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How to Avoid Pickpockets

Yesterday, I wrote about the time I was pickpocketed.  Since then, I’ve kept a running checklist in my mind of things to pay attention to while out.  I think this has helped me not get pickpocketed, especially in a situation where I was juggling a lot of things.   So here is my pickpocket guide.

1. Looks Can Be Deceiving, Assume Everyone Might Pickpocket You

When we think of thieves, we think of shady individuals or people who look like this.

pick pocket pickpocketing guide

But anyone can be a pickpocket.  That sweet old woman.  The two teenage girls looking at sites.  Most of the pick pockets I came across in Paris were young women.   But assuming anyone could be a pickpocket is the first step towards protecting yourself.  Whenever anyone goes near my purse or pocket or luggage, I’m in defensive mode.  Even small children.  Especially after the last episode of <spoiler>.

2. They Will Try to Occupy Your Hands

A few sweet girls want you to sign a petition that sounds pretty compelling.  But they probably just want to occupy your hands so they can occupy your wallet.

I recommend against signing petitions when traveling.  Why do they care what a foreigner thinks?

But the one that gets me is when people ask me to take a picture of them.

I don’t want to be rude, and a lot of the time, these people are legitimate  But sometimes, someone could be handing you (what turns out to be) a broken camera/phone to fumble with for a second.  Then your wallet is gone.

What I do now is signal for the person to wait a moment.  I look like I’m shifting my stuff around so that my hands are free (putting my phone away, etc).  What I’m actually doing is making sure everything is secure before grabbing their camera.

3. They Will Try to Get You Used to Them

When someone’s face pops up on tour after tour, or when you see someone often in your hotel lobby, they start to become familiar, and you will trust them more.  Studies have actually shown that people will trust other people in their immediate radius more than those further away–even though they don’t know them at all.

So we can let our guard down when someone is familiar and thieves know that.  Don’t let the fact that you’ve “seen someone around” cause you to let your guard down!

4. They Will Distract You (in possibly painful ways)

My story involved someone spilling my coffee on me.  Thieves will bump into you, spill your coffee on you, spill their coffee on you… basically, anything to get you to throw your hands up to protect yourself or clean yourself up.

When traveling, you need to resist your natural instinct to do that.  If someone walks into you, your hand needs to protect your wallet, purse, or any other expensive item that is exposed.

I’ve had one person walk into me with their coffee since.  I immediately checked everything I had rather than focus on my (now wet) clothing.  I don’t think he intended to do that and I don’t think he was a pickpocket, but see rule #1!

This is more of a pickpocket guide.  I’m working on a follow-up post on how to organize yourself to help protect against pickpockets as well.

What have you observed about pickpockets?  What should people watch out for?

About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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  1. I was in Rome last year on the subway, it was very crowded and I was wearing a down vest and had my cell phone in the vest pocket and not in my backpack (where it should have been, which I was wearing on my front). Anyway, I was standing and guy got in next to me and his stubbly face was rubbing against my arm – very distracting. The doors opened at the next stop and the guy got off, then another guy says (in English) “Hey mister that guy took your phone!” I jumped off the subway, and grabbed the guy and was yelling at him to give me back my phone and patted down his pockets, but nothing! So, either they were working in cahoots and the guy who stayed on the subway had my phone, or I just didn’t persist enough with the guy I grabbed, or I totally offended some innocent subway rider on his daily commute. Anyway, I had picked up my phone specifically for internet use on the trip. It was obnoxious losing it, but I called my wife back in the states and had her change all my passwords, and sent the code to disable the phone and wound up getting repaid for the cost of the phone thanks to AMEX purchase protection. Long story short – don’t let your guard down for a minute and keep your valuables protected.

  2. don’t pat your pocket where your money is after reading a sign telling to beware of pickpockets, gives the pockets where to strike

  3. Good reason to use travel vests with lots of inside pockets.

  4. ~~Assume Everyone Might Pickpocket You~~

    wow. not a very good way to look at the world. sure, it happens. but so minimally in the grand scheme. i’d rather assume everyone was kind and honest.

    • Jeanne Marie Hoffman

      Perhaps I overstated–what I mean is, so many pickpocketers are trust-worthy looking. So many people got robbed by young women in Paris when I was there. I wouldn’t treat everyone as a criminal, but I also wouldn’t let them all near my wallet!

  5. Whenever there is any kind of commotion, I keep an especially close eye on my belongings. There was a guy who looked like he may get sick on the Paris subway, and I was sure this was a ploy to distract people while a friend pick pocketed someone.

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