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Pickpocket Paranoia

There is entirely too much emphasis on pickpockets and scams. Wear your money belt or some other truly secure way of carrying you money and credit cards and don't worry about it. Read about the scams and short changers and then pay attention. I just returned from the 21 days in Europe tour. We saw only a couple of people who looked suspicious and nobody in our group had any problems.
A few petition passers, plenty of beggars, but nothing hard to deal with. Don't let worry about something that is easily preventable affect your trip.

Posted by
33336 posts

there are 2 identicoil posts buthj saying the same thing.

Posted by
10344 posts

Agreed! Rick Steves, and some travelers here, have been saying what you said for years: keep your "can't afford to lose" items in a money belt and relax and enjoy your trip!

Posted by
767 posts

Joe - I agree! Just strap on that money belt and forget about it!

Posted by
4535 posts

The reason there is so much emphasis here is because people come here and post questions about it. I do agree with the points in your post and most of us say the same thing in each thread that comes along. Many of the threads are questions about how to avoid pickpockets, as there are numerous systems besides just a waist-tie money belt. Different people like different systems.

Where there is too much emphasis is with general media. People read and hear things, then get spooked. People will read about Barcelona being a pickpocket capital and not understand the nuances and what that really means. And few Americans or Canadians have any experience with pickpocketing; it is nowhere near the issue here that it is in parts of Europe.

And my experience is that despite all the warnings and emphasis out there, a lot of people still visit Europe ignorant of the issue or unaware of what they really need to do to protect themselves. Obviously since so many people still become victims.

Posted by
2081 posts


all of what you say is common sense, but for many that live on the edge of town or live somewhere in paradise where such things dont exist wouldnt think of it.

the way i see it, if you are not aware of scams and such, you have no way to protect yourself.

Id rather be an INFORMED traveler than a ignorant victim. Of course others may feel different.

Happy trails.

Posted by
33336 posts

All true enough, but closing your eyes to the possibility and sometimes more of pickpockets may be counter productive.

Pickpocketing does indeed happen even if it hasn't happened to you or somebody you know.

I've been to various parts of Europe over the years, we have a fair bit of experience and I've been around this helpline for a while and have read a fair number of the posts here. We take all the normal precautions and are well aware of our surroundings - and we know that the suspicious looking folk are unlikely to be professional pickpockets and that the normal looking ones may contain the pickpockets.

Over the years we have

lost a wallet out of my wife's firmly attached bum bag on a tram in Amsterdam - raised holy heck and the driver and other passengers wouldn't let the man off until he gave it back. He wouldn't have got much - everything of value was in the money belt and there was something like 100 guilders and museum cards in the wallet. We don't use bum bags anymore.

found the zippers of my wife's backpack open in the Métro in Paris - nothing gone

found the zippers of my wife's backpack open and everything turned over in the big pocket at the Piramide station in Rome - nothing gone and they missed the camera at the bottom

I had a man's hand in my front trouser pocket on the little electric bus going up the Via Veneto in Rome. He got nothing, was clumsy, I think he was genuinely poor and hungry - he must have been 90 if a day. I got him to remove his hand and did not turn him in.

I've been "bumped" in Milan near the Duomo - they got nothing.

I don't really mind, I'm used to it, we take the precautions, and they have, till now, got nothing from us.

It really is a true issue.

Posted by
1068 posts

I have to agree, pickpocketing is an issue, but if you take the "usual" precautions there is no need to be paranoid (IMHO.) I've had a backpack unzipped in Seville, been mobbed in Merida (Mexico) and had folded museum handouts removed from my front pocket in Budapest, (where, incidentally, a fellow tour mate had his wallet stolen) but it was just "interesting." That was because the important stuff was either locked in a hotel safe or carried in a money belt, while my spending $$ was distributed in different pockets. So the likelihood of a serious theft was pretty low. As a result, I wasn't too worried, I just try to be prepared.

Posted by
10361 posts

Glad you had a good trip Joe and no one had problems. I agree that people need to relax and enjoy.

I also know that s___ happens, and those of us who spend several months a year in crowded, southern European urban centers have run into multiple attempts. Just like with Nigel and his wife, we haven't lost anything but we have had the zippers opened. It's not the petition girls, nor the mustard guy, or anyone who looks suspicious. The professionals could take the watch off your wrist.

