I’ve been had… I was pissed. After ordering a beer in Seville, Spain I soon realized that I did not have any money to pay my bill. What I thought never would happen to me, happened. I had been pickpocketed. I have read all of the stories about how people get pickpocketed and was determined that it wouldn’t happen to me.
I even had a fake wallet, so that if someone did take my things, they wouldn’t get anything valuable. I thought back to my previous activities and realized where it happened. I am pretty sure happened at an Internet cafe by a beautiful woman who I had casually flirted with at the computer screen next to me. I was an easy target… I was totally distracted.
Travel Scams, Pickpockets, Thieves And More
Getting pickpocketed can happen to anyone and it can ruin your trip. Luckily for me, it was not a big deal. This is because I was wearing a money belt under my clothes(as mentioned in my previous “what to pack” post).
My passport, debit cards, and credit cards were safe. The only thing that the pickpocket took was a small amount of cash that I had in my front pocket (approximately 30 euros worth). While it sucked to be out the 30 euros, I cannot imagine what I would have done if someone had stolen my passport and credit cards. As for the bartender, she was kind enough to provide me a cost-free drink once I described my circumstance.
Your Money Belt:
Europe is a very safe place when it comes to violent crimes. Sadly, nonetheless, the story is different when it comes to petty criminal offenses (like theft as well as pickpockets). The good news is pickpockets can be almost completely avoided with the use of a money belt.
Your money belt is a great place to store all your valuables that you don’t want to worry about getting stolen. Simply place the money belt under your clothes and it will be out of reach of pickpockets. When I travel, I never take my money belt off (except for when I shower where it is kept in the same room).
If you are going swimming, it is advised that you keep your money belt locked up in your bag at your hostel or hotel rather than hidden in a shoe or underclothes at the swimming site. It is also advised to keep a small amount of money outside of your money belt(generally enough for a full day) so that you do not have to keep taking out your money belt throughout the day.
If you are backpacking through Europe, chances are you are going to be taking a train (probably several). Night trains are a great way to travel and save money by not having to book a place for the night. If taking any train (especially a night train), you must watch your belongings closely. In some European countries, there have been rumors about thieves who gas train compartments.
The traveler after that wakes up with its belonging (including cash belt) missing. While the credibility of these reports is challenged, it is clear that numerous burglars take advantage of guests that doze off on the night trains. Many compartment doors do not lock and on ones that do, the quality of the lock (along with who has the master keys to the lock) is questionable.
On some trains, you can use the bike lock to lock your train compartment shut (by locking the door handle to the luggage rack) or on other trains, you can lock your bag to the luggage rack (or your seat). If choosing to lock your compartment with a bike lock make sure that you can easily awake for the conductor or border patrol agents in case they need to see your ticket.
Other times its best to sleep on top of your belongings and place all of your valuables (including your money belt) into your locked bag.
Also, be aware when traveling on trains that make several shortstops. Shortstops make it easy for crooks to run on and off the trains quickly grabbing your things right before the train starts to move to its next destination.
The Frog Hop:
I was walking around in a popular street in Budapest when two beautiful women with eastern European accents stopped and asked us for directions. After we explained that we were not from the area they asked us if we wanted to get some drinks. Sensing something fishy, I politely declined and continued on my journey.
Later on, I was told by a local working at the hostel I stayed at what the scam was. It starts when a beautiful woman (or two) ask if you want to have a drink with them. They then will take you to a place that they know. They will ask you to buy a drink or buy them a drink. The trap is set. When the bill comes it will be outrageously high. Two bouncers will stand by the exit to prevent your escape. What happens if you can’t pay the bill? The bouncers will march you down to the local ATM and make you pay up.
How to avoid this:
This scam gets many tourists every year. It is easily avoidable. Be wary of any strangers that you meet on the street. If you do meet someone on the street and decide to have a drink, make sure that you choose the place.
When traveling in eastern European countries stay away from strip clubs. Even without the woman inviting you for a drink, this scam can still happen (and is especially known to happen in strip clubs). No matter where you are you should always know the price of something before you order.
Chances are if you are going to be ripped off while traveling (anywhere in the world) it will be with Taxis. Crooked taxi drivers (like other crooks) routinely target tourists. Since you have to speak with them before getting to the destination, it is very clear to them that you are a tourist.
Fortunately getting scammed by taxi drivers is very easily avoidable. Whenever possible make sure that you take taxi services from designated taxi stands (available at most airports). NEVER accept a ride from anyone claiming to be a taxi that does not have an official taxi car. Always ask what the fare is before accepting the ride. If the taxi driver will not tell you, get out and find a different taxi. If you are unsure what the proper price should be, ask somebody, not with your taxi company.
Always beware when using an ATM (no matter where you are). If your card gets jammed in the machine do not leave it there. A common scam is for crooks to put a sticky substance or special device over the card slot.
When you put your card in, the card would get stuck. You think that the ATM ate your card and walk away, then the crook comes and retrieves your ATM card. Before putting your card in any ATM be on the lookout for signs that the slot has been tampered with. If your card gets stuck and you cannot get it out call the card company immediately to have it canceled.
You have already learned how to stop pickpockets from taking your most valuable possessions (through use of the money belt). You should also know the different methods that Pickpockets often use to fool their victims.
Pickpockets often use very clever methods to get people’s belongings when they are caught off guard. In one case in London, pickpockets would stand by a sign that says “Beware of Pickpockets”. When people checked their valuables to make sure they had not been taken, pickpockets would know exactly where to look to score big. In other instances, pickpockets have squirted ketchup or another liquid on their victims.
They then apologize and help the victim clean it off only to steal the victim’s valuables in the process. In Italy, there have been stories of Gypsies who would throw their fake babies at you catching you off guard. When you catch the baby, someone else pickpockets you.
How to avoid this:
Like I said before. The best way to avoid pickpockets is to use a money belt. It is however understandable that you cannot keep everything in your money belt (things like cameras and other bulky items). The best way to avoid pickpockets is to always be aware that they are there. Whenever you are in crowded places always keep your valuables in a locked bag or keep your hands on them at all times. If you do not have a lock on your bag, wear your bag in the front instead of the back.
I could go on for days listing different types of scams that I hear about. This article is not meant to scare you but instead meant to keep you informed of the type of crime that exists when traveling. While it is true that petty crime like theft is much more prevalent in Europe than many other places the truth is if you take a few extra precautions chances are you will be just fine.
Pickpockets and most criminals look for easy targets, by staying aware and following the simple steps given, you can significantly reduce the chances of getting your stuff stolen.
We would love to hear your suggestions about travel scams. Share your personal experiences in the comment box.