Unfortunately, pickpockets are everywhere! At the local mall, on college campuses, and almost every travel destination. “How to avoid pickpockets” is even one of the top searches on Google. I was even the victim of a an attempted pickpocket scam in Italy. Thankfully I was alert and picked up on their activities. So their attempt failed miserably.
To avoid falling victim to pickpocketing teams, it’s important to stay alert and aware of your surroundings at all times. Keep your belongings close to your body, and be wary of anyone who seems overly friendly or eager to help. Trust your instincts, and if something seems suspicious, move away from the situation and seek assistance from a trustworthy individual or authority figure.
Practical tips to avoid pickpockets
Pickpocketing is a common problem in many tourist destinations. As I mentioned earlier, a tourist city like Rome is a bullseye for pickpockets .But there are some easy to do things that can greatly reduce your odds of becoming a victim of pickpocketing:
- Keep your valuables out of sight: Avoid wearing flashy jewelry, expensive watches, or carrying large amounts of cash. Keep your valuables in a secure money belt or a cross-body bag that you can keep close to your body.
- Be aware of your surroundings: Stay alert in crowded areas, especially when people are jostling or bumping into you. Pickpockets often work in teams, with one person distracting you while another steals your belongings.
- Keep your bag close to your body: Wear your bag across your body, with the flap facing inward, and keep it in front of you where you can see it. Don’t leave your bag unattended, even for a moment. We use and highly recommend the bestselling HERO Neck Wallet, on sale here – it includes RFID shielding, holds a large amount of items and can be comfortably worn under your shirt.
- Use extra caution in tourist areas: Pickpockets often target popular tourist attractions, public transportation, and busy shopping areas. Be extra cautious in these areas, and keep a close eye on your belongings.
- Trust your instincts: If something feels off or uncomfortable, it’s best to move away from the situation. Avoid confrontations with suspicious individuals, and seek help from authorities or other trustworthy individuals if needed.
How a pickpocket scam works
Pickpockets often work in teams to distract and steal from their victims. That was my experience in Rome. Here’s how it typically works:
- One member of the team will act as a “distraction,” using various techniques to divert your attention away from your belongings. For example, they may bump into you, spill something on you, or ask you for directions or help.
- While you are distracted by the distraction, another member of the team will take advantage of the opportunity to steal your wallet or other valuables. They may quickly unzip a bag or reach into a pocket to take what they want.
- The team will often work together to create a sense of chaos and confusion, making it more difficult for you to notice that your belongings are missing until it’s too late.
My personal pickpocket experience in Rome, Italy
Many years ago while wandering the streets of Rome, Italy I noticed an elderly man, very well dressed (including sport coat and high end Italian loafers) was following me. As I hoped onto a city bus, so did he. He stood near me and after a few moments, and as the bus came to slight jerky stop, he took the opportunity to aggressively bump into me.
But knowing what his intentions were, I shoved him back just as aggressively and stated “pardon.” He appeared to have a small pocket knife to attempt to slice through the pant pocket (which was zipped secure) located on the side of my cargo pants. He appeared shocked that I realized what he was up to, placed the small pocket knife into his pant pocket, and apologized profusely as he quickly jumped off the bus and melted back into the Roman streetscape to seek another victim.
Thankfully the material was difficult to cut, the pocket zippered shut, and I was psyched up to respond accordingly. But you may not always be. Afterall, you’re on vacation and trying to relax. That’s why it’s critical to get 24/7 backup via a secure travel pouch, wallet, or daypack.
Which pockets do pickpockets steal from exactly?
Pickpockets can steal your wallet from a variety of places, especially if they have a small knife to cut through fabric. But some common areas include:
- Back pockets: Your back pockets are an easy target for pickpockets, especially if you’re wearing loose or baggy pants. Develop a common practice of NOT carrying your wallet in your backpocket while travelling.
- Front pockets: Front pockets are generally safer than back pockets, but they can still be vulnerable if they’re not zipped or buttoned shut.
- Shoulder bags: Shoulder bags that hang loosely by your side can be an easy target for pickpockets, especially if the bag is unzipped or unsecured.
- Backpacks: Backpacks are a popular choice for travelers, but they can be vulnerable to pickpocketing if they’re not worn properly or if they’re left unattended.
Where pickpockets operate
In general, pickpockets tend to target crowded tourist areas, public transportation systems, and other places where large numbers of people are concentrated. Rome, Paris, etc. and their public squares, buses, and subways are top of the list. To minimize the risk of falling victim to pickpocketing, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times, keep your valuables secure and out of sight, and take other precautions such as carrying a travel pouch that hangs comfortably from your neck or using a cross-body bag.
It’s difficult to pinpoint a single country that has the most pickpockets, as pickpocketing is a common problem in many densely populated urban areas around the world. However, some travel destinations with high rates of pickpocketing include Barcelona, Rome, Paris, and Prague, among others.
While pickpocketing is generally less common in the United States than in some other parts of the world, it is rampant in certain cities, particularly in areas that attract large crowds of tourists or where there are significant economic disparities. Some cities where you should definitely be alert for, and proactively prepare for, pickpocketing are:
- New York City: As one of the most densely populated cities in the world, New York is a prime location for pickpockets to target. Times Square is pickpocket central in the USA with Central Park and the subway system right behind.
- Las Vegas: As a major tourist destination, Las Vegas can attract pickpockets who prey on distracted or intoxicated visitors. Crowded casinos, nightclubs, and other entertainment venues may be particularly vulnerable. If you spend hours transfixed on gaming tables and machines, then I’m sorry to report – you’re targe #1 for pickpockets.
- San Francisco: Crime is out of control in the formerly beautiful city by the bay. Tourists in San Francisco are now aggressively targeted by pickpockets in popular areas such as Fisherman’s Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge, China Town, and on the cable car system. It’s gotten so bad in the past two years that we even took San Francisco off our travel list.
- Los Angeles: Los Angeles is a sprawling city with many tourist attractions. In truth, it’s one of my favorite cities in the USA. But areas such as Hollywood Boulevard and Venice Beach can be particularly vulnerable to pickpockets. But steer clear of West Hollywood at all costs.
Hopefully, you now know how to avoid pickpockets. Take this information to heart and, most importantly, take action to protect yourself and your valuables (and by extension your family). A first step is to take advantage of new RFID technologies and fabric/zipper designs that make it difficult for pickpockets to operate. So we highly suggest getting a HERO Neck Wallet.
And remember, by taking these precautions, you can minimize the risk of pickpocketing and enjoy your travels with greater peace of mind.
Discover the ins and outs of wandering the world with our product reviews and travel tips, including what’s the best daypack, what are the best shoes for travelling, what’s the best souvenir, and by subscribing to Kenn Dodson’s Wanderlust Travelogue at kenndodson.com.