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8 common crimes against tourists

1. The Distraction Scam

Richard Taub says:

“In Barcelona, pairs of men ride the escalator in train stations. . One falls down right in front of the hapless traveler and while the traveler is dealing with that, the other fellow picks his pocket. Keep everything zipped up and deep. I shouted and the two ran way.

I have had a similar experience in Chicago on the CTA trains. One guy falls down at the train door, and the other grabs your wallet.”

Bizdean says:

Yes, my wife and I fell for the fake bird poop scam in Barcelona.

My advice:

1) Buy clothes from TravelSmith (or similar). They have lots of zippered and hidden pockets, thief-proof. Then wear your money, credit cards, and passport on your body – not on a shoulder bag or backpack.
2) Vacation in Europe, where thieves want to rob you but (perhaps unlike in the Americas) do not want to hurt or kill you.
3) Anywhere else, carry a mugger wallet with a few closed-out credit cards and a few bucks in it. If a mugger gives you a choice of violence or giving up your wallet, throw down the mugger wallet (do not hand it to the mugger), and get far away quickly. Your regular wallet, of course, is still in your zipper pocket.

Homer Vasels says:

In Istanbul, while walking on a main street, two boys started a phony fight , forcing me against a wall, while a third boy got 50 euros out of my front pocket, but didn’t get the 1,000 euros in my zippered pocket. I have vowed never to be a victim again. Take every precaution you can think of.

Nedra says:

We were in subway train station in Munich, Germany. We sat on a backless bench where I set my bag on the floor next to me. Next thing I new, I was distracted by a dressed up bum pretending to be drunk. He was so obnoxious that we couldn’t wait to get away from him. We hurried on the train, not even realizing my bag was gone. Moral, never, never put bags on floors. Keep them at all times on your lap or person.

2. The Inside Job

Tony Dewey says:

We were robbed at knifepoint in our room in the middle of the night by four men. This happened in a small(10 people)lodge in Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya. It was an inside job and we were set up. The lodge had iron gates which were not locked and we were not given a key to our room. We were off guard because we were in a National Park which is surrounded by an electric fence – but it’s also surrounded by an urban area with lots of potential criminals. The message is: be diligent about security in Africa no matter where you are. We should have asked for a key to our room and asked that the gates be locked There are many places that are perfectly safe but you never know.

3. The Wrong Change Scam

William Pettus says:

Be sure to check that bills or coins given as change from a taxi driver are in the currency of the country in which you are traveling and that the money is legal tender. Twice, taxi drivers in Frankfurt, Germany, tried to cheat me. One slipped in a Portuguese note in place of a German mark note. The other gave me coins from the Weimar Republic, which are no longer legal tender. Fortunately, I was able to recover my money in both instances.

4. The Opportunists


Traveling in Portugal in the off season, with a rental car, is normally quite safe, but, in a large parking lot with Campers and cars around, it is best to empty the entire car, take the keys and leave the door open. Someone (probably Gypsies) broke the drivers side window out and stole a purse hidden under the front seat. Police said that due to the frequency of these events, they don’t even make out a police report anymore. BE FORWARNED!!

Bryan says:

While in Monterey, CA I had my rental car broken into and my wife’s purse was stolen. Learned later from the sheriff deputy that thieves watched for women leaving their cars without a purse and correctly concluding that they had left their purse in the car. The credit cards and ID’s were easily replaced but the repair to the rental car’s window was expensive. Now I know not to leave anything behind in a rental car and to leave the car unlocked to avoid broken windows.

Kirby Montellano says:

On a Paris visit, my husband hung his shoulder bag with his wallet in it over the back of a chair in the small breakfast room of our hotel. There were only two other people in the room — a young couple seated on the opposite side of the room. At some point my husband’s bag disappeared in the course of our breakfast. We have no idea of how or when the theft occurred.

Fortunately I had a copy of my spouse’s passport, driver’s license and credit card information in my luggage. Armed with that material we made a police report, cancelled the credit cards, arranged for replacements, and obtained a new passport — all within two hours.

Fortunately we were carrying credit cards from different accounts in order to have a backup in the event of this sort of situation. My husband also carries cash in a wallet strapped around his ankle. So means of payment was never a worry during our trip.

Moral of the story: Never leave a bag or your personal belongings out of your line of vision.

