your wallet or keeping your hand in your pocket when you think there is a higher risk is all hogwash. Or the common belief that no one could slip their wallet from a pants pocket without their knowing it.

Lastly, I'm glad you didn't let this ruin your trip. Many people would have let it sour their entire experience.

Posted by
440 posts

Sorry to hear about this and thanks for posting to make others aware

Posted by
5 posts

Thank you all for the replies, I appreciate your thoughts. Following are my responses to questions or comments.
• Yes, this was a lesson learned. I will no longer be carrying a wallet on any foreign trip nor big city domestic trip either.
• Our valuables were divided between a few locations and I did have a money belt with bulk of our cash kept safe. I had even removed unnecessary cards from my wallet before leaving home so that helped. Domestic drivers license was lost because we were renting a car on our trip. Pop’s Rent-A-Car went easy on me since I had an International Drivers License and a theft report from police.
• This is excellent advice on RS Travel Forum. Had I spent as much time reading before the trip as I have since, the outcome would have been different.
• Most concerning aspect of either episode was when the low life’s pushed my Mother-In-Law down. I felt that was despicable that they risked injuring a senior citizen and their effort netted them a whole 10 Euros.

• Posted link to You Tube video is good to watch. Gives an idea on variations of the scheme to watch for.
• Our next destination will be Spain. From what I have read now, pickpocket situation looks to be very similar to Greece. We are already shopping for the accessories that will help us better protect our valuables.

Best regards and safe travels.

Posted by
208 posts

Bruce, yes, there is a lot of really valuable information on these forums. Maybe Rick Steves should have read them before HIS latest venture in Paris! LOL.

Agreed - risking hurting someone in their attempt is, indeed, despicable.

Enjoy the rest of your trip!

Cheers,
Vivian

Posted by
663 posts

Or the common belief that no one could slip their wallet from a pants
pocket without their knowing it.

Even if you do notice, it doesn't do you any good. Happened to a friend of mine. She actually DID notice. But as you say, those guys work in a tandem, so when she got hold of the guy and accused him, he had long passed on her wallet to his accomplice, and she couldn't prove anything.

Most concerning aspect of either episode was when the low life’s
pushed my Mother-In-Law down.

Absolutely. I am glad that apparently she didn't get seriously hurt, though it must have been a shock.

Incidentally, this might have been a situation the police would be more interested in than a mere pickpocketing. In many countries, actually injuring a person is prosecuted much more earnestly and punished much more severely than "only" stealing something.

Posted by
9 posts

Just came back from the BOE 21 day trip.

One man in our group was pickpocketed, but managed to get his wallet back.
Another many almost was, but had removed his wallet before entering the subway.

Do not put anything in your pockets - even a zippered one!