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new pickpocket attempt

We experienced a new pickpocket method in Lyon (Confluence Tram stop). I happened to be standing exactly where the tram door turned out to be, but before the door could open, a young girl about 16 years old forced herself between me and the door, and then rushed into the tram, then suddenly turned around and asked me if this tram goes to the Part Dieux station. I said, I didn't know, but she kept asking the question. I was a little confused because the exact same tram had some weird problem an hour earlier where they stopped in the middle of the route and said it was a terminus and people were irritated and got off, then an announcer said it was ok, and people got back on. So I wasn't sure what was going on. Meanwhile, her two accomplices were trying get into my wife's backpack. Luckily we have a special pack with security features, and she noticed something and turned around abruptly. The three then jumped off the tram before it left. this about noon.

Some other experiences are :
- having a PP reach into someone's pants pocket as he boarded a train in a Cannes early afternoon
- the group of deaf-mute women asking for 1 euro for deaf people on a piece of cardboard early afternoon
- two short women following me as I walked extremely fast through Strasbourg and unzipping my shoulder bag around noon
- Barcelona noon, just a block from the Catalonia theatre and medieval city center, walking alone through a narrow backstreet, and coming up behind me inches away

I always have everything locked down when in the street, and make plenty of random unpredictable movements when walking or even standing in a crowd

Posted by
20849 posts

It sounds as if maybe the lower tourist numbers mean the tourists actually present are receiving more attention from starving pickpockets.

Posted by
836 posts

Thanks for sharing. Very sorry to hear that you were bothered.

I don't have anti-theft bags, but always lock the zippers of my purse. My spouse also wears cargo pants, and places his passport in the cargo pocket.

Posted by
4359 posts

I would think the cargo pockets would be one of the easiest spots to pick pocket - less likely to be felt or noticed, and they’re also at a handy height for the smaller pick pockets quick hands to reach.

Posted by
20849 posts

I met a Canadian couple in Madrid back in 2016 and chatted with them as we wandered around the botanical garden. They described how, during a cruise stop somewhere in Greece (I think Crete), a male fellow passenger sightseeing with them had his wallet lifted from a cargo pocket with none of the four people noticing anything unusual. It was only when the victim reached for the wallet to pay for something that the absence of the wallet was noticed. Upon reflection they remembered that someone had approached them with a map (probably seeking directions). That was apparently the distraction that made the theft possible.

Posted by
152 posts

I have cargo pants too. I keep a floppy sunhat in one of the lower pockets. I have started keeping passport and small cash in the pockets - but only the ones that zip up and take two hands to open. You can also shove a wad of napkins over your money to make it harder for a hand to slip in.

I have a fanny pack from PacSafe that has kind of a triple lock on the zippers, and an unusual lock on the waist strap. There is also another company that makes a woman's day pack with some other simple but effective ways to make it difficult to open. I also have my phone on a cable latched to my fanny pack or cargo pants - not only for thieves but also so I don't drop it over a bridge taking a picture.

It might be a good idea to have a cheap shoulder bag with nothing important in it, with the zipper open to offer a decoy target. (It would be a shame if there were some pins and needles in it.)

Posted by
152 posts

A local in Barcelona told me that their city leaders have directed police not to arrest pickpockets and thieves unless they have more than 500 eu on them. So that turns pickpocketing from a crime to a hobby/sport with no consequences. So I used to think there should be some downsides to thievery when it can destroy a trip having your passport, credit cards, keys, and ID stolen. Perhaps confront the criminals in some way .... but then when you return to that city you need to make sure you don't run into them and their gang/family again. Cities that don't protect tourists should be boycotted and shamed.

Posted by
140 posts

We are in the process of purchasing some pacsafe products — have one backpack and a small crossbody bag coming, and will get a second backpack and money belts after the holidays. Studying maps, websites and videos now, so that when we are on our trip, we will be as informed as possible (and not tiredly trying to figure out how to validate a train ticket, etc) and more equipped mentally to pay attention. I had the piece of cardboard distraction technique attempted on me in Rome in 1989. By two girls around 6-7 years old. Lucky for me, I was aware of the trick, and knew to turn and catch the accomplice. Got an earful of foul language but they didn’t succeed in getting anything.