5. The Classic Pickpocket

Richard says:

Had wallet stolen from Front pocket of slacks at entrance to Prague Metro station. Advice: use “man-bag” with strap over opposite shoulder with credit & debit cards, camera inside; carry nothing of value in pants pockets.

Paula Gjerstad says:

Dickens described it over 200 years ago, and the agility and stealth of the pick pockets in London is still flourishing! I had my wallet stolen out of my handbag in the underground in London. The thief jostled me as we were getting onto a train, and the wallet was winkled out of the purse without my feeling it. However the behavior was so outrageous, and I knew about this kind of theft, so I looked immmediately, found what had happened and got off the train before it pulled out. But the thief got away. On thinking about it, I remembered having seen a group of young “roughians” watching while I pulled money out to pay for my ticket. And the purse had a simple flap over the single interior partition. My advice would be to keep cash for simple cheap transactions in your pocket or your hand, and to use a short-handled purse that has zipper and snap closures, both exterior and interior, hugged close to the body, face in, under the arm to make access even during jostling far less easy. And don’t take money out in public.

I also had my backpack unzipped and gone through twice the same day as I wore it in the Metro in Paris. But since I had not put anything of value in it, it didn’t matter – nothing was taken. It was, however, disconcerting to find that twice I had been “broken into” and hadn’t felt or seen a thing.

juantag says:

I’ve had things stolen, here and there. I remember taking my mother to El Rastro in Madrid while I was living there. it’s a big flea market where pickpockets ply their trade with impunity. I warned her; I said, “do not let your money purse out of your hand the entire time. I really mean it.” Alas, Mom had suffered a stroke and had poor feeling in one hand; as she went to check out an item, she had to pocket the purse. it was in her pocket for less than five seconds, because that’s how long it took her to try to amend her mistake.

Meanwhile, I was in another part of the market, browsing, when I felt something at the opening of my pants pocket. immediately I grabbed a wrist, to which were attached fingers deftly holding my wallet. I shouted; no one paid attention. so I looked the young woman in the eyes and said something terribly rude; she just sneered at me. I let her go; what could I do?

Buster says:

We were in Puerto Vallarta ealier this year, staying with friends at a lovely ocean-side resort. At the resort, we were well attended and had no problems. However, some of us decided we would like to see the downtown area–by bus. The alarm bells should have started ringing as soon as we left the resort area. It was as if we had been magically transported to Tijuana. When we arrived at our stop, as I went to leave, two Mexicans boxed me in as if they were trying to get past me to leave via the rear door I had taken the precaution of putting my billfold in a front pocket, but after I got free of these two “gentlemen”, I checked and it was missing. I confronted them, and was about to raise a stink when another passenger pointed at the floor, and there it was. By the time I had recovered it, they had split. I’m sure that had it been in my rear pocket, where I normally keep it, I would have lost it. Advice: be very wary while riding public transportation, and buy some trousers with zippered pockets

Merv Giacomini says:

I was tired after changing my cash at the airport, and left the changed cash in my wallet in my front jacket pocket, instead of putting it in my waist pocket. I believed I would “feel” someone going into my pocket. Well, I had three young men surround me going up the moving stairway, from the subway (from the Athens airport) -one giving me an annoyed look as he jostled me walking past, and found when I’d gotten to the top of the stairs that my wallet was gone. So much for that theory! I didn’t feel a thing. It was really annoying, as I had never not put my cash into my waist pocket. After a police report, etc. and more cash changed, I could only chalk it up to a lesson learned to always put cash away in a body pocket discreetly as soon as you get it – and never change much at a time. I lost $300 bucks!

6. The Inflated Price Scam
David McGrath says:

We were ripped off by a cabbie in Rome. I felt more disgusted by my naivete in letting him get away with it than I did with the loss of money. We got a cab outside of the Vatican Museum. The cab looked legit. We asked to be driven to the Quirinale where there was an art exhibit we wanted to see. This is about ,tops, a 10 euro ride with tip. As we traveled and the personable driver pointed out sights, I noticed that I wasn’t seeing the meter. Hmmmm. When we arrived at the Quirinale, the driver told me that the fare would be 23 euro. I asked him to show me on the meter. He said that the meter was broken and that the fare from the Vatican Museum was a standard rate of that amount. I, stupidly, paid him and then he got his little sheep a second time. The 5 euro and the 20 euro bills are the same color and, when I gave him a 20, he switched it to a 5 and said that I had not given him enough. I blush, but I paid him a second time. He left and we saw our lovely art exhibit with my blood pressure rising steadily for being so easily fleeced. To avoid losing money as well as self concept, I suggest you ask the cabbie for an estimate of your fare when you get in; if you don’t see the meter in the center of the driver’s consul, it’s probably because he has it hidden with a cap as my guy did; when you hand over a 20 euro bill, say out loud,”here is 20 euros, right?”. Most annoying was that the Quirinale is a government center and is full of police. If I had made any issue at all, I’m sure I could have paid the correct fare. Make a fuss. Also, it seems in conversation, that a number of my brother and sister geezers have had similar experiences in Rome this year.

