It’s easy to be deceived by a pickpocket, especially if you’re traveling solo. The sneakiest pickpockets are the ones who appear to be well-dressed business people, according to a 2017 USA Today article by travel writer Rick Steves. Some even appear to be tourists. “Don’t be fooled by impressive uniforms, femme fatales, or hard-luck stories,” Steves wrote. In order to protect your money while traveling, you need to know what common scams you might fall prey to.
Click through to learn about some of the most common pickpocketing schemes, and what you shouldn’t keep in your wallet in case you are pickpocketed.
The Crush and Grab Technique
The website for the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in France cautions travelers to be aware and watch their wallets when they are waiting for the metro. One common pickpocketing technique is for a waiting traveler to be swarmed and pushed upon by a group of people who appear to be trying to get on or off the transit system. During the confusion, someone in the group will pickpocket the person’s belongings.
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The Grab and Hop Off Technique
Another tourist scheme that’s common in France is for the pickpocket to grab the purse or belongings of someone sitting right by the door of the metro and hop off right when the doors are closing. The U.S. Embassy in France recommends that travelers sit away from the doors and make efforts to keep their pockets and purses inaccessible.
The Sandwich Technique
In the sandwich technique, two pickpocketers are involved, plus the victim. One finds a way to position himself in front of the victim and one gets in back. For example, this could occur when the victim is walking on a crowded street. Suddenly, the person in front of the victim stops short. When the victim stops short as well, the person in back, aka the pickpocket, bumps into the victim and lifts the victim’s wallet in the process.
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The Staging a Fight Scheme
Imagine walking up to a crowd surrounding a couple of people fighting. Chances are you would be at least distracted enough to take note of what was happening before moving on. Some people, however, would stop indefinitely and stare — curious to see what might happen next. Those are the people who are the perfect victims for pickpockets. During the time that people in the crowd are focused on the staged fight, another person is slipping among them picking their pockets.
The Sweet, Innocent Child Scheme
Nobody but the most cynical of people want to believe the worst of a child — especially one that just seems to want a few seconds of attention. That’s why children are commonly used to distract a mark by showing them a toy or a piece of artwork so that their companions can pick the unsuspecting person’s pockets.
The Feigning Affection Scheme
Sometimes a female pickpocket will actually spend a little time with her mark to get what she wants. She’ll approach an unattached man and pretend to be drunk and uninhibited. In the process, the woman will move in close, feign affection and use the opportunity to lift the man’s wallet or watch before finding an opportunity to slip away.
The Pretending to Need Help Technique
It’s not uncommon for a person to stop and help when they witness another person drop their grocery bags, purse contents or other belongings. Sadly, sometimes this type of situation is staged, and the person’s efforts to do a good deed sets up the perfect opportunity for a pickpocket to strike. When the good Samaritan leans over to lend what he thinks is a helping hand, the pickpocket lifts his wallet.
The Offering to Help Technique
People who appear to be struggling with shopping bags or luggage in crowded areas like airports or train stations are easy marks for pickpockets. All the pickpocket has to do is to kindly offer to help the person by carrying something for them. Then, at the first opportunity, the pickpocket disappears into the crowd, taking the unsuspecting person’s belongings with them.
The ATM Withdrawal Technique
ATM schemes are common because the mark is already distracted. One scheme is to watch where the mark puts her money after she retrieves it from the ATM. This makes it easier for the pickpocket to lift the money once the victim walks away.
The Dropped Cash Scheme
Another cash-machine scheme involves two team members. One team member watches the victim enter his PIN number into the ATM and makes note of the number. The other member slyly drops some cash on the ground and then asks the victim if it’s his. When the victim reaches down to pick it up, the pickpocket grabs the victim’s ATM card from the machine.
The pickpocket relies on the assumption that the victim will think the ATM automatically sucked in their card while they left the machine idle. The pickpocketing pair then heads to the nearest ATM and withdraw some cash with the victim’s card.
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The Scooter Snatch-Theft Technique
In London, theft by scooter is a common occurrence, according to BobArno.com. A scooter can maneuver easily throughout city streets, which makes it ideal for this technique. Two people ride a scooter, covered in jackets and full helmets. They approach their victim from behind — usually a person who is standing or walking along a sidewalk or street while talking on a mobile phone or holding a purse or shopping bag. As the team rides by the victim on the scooter, the rider on the back reaches out and snatches the person’s mobile phone or bag. Then the scooter speeds away.
The Cut and Run Technique
This aggressive scheme can happen in seconds, spilling the contents of your purse onto the ground. All the pickpocket has to do is use a sharp knife to slash the straps of your purse. Once the contents spill, he can grab what he wants — or the entire purse — and run.
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The Cover-Up Scheme
When dining at a cafe or restaurant, beware of strangers who approach your table with a map or other large item that could be used as a prop to take advantage of you. For example, the pickpocket could hover the map over your table in an attempt to ask for directions. At the same time that the pickpocket appears to be innocently asking for directions, they’re also slyly grabbing your valuables that are on the table underneath the map, such as a mobile phone.
The Photo-Op Scheme
This scheme requires a team of two to pull it off: One to distract the victim and one to lift the victim’s belongings. For example, one of the team members approaches a person lounging on a beach or sitting on a bench at one of the area’s popular tourist attractions and asks if they will take a photo of them. When the victim willingly takes the camera and steps away from their belongings to oblige, the other team member takes the opportunity to steal what the victim temporarily left behind.
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