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How to prevent my phone from getting stolen

I'm going to Madrid and Basque country in December. I grew up with my mother talking about the gypsies in Spain when we lived there when I was kid so I've always been cautious.
I'm pretty set on how to keep my money from being stolen, but my phone is another issue.
Last time I traveled internationally, it was to Iceland and I didn't worry about my phone because everyone had giant DSLRs. The last time I was in Europe in a place known to be rife with pickpockets, smartphones were not a thing and we were a year from the first iphone coming out.
But now, I've got my smartphone and because of technology, it's got a great camera and I will be using it for that a lot.
I know that I shouldn't keep it out when not using it. Don't set it on a table or bar etc etc.
I'm more concerned with what to do with it when I'm wandering around. I'm not going to leave it in my daypack because that whole thing can be stolen. I need access to it so I don't want to put it in a neck pouch or something similar.
I normally just keep it in my front pocket, but in the US, even here in Atlanta, I feel like I am more at risk for getting a gun in my face and mugged than I am pickpocketed.
I've been looking at wrist tethers to secure it to my person when using it, but what about how to secure it in my pocket?
Any ideas?

Posted by
1653 posts

A small cross body pouch/bag worn in the front is a great way to secure your belongings, phone included. As for a wrist tether: I don't see the need, it'll be awkward to put on and off, but it doesn't harm either.
Also, Basque Country isn't exactly pickpocket-central, and I don't think Madrid is up there with the hot-spots (Barcelona, Rome...) either, so please relax and enjoy your holidays, while keeping aware of your surroundings.

Posted by
6 posts

In Basque Country, we're staying with friends, one of whom is Basque so I'm not too concerned about getting targeted there (of course, I'll take precautions).

I know I'll be wearing shirts with front pockets that button, but of course, my phone is too big for them. I'm just trying to figure out a way to keep my phone accessible and on my person.

Posted by
4777 posts

First, relax, what you are talking about is an uncommon occurrence for an individual, but you are wise to take precautions.

I venture that most people who lose phones either have them halfway stuck in a pocket, making it easy to pluck out, or have set the phone down on a table or beside them, making them subject to snatching. There have been a few reports of having a phone taken out of your hand, but from a thief's point of view, that attracts attention right away and much riskier.

December is cool enough that you will likely have a jacket many times, that gives you some large pockets, maybe one with inside pockets would be better. Otherwise a small crossbody bag would give you some secure storage. If you are travelling with at least one other person, while taking photos, the other person should be more aware of surrounding. Wandering around distracted by sights is what makes you a target, an easy one.

Posted by
2575 posts

If you want a tether, sure, why not? You'll be using it when you are somewhere congested with a lot of other people around. December requires a coat. Use a pocket that can be closed, or your inside pocket when you aren't taking photos. Even if you use a front pants pocket, chances are your coat is going to cover it. By day 2, you won't be worrying about this.

Posted by
5544 posts

Most are stolen off of tabletops. Thief throws s newspaper down on table over a phone, hand goes under paper and steals phone.

Posted by
6060 posts

It's a bit odd to have so much angst over a cell phone since it's a commodity everywhere. I think all it takes is some common sense and to not treat it as you would back home - don't put it in a pocket where it's visible, don't set it down anywhere, put it right back in some kind of deep storage (like a purse if you're a woman) after use. Every day, I see people with their purses partially or wide open on the subway system and/or their phone dangling out of their pocket. In restaurants or cafes, they leave their phone on the table and even walk away for a bit. They would make a very easy mark of a pickpocket. If you don't do these obvious things, I don't see how you'd get your phone stolen so easily.

Posted by
589 posts

On my very first trip to Europe it was Spain. On day two I had my phone laying on the table at an outdoor cafe. The waiter quickly told us to put them away because kids will grab them and run. Never forgot that tip. Frankly, I'm not sure phones are much of a target anymore with all the security you can put in it to open and use it. I could be wrong. Wear pants with deep pockets and take all the precautions you would in any country. In Atlanta you may be held up by gun point, in Europe the odds are quite low. As others have said, don't fret over the possibilities, just be cautious. Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
8905 posts

I'm not sure phones are much of a target anymore with all the security
you can put in it to open and use it.

