Pickpocketing isn’t something – thankfully! – that we have to worry about too much in New Zealand. However it is definitely a problem in many countries around the world, and particularly bad in countries like Brazil, Vietnam, Italy and Spain. In these countries pickpocketing is an ancient profession whose practitioners have perfected their skills to an art form. Some are so good at what they do that you won’t feel it happen and you may not even know when they had the chance to do so!
Here are a few of the more common pickpocket ruses and what you can do to combat them:
Pickpockets often work in teams using all kinds of ruses to get at your wallet. A classic ruse for teams is the stall where one person will suddenly stop or change direction in front of you causing you to bump into them. This may seem innocent enough but it’s the person who bumps into you from behind who is doing the pinching.
The helpful stranger
Another team speciality is where one member poses as a friendly local offering to give directions or point out some of the local attractions on a map. All they’re doing is providing a distraction to allow another team member to search your bag or lift your wallet.
The crowd press
A particular favourite of the lone pickpocket who takes advantage of the tightly-pressed bodies in a market place or sports crowd to lift your valuables. The constant bumping of all other people around you will mask their attack.
The hidden hand
Another speciality of the lone pickpocket is the hidden hand. Often used on buses or trains, the thief will use a newspaper or other prop as a mask for a snake-like hand that sneaks into your bag or pocket. Some pickpockets will even use a fake arm in a sling or bag to free up their hidden hand.
A rather extreme version is where a team member will ’drop’ or toss something valuable; like a baby for example, in front of you. They’re hoping you will drop your bag or become distracted enough for an accomplice to rob you from behind. Usually the ’baby’ will turn out to be a doll.
Okay, so those are a few of the pickpockets’ techniques. What can you do to minimise the chances of getting your pockets picked? Here are a couple of ideas:
Wear a money belt
While money belts are not foolproof, they are harder to steal than a wallet or purse, as they are looped around your body. Wear one UNDER a layer of clothing and they’re not as obvious to thieves, as well as being more difficult to steal.
Pickpockets love to approach from behind so if you wear your bag or money belt on the front of your body you’re forcing a pickpocket to risk exposure by attacking in plain view.
Use your shoes
There’s no law that says you have to keep your credit card in your wallet or purse; what about keeping it in a shoe instead?
Try blending in
Sure, you’re a tourist but you don’t have to advertise the fact. If you dress more like the locals and don’t stand around in public places gawping vacantly at maps then you’re not putting up a neon sign to pickpockets that you’re a possible ’mark’.
Leave your valuables behind
Having your wallet or purse stolen is bad enough but having your passport pinched is a total holiday-ruining experience. Getting a replacement is an expensive, time-consuming and stressful exercise that you do not need to suffer through in your life. Ever. Therefore, you shouldn’t take valuables like your passport out and about with you if you can avoid it. Many hotel rooms have a safe in them that you can use although they are certainly not foolproof, as many travellers will tell you. Your hotel might have its own safe which should be a bit more secure or you could hire one from somewhere like a bank or railway station.