7. The Forced Tip

Bill in Virginia Beach says:

At the Rome train station an Italian gentleman–I thought that he was a fellow passenger– located our reserved car and politely offered to help my wife with her bags onto the train. Once he had put the bag in the luggage rack he demanded ten euros. When I protested he made such a scene that I gave him five euros to get rid of him. When I last saw him he was “assisting” two elderly ladies on the opposite side of the platform.

8. The Classic Mugging
Don Bristow says:

We were in London and had just left the tube station at High Street Kensington. It was the middle of the afternoon and we took a short cut between some buildings to our nearby hotel. No one else was around. We were suddenly attacked by two men who were after my rather expensive watch. After a brief struggle, they managed to get it off my wrist and ran away. Moral: don’t wear expensive watches on trips. Muggings can occur at any time and in any area. If you need to wear a watch, buy a Timex.

And finally, a few tips to help avoid crime

R H Pearce says:

Have not been affected but precautionary measures.. Side pockets for wallets and money. Hankercheifs in the hippockets. Carry nothing more than what is needed for the particular tour or wanderings about town. Make a lot of face to face (eye to eye) contact.

Mike Altmann says:

Never put all your cash in one place – different pockets, inside your shoe, etc. Always keep your passport separate from your wallet, briefcase, back-pack. Turn rings with gem stones inward so only the band is visible. Walk like you know exactly where you are going and walk with a purpose.

Kent Geist says:

There are all sorts of wonderful purses, backpacks, waistpacks, etc. on the market today (from any of the on-line travel clothing companies) that have metal reinforced straps to prevent cutting, metal mesh in the fabric to prevent slashing, and handy zipper locks that make unwanted entry basically impossible. My wife and I wouldn’t travel abroad without them.

Marc says:

It’s all about common sense. All those things your Dad told you about getting around in big cities (US or otherwise). Keep your wallet in the front pocket, don’t show or pass money on the street, don’t flash big sums, keep a small bill on the outside of your roll or stash, try to blend in, don’t draw attention to yourself, keep your hand on your money, and most important a constant mental inventory “Tickets, Passport, Money.”

TedA says:

I went on a Fulbright group to Berlin in June – we had 2 people out of 13 who had wallets stolen – be very careful of the subway especially. I had a gizmo that hangs around my neck and inside my shirt with most money and credit card in it, no problems, very secure. We also used the hotel safes in our rooms – you can input your own combination – very helpful. Don’t carry all your credit cards or money….and be careful.

Any of your own crime stories or tips to add? Leave them as a comment below…

11 thoughts on "8 common crimes against tourists"

  • Luis R says:

    I had an interesting experience with a taxi in Rome. Where else? I visited Rome in 2008 and arrived by train. I stayed in a small hotel just one block off Piazza Barberini. It was my first time in Rome and knew nothing about the city so I didn’t know what was the expected route for my trip. I took the taxi in front of the Termini train station where all the legit taxis are parked. When I got in I asked how much it would be and the driver told me it would be what the meter indicated plus a 2 euro surcharge and pointed to a sign next to the taxis that allegedly indicated about this surcharge. It was at night and the sign was in Italian so I didn’t really attempt to read it. Anyhow… he took me to the hotel and appeared to be very friendly pointing to places here and there along the way. There was also this other guy in the front passenger seat with him. This other guy helped with the luggage. When we got to the hotel the total amount was 32.50 euro. Seemed a bit high but I was willing to pay anyhow. I was already out of the car and the luggage was also out of the trunk and just a short walk from the hotel. I handed him two 2 euro bills through the open passenger side window. Although nothing appeared to be wrong I never lost sight of my bills and his hands. All of a sudden I saw one of the 20 euro bills jump out of his hand and land on the floor and out of nowhere he took out a 10 euro bill and then claimed I had paid only 30 euros. I then pointed to the 20 euro bill on the floor and told him I gave him 40 euros. He gave me this unique look…. he got away with 2.60 euro enyway because he gave me only 5 euro in change. I wasn’t going to make an argument at that point so I let him get away with the extra 2.60 euro as a tip for being a thief. But the story is not over yet. Next day during breakfast at the hotel I was looking at my map to see where I was and where the places I wanted to visit were located and discovered that I was much closer to the Termini station than it seemed the night before. The driver took a very long route around the city to take me to the hotel. On the way back from the hotel to the train station I took the metro instead on Piazza Barberini (literally a few steps from the hotel) which was just a short 2-stop trip to Termini.