While the data stored on the phone can't be accessed, stolen phones can be erased and resold in poorer countries. So they are a major target for bad guys.

Posted by
432 posts

As a (now retired) photographer, I’ve observed hundreds of shooters with professional detachment. There are best practices and there are reasonable precautions.

If you are deeply concerned about the safety of your phone, leave it securely stashed in a deep and zippered pocket; don’t use it for your photos. Use your phone only when you need to use as it as a phone, which, if you’re not shooting stuff, is almost never. Instead, buy a tiny (and very simple) camera that you can wear around your neck. Each evening, Bluetooth the camera’s contents to your phone’s storage or upload directly to your cloud using the hotel’s WiFi. If you’re going to buy a camera, buy locally. The people who work at the shop probably support your business one way or another.

Or get a neck strap for your phone and carry it like the camera you once owned. A lanyard usually requires a shell or enclosure, not a bad idea when traveling. Cheap cases and lanyards are worse than nothing at all so read reviews. If you’re going this route, buy locally. Go to a camera shop or electronics store and examine the merchandise carefully..

As has been pointed out, phones are more often misplaced than stolen but snatching a phone is actually quite simple. Just have a seat at your favorite coffee shop and watch how cavalier folks are with their $1,000 electronics. See how easily a competent thief could walk out with several.

Posted by
242 posts

I think general common sense, as others have already mentioned, will be plenty. The only time I've ever had a phone stolen in Europe (or at all to be honest) was while I was working in France one summer, and was in a building whose stone walls meant very poor signal. I set it on the window ledge because I was anticipating an important call, didn't have my eyes on it, and someone grabbed it walking by. Wholly my own fault, I should have been watching.

But for normal use, the same precautions you'd take anywhere apply. In a crowd (whether it's on public transportation or elsewhere), keep your hand over your pocket where it is (I know, this is probably the less secure method), or keep it in your daybag or purse and have it slung to the front. Don't lay it out if you're at a cafe table on the street.

I started using a popsocket on my phone to make it more comfortable, and I'd guess it also helps with security when I have it out taking photos because I have a better grip on it. I'm probably more lax than some, but I think it's a tradeoff. I've had one phone taken under abnormal circumstances, but have also traveled to a number of major cities in Europe, Central America, and elsewhere without incident.

Posted by
8293 posts

Doug, regarding discouraging phone thieves by using a “cracked screen” thingie, are you under the impression that the thieves inspect the phones for defects before snatching them?

Posted by
1371 posts

Stealing phones is common in my city. I have a strap (with a clip, or sometimes I use a carabiner) that loops through the phone case and is long enough to clip to my belt loop or my purse hardware, even when I'm using the phone. The strap was annoying at first. Now I'm used to it. It's saved me several times from dropping my phone, which is my more common risk.

Posted by
669 posts

I use the Bandolier case with neck strap. They are a bit expensive [about $100], but the quality is good. An additional plus is that the strap prevents me from dropping my phone while taking a pix from a canal or boat.
[When I'm home, it works well at the gym with headphones, and has a pocket for driver's license and credit card.]
Safe travels!

Posted by
4062 posts

Nobody wants your used phone. Your worry is exaggerated. Roma is the acceptable term.

Posted by
23253 posts

take whatever precautions you usually take at home which have kept your phone safe so far.

Posted by
8905 posts

Nobody wants your used phone.

Lots of people pay over a thousand dollars for the top end models. To say there is no value/demand for second hand phones on the black market is ridiculous. In one neighborhood alone in London (Islington) 250 phones a month are stolen by moped thieves. While moped thefts may not be an issue Madrid, there are more than enough pickpockets to fill the void.

Posted by
23253 posts

I think that data may be out of date, Michael S, since the gang was rounded up and sent to jail.

Posted by
8905 posts

I just spent a week in London. Stayed in the Islington area. These posters (photo taken by me) from the police are plastered all over the place:
http://tinypic.com/r/yck5d/9

This particular poster was newly hung just outside the entrance to my lodging two days into my stay.