It’s so awful that this is a real issue, and so common. I’ve already started drilling it into my husband that he needs to put his phone away at the train station, be particularly mindful in crowds, we won’t sit near the door on the train, ignore people fighting, dropping stuff and asking questions. Whatever simple precautions we can take to reduce the risk of the stress and disruption of having a bag stolen. Thanks for sharing your experiences and helping to forewarn others

Posted by
5533 posts

Sorry that you’ve had so many encounters, but it’s so good that you’ve been aware of the situations, and have had precautions in place. My one incident with a crook was on the Metro in Athens. The Tourist Police were very helpful. I’m that much more careful now!

That’s crazy that anything under €500 would be considered inconsequential in Barcelona, or anywhere. And you’re right, what may seem to be easy pickings and just some pocket change to a thief could destroy someone’s trip, and really complicate getting home. Vacations come with potential hazards, as well as great sights.

Posted by
255 posts

Our only pick pocket was a wallet in a cargo pant pocket on the bus from the Vatican in Rome. We were tired and only lost 40euro, no ID. Over the years short changing has been a bigger problem all over Europe. We have gotten wiser over the years and anticipate these issues. We try to build in safe habits without being obsessive. RS books do a good job of describing the scams. I had to laugh at the gold ring scam in Paris. It happened right after I read about it.

Posted by
152 posts

It’s really hard to know all the rules in advance. For example in Lyon you buy your ticket for the tram and then get on the tram and find the machine to cancel the ticket. However a few years ago I was in Strasburg and I did the same thing and there was no cancel machine on the trail. Apparently the canceling machine is in the station next to the track somewhere. I was caught by the undercover transit police checking everybody’s tickets. And they want to give me €30 fine for not canceling my ticket - which I was able to eventually talk my way out of.

In Montpellier, one tram said out of service but actually worked. A few days later all the trains were cancelled for track work so we took bus to Montpellier to reconnect with working trains. But the bus went to a different train station than the main train station. And I had research this in advance and I knew that we had to take the tram across town. However that particular day they decided to have a tram strike. When did up befriending a young Italian guy who was also stranded and we shared Uber to get to the other station instead of a 45 minute walk with all our stuff.

In Sevilla tram stopped three stops before end of line and kicked everyone off.

So being flexible is key.

Posted by
152 posts

Here is the phone security cable I got at REI for $15. You might be able to make something like this yourself DIY

Nite Ize Hitch Phone Anchor + Tether

Posted by
5774 posts

Sorry to hear of your experiences, but for the benefit of others, what you experienced is far from new, it is a classic pickpocket technique. It is part of the Distraction Method. specifically Block and Trap.

What happens is PP A will position themselves in front of you, then stop, causing you to stop or bump into them, while PP B (and C or others) bump into you and do the pick. Entrances to buses/subways/trains are common for this, as are any doorway, escalator, elevator. All that is needed is a funnel point.

Posted by
315 posts

"On my first day in Lisbon, I became a statistic: I lost all my credit cards to a talented thief on the No. 28 tram. After “the incident,” I wanted to leave Lisbon, but instead, my husband Michael and I decided to tackle our must-taste list. It was on our last day in Lisbon that we tasted the cake at Landeau Chocolate. " (Dorie Greenspan, The New York Times Cooking).
Ms. Greenspan's loss was my gain of an incredible recipe. If only every pickpocket victim had the same ending.

Posted by
8283 posts

Not just tourists: One Sunday night, my French sister-in-law withdrew 300€ from an ATM in her neighborhood. She stuck the 300€ in her tight jean pocket, but on the way to her car, a young man walking asked for directions. She described, he questioned, he pulled out a map for them to look at, and you know the end of the story. All she could say was that he was very good. She never noticed anything.

Posted by
836 posts

I experienced three incidences that were far less subtle in Germany.

