Pickpocket Travel Stories, Part 3

Here's the final installment of pick pocket travel stories from Smarter Travel give away of Clever Travel Companion gear.

"About eight years ago I was running a group of middle-aged Americans through Italy, from Milan to Sorrento.  On our way to Rome I gave my pick-pocket speech.  I explained that while taking public transportation they should keep their eyes at waist level.  Don't worry about where people are looking, watch their hands.  Keep your backpacks locked and wear them on the front of you.  Ladies, keep your hands on your purses or fanny packs, in front of your bodies.  I showed them the "fingers waving in the air" signal that means pick-pocket.  I told them to NOT give any money to the gypsies they will encounter and to tell them to get away.  We have a reputation for being rude Americans, but the truth of the matter is that we are not.  We do not feel comfortable shoving another person away, or yelling at them to "get away"!  While riding public transportation, with a group, I normally stand at an area where I can see and scan the area around my group.  I was standing in the back when I saw that someone was doing the "pick-pocket" signal up front.  I did not care who heard me, so I yelled to my group, "pick-pocket.  Watch your stuff!"  A woman (gypsy) was walking in the aisle, with a baby in her arms.  The baby was wrapped in a scarf that was hanging down the front of her body.  As we know, this is so she can hide her hand as it goes into your "stuff".   This woman cornered one of my group into a back corner of the bus.  I couldn't get to her, but I could see the whole thing.  I was screaming, "push her back.  Push her off you!  Push her!"  Everyone in my group started screaming and chanting, "Push her away.  Push her away!"  It was terrible.  The woman who was pushed into the corner couldn't hit a woman with a baby.  She couldn't bring herself to do it, even though she felt the woman's hand go into her purse.  Luckily a local man saw what was happening.  He pulled the gypsy woman off my participant.  It was a rough encounter though.  He pulled her off by her hair and slapped her across the face.  They began yelling at each other in Italian.  He called her some unfavorable names and she acted hurt and wounded that he would think she was doing such a thing.  This was difficult for a group of "rude Americans" to witness.  This woman had a baby in her arms.   The woman who was cornered that day was lucky.  She had her money separated.  The pick-pocket only got about the equivalent of a hundred dollars, that was in the top of her purse.  This was not the only pick-pocket experience I have had while touring groups through Europe.  Athens, Rome, Lucerne, and Madrid have been the places where we have been pick-pocketed."

"I always knew it would be hard to not be pointed out as a tourist. Red hair, Chicago accent, camera attached to my wrist at all times…so I tried to be extra careful to avoid a pickpocket. My fruits were unsuccessful however, during a trip to Madrid, Spain. Doing the robot dance in a discotecca was probably my first mis-step. Maybe it was my jerky dance motions or awkward off-beat rhythm that prevented me from feeling someone grab my wallet. But sure enough, they got it straight out of the purse that was kept at my side (and checked frequently) all night long. Unfortunately the pickpocket got access to my whole wallet that had recently been refreshed by the ATM and contained newly withdrawn Euros.  After realizing I’d become a target, and that my wallet was missing I promptly asked the barkeep if there was any chance one had been turned in. I wouldn’t call it my lucky day, but I was fortunate enough that my practically now empty wallet had in fact been turned in to the bartender.  For some odd reason, they didn’t take my credit cards, just my cash, ID and coffee shop gift cards.  Of course my receipts were all replaced back into the wallet as well. I went home to my host family shortly thereafter; caffeine free and empty wallet in hand.My best advice is not something new, nor is it an earth-shattering idea, but rather something I’m sure all tourists have heard many a times before. Blend in as best you can. This applies everywhere—but especially at discotecas. And there’s no better reason to learn the native dances, right?"


"It was a steamy summer day in Budapest, where my husband and I were visiting my ex-pat son. A born New Yorker, I always prefer to use local transport when I travel, especially subways. People were packed into the train car like sardines. I was barely able to hold onto the vertical post, sandwiched between my husband’s back and the crush of humanity behind me. After a few minutes I noticed a deft female hand in a black leather glove snake its way around my husband’s waist, headed to the obvious wallet in his back pocket. Shocked and barely able to move due to the crowd, I watched in amazement as she gently started to coax her prey out of the snug pocket. When I saw his wallet rising, as if by magic, I wrenched my hand free and smacked the slim fingers, causing a retreat. Several minutes later, just as we were pulling into the station, the hand returned for a second attempt. This time I immediately hit her gloved hand and shouted “Pickpocket, pickpocket on the train”. 


Amidst the jostling of people de-training, I saw a slim woman wearing black leather gloves get off the train. Our eyes locked for a moment, hers black with rage. I watched as she darted down the platform and got into the next car before the train departed. My husband never felt a thing but his wallet was still in place. Maybe she was more successful in the next car. Moral

of the story:  always keep your valuables in a safe location and be wary of strangers wearing leather gloves in hot weather."



"It was 1980 and Colombia was not a “safe” country.  Just before Christmas we arrived in Cali and on the way to the city from the airport a kind woman told my wife to take off her jewelry and be careful (“cuidado!”).  We checked into a hotel which one entered through a door of bars like a jail cell.  Taking the kind lady’s advice I moved my wallet to my front right pocket for security.  The next morning at 10 AM we had just checked Amex for mail.  Walking along the sidewalk on a busy street, I was about to step off the curb when I was suddenly pushed from behind and just as quickly a hand went into the front right pocket where I had stashed my wallet for “security.”  I had never practiced any of the martial arts, but have good balance.  I quickly regained my footing, and just as quickly chopped my right hand down and swung around jamming the base of my left palm into the face of my pickpocket.  The thief was stunned by my blow and empty handed, a small crowd gathered, and my wife was pulling me away in case he turned violent.  Meanwhile a policeman who had been directing traffic in the intersection wandered over while the pickpocket took the opportunity to run away.  The curious policeman casually asked, “¿Que pasa?”  I expanded my Spanish vocabulary learning “carterista” for pickpocket, as I explained my situation, and then the unconcerned policeman went casually back to his post directing traffic again.  Needless to say, I was a lot more “cuidado” after that experience."


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