Posted by
5817 posts

Interesting thing to take a photo of whilst on holiday......
Summer is “peak moped” gang hence the posters going up now. This crime is carried out by teenage gangs who are bored during the summer holidays.
There is a demand for expensive phones. Your average smartphone, not so much. They aren’t going to bother risking a theft for an ordinary smart phone. They aren’t going to bother trying in in crowded tourist areas, they want a fast and easy get away.
I also wouldn’t panic looking at the numbers. “This area”, as quoted on the poster, will cover quite a wide area. 300 sounds a lot but divided over the month, 10 a day over the area covered, it’s not as drastic as it sounds.

I imagine the situation isn’t much different in Spain.

Just apply normal common sense. If a wrist band makes you feel better use one, but there really isn’t any need.

And “gypsy” is now a offensive term to many, best not to use it.

Posted by
3117 posts

First, prepare for the fact that your mobile can be stolen like anything can be stolen whether you are at home or abroad. Nothing is foolproof.

What you can do is follow every day common-sense thinking like don’t keep your phone in any pocket, keep it in your purse that zippers and that purse is better off being a cross body purse. When you are seated at a table or bar, don’t hang the purse on the chair. Don’t put your phone down on a table or tray.

Just follow every day common sense.

Posted by
6 posts

I am not specifically concerned with Roma. I was just saying that I grew up with my mother talking about them and how they were everywhere in Torrejon where we lived when I was a kid. We didn't live on base and I'm sure they were all over the place trying to pickpocket members of the American military and their families.

And steal my money, that's fine. I'm not going to carry much cash anyway. Steal my credit cards too. I can't get those canceled and money credited. I'm not carrying my passport around because that's one of the most valuable things I need to have (not going to debate carrying it around or not. I don't. Never have and never will.) But if my phone gets stolen, that's my gps, my camera, it's tied to everything and I can't just walk into a T Mobile store in the middle of Madrid and get a new one.

I've lived in NYC and DC so I'm not rube who doesn't know about the ways of the world. I'm just worrying about it a little more than I would here in the US (because I can get it replaced easily), my mother is a paranoid type and has told many stories about things she witnessed living in Spain for 5 years, my partner is from Philly and assumes that everyone is going to mug you.

I appreciate the constructive suggestions.

Posted by
6060 posts

my mother is a paranoid type and has told many stories about things
she witnessed living in Spain for 5 years

When people worry about things, the first questions to ask are: what's the rationale behind the worry, and how credible is the source? People who are paranoid are not unbiased, credible sources - plus, the info is rather stale if it comes from the time you were a kid (and not relevant when comparing Philly to Europe in terms of mugging rates). Do you have anything more recent and more objective? If not, use common sense, and don't sweat this. Select a bag that makes the phone more accessible so you can just slip it back once you're done.

Posted by
987 posts

I'd say that if you practice the same precautions abroad that you use in Atlanta, you'll be fine. A lot more people have smartphones now.

Having said that, you need to do what makes you feel comfortable. I tried a phone tether which I had hooked into an internal hook in my cross-body bag based on reading about one specific destination. Once I was there, I had no issues and found having to unhook the phone to be more trouble than it was worth.

Bottom line - do what makes you the most comfortable, but using the same common sense you use in any big US city should take care of you when you travel abroad.

Posted by
330 posts

It's a bit odd to have so much angst over a cell phone since it's a commodity everywhere.

We were robbed in Barcelona, and although I was able to buy a new phone easily, it was not possible to replace the old phone number (with AT&T) until we got back to the US. That meant I lost access to all my business calls for 3-4 weeks. Since I'm semi-retired and now get few business calls, that was not a big deal. Had I still been fully active in my business, that would have been a significant problem.

Smitty is smart to be thinking about this ahead of time.

Posted by
7627 posts

Wear a messenger bag, cross-body and you won't have to worry about your items. Mine zips at the top, then has a flap that goes all the way over, fastening at the bottom. My iPhone has its own pocket. I seldom have it fastened though and I wear this everywhere I travel. It stays on me all the time, sits in my lap at restaurants and on the train/bus/tram. I don't have to take it off to get things out of it as you do with a back-pack and I don't have to worry about hitting people in the head on the train, knocking things over in stores, or taking it off to sit down anywhere.