While I was pulling out my wallet to pay for bus tickets in Cologne, two big guys elbowed me and separated me from my spouse. Then, one tried to grab my wallet. I immediately dropped for cover and saved my wallet. Then, I experienced another two similar episodes in Berlin, also at bus/train stations. In all three of these cases, I knew for sure that the culprits were not speaking in German. I learned from a local friend that pickpockets come from all over the continent and sometimes even from outside Europe.

Posted by
152 posts

We were in Segovia and seemed like a friendly place. At dark there were plenty of single women or moms and kids. We walked around a bit and it started to rain and we had dinner as it was getting b late. As we walked back the road was now empty of anyone. I realized two large men in hoodies were behind us - and they were not talking - they seemed to have an intent predatory look. We crossed the street, and they crossed also. I saw a car coming and flat out ran across the street to beat the car. At that point they continued without crossing - but it was kind of unnerving.

Posted by
842 posts

UNDER THE CLOTHES MONEY BELT !!! I would never carry a passport anywhere else, plus most of my credit/debit cards. Why would you not? They are perfectly comfortable and essentially pick-pocket proof.

I carry one credit card and a small amount of cash easily available, usually in a thin pouch that I keep in a pocket, attached by a cord/string (so even if it falls out, it won't get lost, and obviously harder for pick pockets. My phone is in a case that has a place to attach a wrist strap. Handy for not dropping it, plus that can also be attached to a belt loop ( and attached to a longer strap if I want). For everything else I just use 'regular' backpack/pocket book/bag. Nothing in it that would ruin a trip if stolen/lost.

Posted by
1753 posts

I travel solo part of each trip to Europe, and the only time I've ever been robbed was when I was with my friend who is quite disorganised: bag slipping off her shoulder, one pair of glasses in her mouth while she takes a photo, the other pair falling to the ground.....you know.
Both times ended well, but it sure pays to be vigilant.
I'm the one who, after passport and immigration checks on arrival; goes into the biggest stall in the Ladies with all my luggage, and spends a few minutes putting everything, passport, cards, extra cash and ID into my money belt under my tucked in clothing.
I only keep out enough for train or taxi fare to my accommodation.
I also keep a copy of my passport, some cash, and info about emergency contacts in a ziploc bag under the insole of my shoe.
Better to be safe and thought to be paranoid, than ruin a trip.

Posted by
422 posts

Both hubby and I wear "money belts," but our concern now is having our phones stolen because of all the essential travel information stored on them. In 2018 In Barcelona , hubby was cornered by 2 men as he attempted to exit the metro. After he pushed his way through, he realized that his phone which was in his cargo pants pocket was stolen. At that time it was near the end of our trip, so it was not that critical to lose his phone. Besides, the battery on his phone was dying.
Sometime after that happened, Someone (I think it was Donald) mentioned a brand of men's clothing which is supposedly "pp-proof." It is this brand: https://www.clothingarts.com.
We purchased a couple pairs of pants, which hubby wore on our last trip to Switzerland; probably wasn't necessary, but next year our trip will include Rome and Naples. So we are a little more apprehensive.

Posted by
291 posts

I don’t use a money belt but do have one of those phone things someone listed above that you can latch a loop into. Then use a diaper pin to pin it to the inside of the purse unless you don’t mind the stabbing risk of regular pins. My loop isn’t the stretchy kind that one is but it’s long enough to use the phone without having to unpin it. It’s also a good way to keep from dropping the stupid thing, especially if holding it over water or a balcony, which is probably more likely than it getting stolen, for me anyway. The diaper pins also work well for the camera (I’m old fashioned like that) and the travel wallet I use that also has a loop thingy.

Posted by
152 posts

A Miracle! I was approached by a girl near Montmatre in Paris with a placard requesting money to eradicate rats I think. I said no thank you. She then motions to her ear as if she was deaf. I recall a group of women doing this years ago in Paris and pickpocketing one of our party for 40eu, and have read it is a common ploy. So I asked politely if she was a pickpocket. Her sister/partner working the same crowd then came over and said something to her - and it seemed as if a miracle had occurred and this deaf girl could now hear. In the vicinity I saw a girl was the spitting image of her, but younger begging for money, and then a block away, what seemed like their mother and baby sister also begging. Its great that the entire family can work in close proximity in the begging/thievery industry.

