Previously, 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’s how to prevent pickpocketing.
1. Looks Can Be Deceiving, Anyone Might Pickpocket You
When we think of thieves, we think of shady individuals or people who look like this.
But anyone can be a pickpocket. That sweet old woman. The two teenage girls looking at sites. Most of the pickpockets 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 with my items. I’m not rude to them nor do I assume they are actually a pickpocket. But I make sure my items are in the right place to prevent pickpocketing
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 to prevent pickpocketing (even though they probably aren’t a pickpocket!).
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!
Pickpockets will join a tour in a museum, so by the end of the tour, everyone feels pretty comfortable with them. Suddenly, they may bump into someone on the tour–but the tourist they bumped doesn’t worry because it’s someone they “know”.
You don’t “know” anyone on your tour. One of them can be a pickpocket.
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!
5. Make Sure You Have the Right Gear to Prevent Pickpocketing
Tote bags are cute and easy to use on the beach but are so easy to pickpocket.
You want something that zips up–but ideally, you want a bit more than that. Pickpockets can unzip your bag on the side and grab items out.
When I have a regular zipped up bag, I keep the zipper side across my chest. I’ll notice if someone goes for the zipper there.
But most of the time when I’m traveling, I carry a sling bag that is pretty pickpocket proof. The zippers lock into place and the fabric is slash-proof. The pockets also have RFID protection to prevent skimming in addition to preventing pickpocketing.
6. Don’t Tell Them Where Your Wallet Is
I was going up the Eiffel Tower to get dinner with my mother when they announced, “Warning: Pickpockets on the loose. Many people report missing wallets.”
After the announcement, a woman pointed at me and said to her husband, I think that girl is a pickpocket. I heard they are young girls. She was walking near you before. Make sure you have your hand on your wallet.
I walked closer to them, and I heard the man say to his wife. “Don’t worry, my hand is currently on my wallet. She’s near.”
Don’t do that. If I was a pickpocket, he just told me where his wallet was. That’s not how you prevent pickpocketing.
But knowing these things, keep your eyes open. I spotted those girls with the petitions and knew not to go near them.
7. How to Spot Them and Prevent Pickpocketing
And I found the real thieves in the Eiffel Tower.
Two girls kept walking back and forth between the same two spots and excitedly pointed out the same landmarks to each other.
I noticed this and watched as one started following my mom. I called my mom towards me to “look at something” (she didn’t know why), and she came with the girl following her. Even when we walked away again, the girl followed.
We were obviously tourists, but we are both seasoned city dwellers and left nothing to chance. There was no easy way to grab any of our possessions and we were safe. But I don’t think the pickpocket knew that yet.
I stopped my mom abruptly and suddenly the girl stopped to see something. We crossed over–she made it after too. Soon I was staring at her like a hawk until she wandered away.
Paranoid? Maybe I sound paranoid. But I saw her again soon after. In a cop car, with her friend, outside.
The Bottom Line
All in all, use common sense to prevent pickpocketing. I read up on different personal stories about pickpocketing and they all have the same theme. “I only put my iPhone in my coat pocket for a moment and it was gone!”
There should be no moment. One person was pickpocketed twice, and both of them involved “just for a second!”
I use a zippered purse and I store my purse under my armpit. If I need something from it, I move the purse in front of me, use both hands, and keep it secured through the strap. It’s one extra step that can prevent pickpocketing.
I never have two things in my hand. If I need my wallet, my cell phone is never out. If I need to grab my cell phone, my camera is in. I am only juggling one item at a time and I always have two hands on it.
And I have done very well for myself. I’ve only been pickpocketed once. And I was nineteen and it was very orchestrated. I didn’t wait to put my change in my purse at a coffee shop. I shoved them in my pants pocket for “just one second” and someone “accidentally” walked into me and spilled my hot coffee all over me. A commotion later and my money was gone.
To be honest, I wish they just told me “we’ll spill hot coffee on you to get $16” because I would have just given them the $16 to not have those burns.
What have you observed about pickpockets? What should people watch out for to prevent pickpocketing?
Please note, this post contains an Amazon affiliate link. If you purchase anything through my links, I will receive affiliate credit. As always, I appreciate the support!