    I visited Italy again as part of a Mediterranean cruise from Barcelona. It was a family group. Although me and my partner didn’t have any kind of problems with pickpockets (learned from the prior visit in 2008 and from all the warnings given by the cruise line and online review sites) my brother had one expensive camera lens stolen on the Barcelona metro. The train was crowded and suddenly somebody was saying his name aloud telling that they found his passport in the floor. Immediately after that same thing with his wife’s passport. They were of course very grateful about finding the passports but it appeared that this was just a distraction to take out the lens from his camera bag. The passports were inside a zippered front pocket in his cargo pants. He found that the lens was missing after getting off the train.

  • David says:

    We always take an extra copy of all our important documents which we photocopy with us to help speed up any issues if we ever do get mugged/robbed.

  • Sharon says:

    We were in Madrid and got in a cab to go to the Hard Rock Cafe. The driver didn’t seem to know where it was, and then we noticed that the meter “was broken”. We demanded that he stop the cab immediately. But, he hesitated, said he couldn’t stop where he was. When we threatened to open the doors and jump out – he stopped.

  • Sharon says:

    On our first trip to Europe (many years ago), my husband was so worried about being mugged or pickpocketed that he had me make pockets in his Jockey underwear front panel to carry his bills. He looked “endowed” and no one tried to
    find his money.

  • E. Lee says:

    I yell at badgering people or those who sidle up to me with mischief on their minds. I am not afraid to hurt anyone’s feelings — especially as I speak to them in German or
    Spanish so as not to be an ugly American!

  • Jonathan Reed says:

    Unfortunately some Romans make a sport out of cheating tourists. I took a cab to my hotel. The meter showed a correct fare of about 10 euros. I paid with a 20 euro bill. the cabbie gave me change several euros short. I complained, he came up with baloney explanations. What I learned: Have plenty of small bills and coins in towns where cabbies don’t enjoy a reputation for honesty. Pay them in exact change.

  • Dick Pilgrim says:

    I always keep money, cards, and passport in waist wallet – under my clothing – and other junk in my pants pockets, plus a small amount of cash for the day. I was on a late Metro ride in Prague when I’m suddenly surrounded by 4 guys (they got on at the last minute together.) I felt hands all over me, all I could do was hang onto my daypack and ride it out. They got off at the next stop with their loot – a package of tissues and a handful of used tissues. My valuables all remained in the hidden places while I got some interesting hand signals as the train pulled away.

  • Anderson Gibbons says:

    In Kathmandu Nepal, a souvenir vendor tried to cheat me by giving incorrect change but I caught it right away. Another instance in Cuzco Peru as I was leaving a night club, two men approached and asked for a “donation” for club security. I don’t think they even affiliated with the nightclub but I wasn’t about to argue since the exit was down a narrow staircase and hallway. I gave a few Nuevo Soles and got out of there.

  • Karen Graves says:

    My advice is that without being ugly, don’t try to be nice. When approached with something for sale or unsolicited help, look them straight in the eye before they get to you and say firmly, “no!” and move on. If you hesitate or try to explain yourself, you are lost.
    This seemed to work well for the many gypsy sales gimmicks when we were traveling in Italy.

  • Harry Walsh says:

    OK….good tips listed here and it is sad to see how many of us have been victimized while traveling. However, there is no reason to add a RACIST comment such as “probably a Gypsy” to the car break-in story above.

  • Andrew Johnson says:

    We had a “combination” at the Rome airport. A nicely dressed American in his 20s helped my wife get her baggage onto the express train into town; while he did that, an accomplice took her Blackberry phone and wallet out of her large handbag, and they were gone within a second or two–before she noticed the loss. Advice: DON’T accept help getting on the trains at the Leonardo da Vinci airport, and DON’T have anything valuable in your handbags!

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