Posted by
315 posts

I have the Lewis N. Clark RFID Blocking Stash Neck Wallet, Travel Pouch + Passport Holder for Women & Men, Gray, One Size (that's the title from Amazon where I purchased it). I haven't had a chance to try it out, yet. It does hold my Samsung Galaxy S10 comfortably along with my passport, several credit cards and cash. It fits under my clothing. I have had three theft attempts in the past: one in Rome outside involving a backpack purse (never using that again!); the second, in Cannes, involved my purse on the floor of a restaurant under my table being "snaked" away. As I saw it "traveling". I managed to scream out something and the would-be-thief ran from the restaurant and through the kitchen; the third (and hopefully last) was in Barcelona. I was walking with my rolling suitcase to the train station when someone stepped on the heel of my shoe. As I turned around, he quickly pretended to be looking in a shop window. At the same time, I noticed another trying to unzip my suitcase. Again, I yelled and they split.

Posted by
9550 posts

@Lindy, that neck wallet will work well for deep storage of your passport and money.

I'm not sure where you are going in addition to London but you may find you need your phone in a more convenient spot. In France the Pass Sanitaire needs to be shown often and most people have it on their phones to be scanned. You'd not want to be getting in and out of deep storage every time you need to get your QR scanned. I did have my QR on my watch face which was handy and did not need to get out my phone unless the watch wouldn't scan.

Posted by
5774 posts

I keep reading this thread, and seeing the mis-adventures of the OP, both confirmed (successful or attempted) and perceived (people look or act shady), and I have to wonder if there is just something about some people that seem to attract pickpockets and scam artists.

I have probably been to Europe 20 times over 20 years, spending close to a year in total traveling, and yes, have had people approach me on the street for any number of reasons, been short changed, coerced into a tip for "showing" me my train, seen the bracelet guys in Paris, but nothing like this. The vast majority of my trips have been uneventful, and I rarely wear a money belt or neck pouch (usually only on travel days). I do also believe that as a tourist, you are likely targeted over a local, and tend to congregate in crowded places more often, and some simple precautions are warranted. But man, the OP seems to be suffering a trip of pickpocket obstacle course.

Posted by
6539 posts

Paul, good observation. I think that like muggers in the US, experienced PPs profile people and target those who look unaware of surroundings, and who look like they won't fight back. Tourist clothes and looking like a non-local, means you're likely to have more cash on you. Some of us just have a naturally dazed and confused look on our faces most of the time, while others look like trouble. I am striving to look more like a Russian tourist, where they'll leave you alone 🤨.

Posted by
152 posts

I don’t think it’s appropriate to be judgementsl. I have been to EU 12 times up to almost 3 months and I usually have one experience per trip. I was with my brother one trip who is a big fireman and he was targeted several times while I was not. Trouble usually happens in big tourist areas. So depends where you go and when. In talking to the aFrench police several times they are not surprised. So consider yourself lucky.

Posted by
1753 posts

At the risk of tempting fate, I've also been traveling to Europe for over 30 years, a lot of times solo.
In all that time, I was actually robbed only once, of my debit card.
Apart from that, there have been a few half hearted attempts to "get" me, but I am well aware of who is around me at any given time, and always walk away if I see something or someone who does not feel right.
I always have a plan, and never go out without my "deep storage" inside my tucked in clothing.
I think someone here was right, in that some people have open trusting faces, while a lot of us do look confident and maybe even
"like a Russian tourist".
Me.. I can put on a good "resting b.... face". ;))

Posted by
152 posts

Let me add this :
1. In the Paris metros now, at almost every station they are getting on the loudspeaker and warning people in French, English German Italian, Chinese, and Japanese to be aware of pickpockets
2. I have spoken to locals in Germany, Spain, Italy and France who all mentioned pickpockets. In fact, an Italian friend was actually robbed at knife point twice in Italy.
3. I have spoken to French police a number of times, and they act as if this is a regular thing.
4. If you go to Youtube, there are American tv shows which did hidden camera exposes of several scams and ripoffs
5. The French police in Strasbourg did a campaign recently where under cover police officers steal a bag or something from some tourists and then give it to them and tell them to be more careful.
6. Many locals carry their backpacks on the front of their bodies to prevent people from opening the bags from behind.