Posted by
663 posts

Here's my experience with straps and special anti-theft equipment:

I got a special anti-theft strap for my DSLR. It had metal in it, making it difficult for thieves to cut and grab the camera.

Just a few months after purchase that metal stuff broke and I suddenly had the camera dangling from my neck on one side of the strap. It was by pure luck that I was able to catch the camera with my hand and didn't drop it.

I've been using regular straps ever since, and with common sense and the normal precautions, my camera has been fine.

I also have a lanyard attached to my cell phone that I can tie to a belt loop or whatever in places where I feel there might be pickpockets. That's not going to deter a serious thief who is prepared to cut things off, but at least no one is going to snatch it from me just passing by.

Posted by
1 posts

On of the things that you could do is, make sure you've backed up you phone so that no data is lost. Put the most important things in the Cloud so that you can retrieve them easily. This won't stop your phone from being stolen, lost , crushed or dunked in a river, but your data will still be available.

Posted by
49 posts

Seconding tips on doing a back up of all the important data you have on your phone to skip the headache of losing those alongside your phone. Write down important numbers somewhere, a notebook maybe, that you can bring with you. Don't use your phone unless you really need to to minimise displaying it. Use bags that have zippers, put it deep into your bag, maybe consider an anti-theft bag? Always keep them within sight. Usual precautions I'd apply anywhere, really.

Posted by
622 posts

We were robbed in Barcelona, and although I was able to buy a new
phone easily, it was not possible to replace the old phone number
(with AT&T) until we got back to the US. That meant I lost access to
all my business calls for 3-4 weeks. Since I'm semi-retired and now
get few business calls, that was not a big deal. Had I still been
fully active in my business, that would have been a significant
problem.

Smitty is smart to be thinking about this ahead of time.

^^True. A friend, retired IT professional, had his iPhone stolen from his pocket on the Paris Metro a couple of months ago. Sadly, he was carrying it in a handy case that also held a credit card and I think his driver's license. He'd put the phone away in his pocket before entering the Metro station and didn't realize he'd been pickpocketed till after he exited at his stop. He had his laptop, passport, and backup credit card safely in his hotel room, so could deal with some of the fallout, but his replacement iPhone, from the Paris store of his carrier (AT&T?) as I recall didn't have his regular phone number either. He's not stupid, and he has traveled, but theft does happen anyway. (I didn't rag him about using the phone case to also hold the credit card and driver's license while in Paris, but if anyone does that at home, changing that habit when abroad might be something to think about.)

Posted by
4 posts

From the comments on this thread, it doesn’t sound like you’re going to a high-risk pickpocketing area—but, if you WERE, one other idea might be to just bring a phone that (worst case scenario) you know you won’t mind losing so much. If you have an older model smartphone from a few years ago, you could just bring that; just check online to make sure it will still work with whatever European SIM card you chose to pick up.

It’s kind of like with luxury brand luggage: it looks nice, and it allows you to show off a bit, if you’re into that. But a more modestly priced, well-made bag will do the job just as well, and NOT make you cry if and when an airline loses or damages it. First world problems, right? ;)

Posted by
440 posts

Keep it in your front pocket where you can feel it on your leg as you walk, or even keep your finger tips in your pocket on top of your phone so you know where it is at all times.

Posted by
393 posts

Nobody wants your used phone.

I know of several US cities where cell phone theft is pretty bad. I’ve seen the police warn people to not walk down the street talking on your phone because thieves are snatching phones from people’s hands and running. They suggest you stop and stand in a doorway or with your back to the wall.

Most people I know (including their younger children) have nice iPhones.

My husband and I carry a pacsafe crossbody sling bag.
https://www.pacsafe.com/vibe-150-anti-theft-sling-pack/60161.html?dwvar_60161_color=802

Posted by
4 posts

I was completely ok walking around with my phone in my hand while sightseeing. If we were walking to the trains or dinner I’d keep the phone in my backpack. I didn’t never felt like someone was going to take it. I also steered clear of massive crowds, ideally areas you can’t spread your arms out and when opening and reaching for things in my backpack I moved to a corner.