Now, why does this come up on U.S. websites? Mainly in our protective car culture, we don't run into many pickpockets, so most of us are open and unsuspecting. Just today I put my purse on the chair next to me while I ate lunch. Impossible in Paris.

So you are absolutely correct not to worry, but I don't think there is too much emphasis because people need to learn how to take precautions and why.

Posted by
1976 posts

Bets makes a good point about distinguishing between common sense and paranoia. Understand how pickpockets work and what kind of targets they go for, and act accordingly. In my case that means wear a money belt, keep my purse in my lap whenever I sit down in public, be aware of scams like the ring scam and petition scam, keep a hand on my bag on the subway or in other crowds...and enjoy my vacation!

When I was in Belgium on a study-abroad program, I went to Bruges for a day with some people in the program. One lady, an administrator of the program, had been to Belgium 7 times and to Bruges several times. That day she wore a small backpack purse with all of her cash and her wallet in it. She was pickpocketed - they took her wallet and camera - and she didn't even know it until she swung the purse over her shoulder in a store to get her wallet. No matter how comfortable you are in a place, you still need to take precautions.

Posted by
8 posts

I am surprised at the number of responses. My point is still that if you take the proper precautions you can relax. Backpack zippers, backpack purses? Of course people lost things. I wholeheartedly agree that being informed is important but reading Uncle Ricks' book will take care of that.
I only know that before my trip abroad I was worried unreasonably about the scams and pickpockets.
There were comments about swarms of girls with petitions at Notre Dame. We saw two. They left us alone as soon as we told them firmly to go away.
Never gamble more than you can afford to lose and never carry more cash in an easily accessible place than you can afford to have stolen.
If the problem was as bad as the press, forums and blogs make it out to be no one would go to Europe.
I wore my money belt (in back, more comfortable) with my credit cards, ATM cards and most of my cash and carried about 150 euros in a small wallet in a deep, zippered, chest pocket. I never once had to get into my money belt during the day and always paid cash for everything which also meant no worries about card theft. I used the ATM about three times, always in a very public place in the morning.
We paid attention to our surroundings and it became a game of Can You Spot the Rip-Off?
As a side note, if you are an adult wearing a backpack in Europe your are announcing that you are a tourist.
Safe travels, all!

Posted by
2081 posts

@ joefackler

the way i see things is that people experience a certain place at a certain time. just because there was only 2 girls present when you were there, doesnt mean there cant be more.

a agree with reading RS book since thats how i found a majority of the scams to be aware of. I also talked to fellow travels at work too. You would be surprised how many people dont now about RS books or of the scams.

happy trails.

Posted by
14580 posts

" no way to protect yourself"....don't be such a nice guy/gal, simple as that. . I've seen at Sacre Cour when confronted by the string scammers these tourists, ie. potential victims are all smiles to these scammers, some not only in walking away from them but some even also stopping to listen to them, all smiles too.

Dispersal of your assets (credit/debit cards, cash, Passport, change), not concentration, is a very good idea.

Posted by
2393 posts

Being informed is one thing but being aware of your surroundings is priceless. DH was accosted in Rome by 3 gypsy girls - they grabbed his arm and were kissing it while one of the pushed a large piece of cardboard into his stomach just above his fanny pack while she tried to open his under it! We were still walking - I just grabbed his other arm pulled him away and shooed away the girls and walked away - 1 zipper was open - there was nothing in the fanny pack to steal but sunglasses! We caught another girl on the subway in Rome and two others on the train Cannes.

When walking with a backpack on the one not carrying it walks a half step behind the one who is to keep an eye on it. We don't carry a backpack when walking around a place - just when going from one to the other - I carry a big a@@ purse made of pretty hefty leather with very heavy straps - it rides on the shoulder between us. Anything of value is in a zipped middle compartment - not pickpocket friendly!

Knowing where you are going and walking with purpose is a big plus - standing around looking lost and confused increases your odds of being a target. Pickpockets - even pros - look for easy targets - there's plenty of them out there - just don't be one of them.