Posted by
2202 posts

I came across this company today https://www.clothingarts.com/ that sells what it calls pickpocket proof clothing. I can't vouch for them but it appears the pants come with a combination of zippers and flaps to dissuade thieves. My travel pant of choice is from Eddie Bauer and has zippered pockets on the front(ish) below the main front pockets. The only thing of value I carry that isn't hidden is my phone which I keep handy because of the camera. I decided the zippered pockets were better than nothing. But it's always had me wondering if a zipper will be enough to keep the most bold of thieves away. It's obvious my phone is in there.

Posted by
6539 posts

Alan I have a pair of those pants, because I like having and using multiple zippered pockets. Its a deterrent, so that PPs move on to easier pickings, not completely theft-proof. But they do look too "tactical" for many people.

Posted by
422 posts

Alan, I mentioned the ClothingArts line of pants for men earlier in this post. We (me convincing hubby) just bought the Explorer jeans as well as the Explorer travel chino because hubby doesn't need all the pockets in the Adventure line of pants from that company. All he really needs is a secure pocket for phone, as well as cash for the day + one credit card. I thought the jeans would look "fake" (think dorky), but they look like regular jeans. Although the pants from the company are pricey, it provides added security and peace of mind. They are on sale right now.
Hopefully, if we are targeted by pickpockets, nothing will be taken even though we will be in Rome and Naples next year. And yes, I expect our "age group" to be more highly susceptible.

Posted by
118 posts

The good news is that the pick pockets in Europe are normally not violent. They don't mug people. Our tour guide in Spain explained to us that if a pick pocket uses physical violence they will go to jail. If they just lift something out of your pocket they just get a slap on the wrist if they are caught, and normally they aren't apprehended. This isn't to say that their behavior isn't excruciating to their victims. My experience with a would be pick pocket in Amsterdam was very interesting. This was a middle age woman, well dressed, and very friendly and fluent in English. She asked me if I was English, I said, no I'm American. She wanted to know how much my ticket cost for the museum entrance and I showed her the paper in my hand which was a printout of the ticket. She just walked away without looking at it. I think she wanted me to open my pac-safe purse which was secured with a bunch of locks. Maybe I am paranoid.

Posted by
2417 posts

On the other hand, I always put a "fake" wallet in my back pocket with $1 in it. Just so any "friends" will have a target.

I've been carrying that damn wallet around Europe for a decade now.

On this last trip I finally gave in to my wife's advice and got a small shoulder bag. Makes life much easier and you keep in in front or on the side, NOT on your back.

Posted by
263 posts

We've been pretty lucky. However, at Termini Station, we couldn't get rid of some young, tall, handsome guy who wanted to help us with our train tickets. By the third time we moved machines and I'd told my sister to watch everything closely and said, once again, "No thank you, we've got it." in my bumbling Italian, he finally moved away. We were fine but I don't think he was any good Samaritan.

Posted by
2417 posts

What is the scam with those ticket "helpers"? I've seen them several times, do they pocket tickets or something?

Posted by
2418 posts

I believe the scam is that they take advantage of your language inability and use your cash to buy you a ticket that is wrong and costs less than what you have given them, pocketing the difference. And, of course, possible distraction pick-pocketing.

Posted by
5774 posts

I have been approached at a machine by an individual having an "extra" ticket they were looking to sell...no thanks, the ticket could be a used one, or the wrong one.

I don't think a scam, but at the Palermo, Sicily airport; the ticket attendant at the manned booth repeatedly would go out and holler at people approaching the ticket machine to come over to him. Maybe he was just concerned about his job, but I also noticed in Naples, for the Circumvesuvia, the manned booths have a "flexible" ticket price. The normal ticket to Sorrento is 3.60 euro, but they may try to charge you 4 euro...or even 5 per ticket. (There is an "express" that is more). I suppose it is to their benefit that tickets are cash only and no working ticket machines in sight.

Posted by
20849 posts

I think in some cases the ticket-buying "assistants" are fishing for tips.