5 ways to avoid pickpockets

Published April 26th, 2013

A friend of mine became a pickpocket victim recently. On a crowded train on the way to the Lourve in Paris, a man pushed up against her as if he was trying to get passed. She turned to try and let him through. And as she did, unbeknownst to her, he took her wallet with him. Once she realised her satchel bag had been unzipped and unfastened, he’d already made a run for it, spending a total of $2000 (at a beauty department store of all things) within the time it took for her to find a phone and call her credit card company.



It’s a shock to the system that many travellers don’t see coming. Even making practical precautions such as zipping and fastening a bag sometimes aren’t enough to stop such criminals. More often than not, they are professional pickpockets, working in teams and using a range of methods to fool travellers. For my friend it was the ‘crush and grab’ method, commonly used by a group of crooks on a train or bus to crowd you and, while you’re trying to find your feet, pinch your wallet before you even know what has happened. There are many other methods used, most of which use distraction to take your mind off your belongings, if only for a minute. But there are ways to foil the crooks. Here we run through 5 ways to avoid becoming a victim of a pickpocket.


Look like a local, walk like a local

With locals much more savy to the dodgy areas and pickpocket schemes, professional pickpockets tend to target tourists only. Particularly ones that don’t speak the local language, look lost and are cashed-up; like a big bag of money wandering aimlessly, ready to be snatched up. So as a starting point, try your best to look like a local. Look as if you know where you’re going (even if you’re lost), never bring out a map in public (go into a store of café to do so or look on your phone) and try and dress like a local (no board-shorts and thongs in Paris). On the subway, keep your head down and act bored like everyone else.


Don’t sign anything!

It sounds a little anti-social and not very charitable but when locals approach you in the street to sign a petition – keep walking. More often than not, particularly in Europe, these are just scams to distract you while someone else swoops in to steal your wallet or whatever else they can find. So if someone approaches you on the street, just keep walking and kindly decline.



Don’t give them a pocket to pick

The best way to avoid a pickpocket, is to not give them a pocket to pick. Keep your wallet and valuables in a pocket that isn’t easily accessed, wear a money belt or keep you hands in your pocket at all times. To get them really off the scent, some people swear by keeping a dummy wallet in their back pocket, fooling the pickpocket into thinking they’ve struck gold, when really they’ve gotten away with nothing but a cheap and empty wallet. For handbags, always store your wallet at the bottom of your bag, zip it up and carry it tightly under your arm in front of you if possible.


Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Take heed from the old saying and don’t keep all of your eggs (money) in one basket (your wallet). Instead, spread your cash around. Carry some in your wallet, in your bag, in your suitcase and store it in a safe or locker at your accommodation. Spreading it around means if one stash does get stolen you will at least have access to money to continue on with your trip.



Keep your wits about you at ATMS

When withdrawing cash, be extra aware of your surroundings. If the ATM looks dodgy or is in a dark and dodgy looking area, don’t use it. Opt for the one that’s in full light or inside a shopping centre or hotel. It also goes without saying, don’t talk to anyone while using the ATM. Once again, pickpockets may use the distraction technique while you’re trying to withdraw money. In any case, ignore any conversation starters until you’ve received the money. Walk away with it in your hand and in your pocket until you find a private place to store it properly.



Lauren Burvill

Australian born but London based, I'm a sucker for big cities and small tropical islands. When travelling, I like eating like a local, dressing like a local, but staying in 5 star style. Have a travel story to share? Tweet me @laurenburvill.