Posted by
2147 posts

I think it's a good idea to continue to remind people to be vigilant and to take common sense precautions. I talked to several first-time travelers this year and they were totally clueless about wearing a money belt and avoiding the scammers. Didn't do any research, just getting on the plane... Several years ago I was nearly pick pocketed on the Eiffel Tower elevator. I was lucky that time. This year I had my money belt on and cross-body purse under my jacket. I figured I'd done all I could to "protect" myself and really enjoyed the visit.

Posted by
16120 posts

I would agree, Donna. We've been amazed at the amount of tourists I've seen who don't seem to have a clue where their valuables are concerned. I'm sure those are the people that travel forums get most of the hysterical reports from?

Advice on how not to become a victim doesn't have to take the tone of a Chicken Little but is still necessary for the uninformed, it seems.

Fannypacks/bumbags? Besides screaming "I'm a tourist!", they're an invitation for light fingers. If one MUST be worn - and I'd rather not see them at all - then don't put anything in them you can't afford to lose.

Posted by
507 posts

In agreement with several responders like Sarah in MO & Christi in TX.

It cannot be stressed enough . . . STAY AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS!

We were traveling with a group who were 99% first time travelers. Everyone had their backpack on & was intent on what the guide was saying.

Everyone except an 11 yr old girl who noticed a man trying to get into a backpack. She took a few steps back & made eye contact with the man. He quickly left w/o getting anything.

I usually travel in a group. Since the day the above incident happened, I make it a point to walk at the back of the group with the slow walkers & watch for ppl who attempt to merge with the group.

Posted by
4535 posts

If you don't want someone getting into your backpack, just put a travel lock on the zippers. It isn't foolproof, but it prevents easy access.

Posted by
335 posts

I agree with the "be prepared and alert but not paranoid" comments above. To me, using a backpack is just asking for trouble since you can't see behind you - it's like saying "here, take what you want." I use a front-pack, wear it cross-body, and keep an arm across it. Wallet and other important things are WAY inside. So far, so good!

Posted by
169 posts

Anyone on this site loves to travel and is helping others. When I left on my first big trip - to Israel and the Balkans in 1971 - my mother gave me a money belt. I still use one to this day, many trips later. The backpack is another issue - my wife and I were in Sarajevo last fall for the nth time ( she's from the Balkans) and taking a laptop to show photos to Teta Lukrezia. Crowded streetcar, wife has last seat. Tall guy in suit and raincoat behind me seems to be coughing into his coat and leaning on me, not unusual in rush hour. Then my wife says, give me the backpack!, which I politely decline, being a Canadian male. She then yells, Give me the backpack! and just when I do, the guy behind, who did smell of beer, has gone. We had carefully emptied all those outside pockets he was searching in slowly, and the computer was too heavy to lift out unnoticed, but it still shook us. As Rick often says, well-dressed pickpockets do fool tourists on transit systems. Moral of story, even when on alert, keep your pack in view at all times/even wear it backwards. And yes, lock up all the zippers as well. But please, keep travelling. Sarajevo and Mostar are so worth it, and they need our tourism income desperately, something we don't often discuss. Travel is a political act, and your money and interest count, one interaction at a time. Mostar out of season is windswept and wonderful and the core is restored with love. Find the rooftop Terasa cafe on the far side of the bridge and gaze down on the river winding in unpaintable colours below you. Gaze, sip the coffee and enjoy life. Bosnia lives.

Posted by
484 posts

As much as I like to blend in, I am still obviously a tourist. I challenged myself, I looked around on a street to see if I could identify tourists versus locals. It 's really easy to see. So, I know the thieves can spot us easily as well. Here's a few tips: 1) put a small combination luggage lock on purse/pack zippers. You don't have to lock every compartment. Just the one with valuables. 2). Try to walk/stand away from crowds as much as possible. 3). Learn to yell "police" in the local language and don't be afraid to cause "a scene." 4) Take the belt/neck pouch approach. 5). Plant a fake wallet with something silly in it for a thief to steal. 5) Know that famous churches have pickpocketers dressed as tourists or business people. A real thug is hard to spot and will clean you out without detection. 6). don't flaunt wealth. Travel with costume jewelry, basic watch, outlet store type clothes. Don't be a slob, but leave the designer stuff at home.