5 Top Tips for Avoiding Pickpockets Abroad

October 27, 2015 by Rhodri Andrews

Getting your valuables stolen is a traveller’s worst nightmare. That horrible moment when you realise your spending money has been snatched or your photo-packed camera pinched simply spells disaster for most. Admit it: just the thought of it is sending shivers down your spine. That said, the likelihood of you encountering a petty thief is pretty slim – though it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. So if you’re wondering how to beat those pesky pickpockets while partying in Rio de Janeiro or cruising through Cape Town, read on…

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Keep your mind on your money

We’re not saying feel for your purse constantly but make sure you’re aware of your belongings’ whereabouts. If you’re looking to head to Buenos Aires, beware of the ‘mustard scam’: a team of two will work together to “spill” mustard on you, while the other will conveniently offer to clean it. Next thing you know, your bag is gone. Firmly refuse help, or walk away, and you’ll be untroubled. Distraction techniques are commonplace in tourist hotspots: Begging gypsies, people bumping into you and crowding you on the Metro are other popular methods scammers like to employ. In these situations, know where your valuables are at all times.

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Turn your bag into The Krypton Factor

People with half-open bags slung over their shoulder are welcome targets for pickpockets – don’t be one of them. Make sure your belongings are impossible to get: we’re talking 15 zips on your handbag, wrapped up tightly in your coat or even tucked underneath your clothing. This will mean thieves, particularly common on the choked-up streets of Hanoi, will find themselves leaving empty-handed. They hate a challenge: if they don’t see it as an easy steal and fear there’s a chance they could be caught, they won’t bother you.

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Act like a local

If you’re stood gawping at train routes or bus timetables then you’re immediately going to stand out as a tasty prospect for a petty criminal. Do your homework before you leave the hotel so your journey is seamless and you look like you’ve been using the public transport for years. That way you’ll feel happy in the knowledge that you know where you’re going and that you look confident doing it.

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Be wary of the helpful

This doesn’t mean ignore everyone who offers you a helping hand. Most locals genuinely have generosity at heart but there are a minority who have slightly different motives, especially in certain situations. In train or Metro stations in Rio de Janeiro for example, some shifty suspects may be a little too eager to assist you when they see you at a ticket machine or an ATM. Don’t allow them to help – they’ll expect payment once you agree. As long as you politely but firmly say no, then they’ll leave you be. You’re not alone on this one either: police are wise to this scam so they’ll often have an officer presence in risky areas.

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Minimise the impact

In the unlikely event you do get targeted, make sure the pickpockets get away with as little as possible. Don’t keep all your cash on you: most hotel rooms will have a safe where you can stash all but what you need for that day. In fact, you can even pop other valuables in there too. Better still, ditch the cash for a pre-loaded card that only you know the PIN to – a piece of useless plastic to a pickpocket.


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About Rhodri Andrews

Once a roving newshound now turned travel journo, my passions include seeking out cultural hotspots amid skyscrapers, hearing the calls of wildlife on rainforest walks and trudging round the UK's national parks. I love to knit together my interests in football and tennis with the travelling world, while furiously trying to close the gap on my glaring film knowledge.