8 Tips on protecting yourself from pickpockets

Unfortunately, something that is seemingly becoming more and more prevalent is the occurrence of pick-pocketing.

Pickpockets are essentially thieves: they steal money or valuables from someone. And most of the time, without the victim having even noticed.

Pickpockets can be found everywhere and anywhere, and it’s important to remain vigilant whenever you are traveling so that nothing is taken from you. But what can you do?

1. Avoid drawing attention to yourself

Don’t do things that would draw attention to yourself. This could be anything from wearing expensive jewelry or counting your cash where everyone can see.

There is a saying that goes “The best invitation for a thief is a wallet in your back pocket”. But I think it’s more accurate to say:

The best invitation for a thief is looking like a tourist.

Me. Today. 2019.

Sometimes, just not being a local makes you an easy target for pickpockets. They know that you won’t know who to call if something gets stolen, they know that you may not be paying attention because you are in awe of your surroundings, and they also know that you’re probably carrying with you more cash than a local would at a given point in time.

My advice? Avoid doing things that will draw attention to you as a tourist – such as carrying around a huge camera or using a physical map constantly.

Unfortunately, sometimes there isn’t much we can do about this. But perhaps thinking of different tactics might help. Instead of carrying around a map, why not use google maps on your phone? Instead of carrying around a huge camera, I personally opted for a smaller one that almost does the same job.

Iman (me) is taking a photo while on the terraces of the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa.
Me acting like the big tourist that I am. I’ve now opted for a smaller camera that still does the job and fits cozily into a purse.
(Photo taken by the talented Shannon Crane Photography)

2. Take care of your cash

This might be a pretty obvious one, but take care of your cash.

  • Store your money in different places. Someone told me that they even put some in their shoe!
  • Don’t bring it all out with you. Only carry as much money as you need. You can do this by planning your day before you go out. Will you be going to a tourist attraction? How many times will you be going out to eat? Will you be taking public transit?
  • Be extra vigilant and attentive in crowded places. Store your money somewhere safe and be aware of where it is. If it’s in your front pocket, keep your hand on it. If it’s in your bag, keep your bag to your front.

3. Re-position your bag or purse

Keep your valuables in your line of sight – whether that be in front of you or somewhere you can put your hand on them.

4. Be aware of teams

Pickpockets are not always loners, they sometimes work in teams of two or more. A common tactic is for one of them to stall or stop in front of you, you end up running into them, and then the other accidentally bumps into you from behind and apologizes for the “accident”, while removing your valuables.

5. Know some of the common tricks

If you’re aware of some of the common tricks that pickpockets play, you’ll have a better fighting chance.

The drive-by

This is when someone drives by you on their motorcycle and grabs your bag

Carry your bag on the side opposite from the road. If you have an over-the-shoulder bag, take extra precautions by slinging it across your shoulders so it can’t easily be pulled off. Want to be more cautious? Walk on the side against traffic – that way you can be aware of vehicles coming your way.

The friendly or desperate act

Someone may come up to you and ask you to take their photo, someone may ask for a donation and tell you that their child is dying, children may begin dancing or running around you.

All of these things have something in common: while you are distracted, someone is putting their hand in your bag and stealing your valuables.

The quick grab

This is a common tactic that happens in crowded areas, like subway stations or tourist attractions. While you are sandwhiched between people, pickpockets will easily reach into your pockets or bag without you noticing and steal your valuables.

Keep your bags close to you and in eye-sight. Does it mean you might have to wear your backpack on your stomach instead of your back? Yes.

The bump and run

If people went to school to become pickpockets, this would probably be taught in Pickpocket 101 as it appears to be one of the most common tactics they use.

Pickpockets will bump into you to give them enough of a distraction to take something, you won’t even feel them having put their hand in your bag because of that bump.

Know of anymore pickpocket tricks?
Let me know in the comments below!

6. Keep priority items to a minimum

You know as well as I do that you don’t need to bring every one of your valuables with you when you are traveling. Do you need all your fancy jewelry? I highlight doubt it. What about that watch that made a dent in your wallet when you bought it last year? Probably not, huh?

For me, I came to the realization that, for the most part, the only two things that I needed while adventuring outside were some money and my camera. Everything else could stay at home or at the hotel and out of reach of fidgety hands.

7. Keep your belongings safe in restaurants or when shopping

The third best place for a pickpocket to grab your valuables, the first and second being in a busy touristy area or in a crowded subway, is at a restaurant where you’re relaxed and aren’t paying attention to your bags as much as you might be somewhere else.

A few helpful tips to keep in mind:

  • Don’t leave your cellphone or wallet on the table, even if you are sitting there. It’s easy for someone to quickly swipe it and leave.
  • Don’t throw your bag on the back of a chair. Hold it in your lap or put is somewhere out of reach.

Malls and other shopping centres are also prime locations for pickpockets to target. While shopping, keep your bag close to you and within your sight or put your hand on it to keep it safe.

Story time

While traveling in Spain, my mother and I visited a Zara. Someone bumped into my mom and seconds later we noticed that the zipper of her backpack was wide open. Thankfully, there was nothing valuable to take from her bag, so nothing was stolen.

8. Wear pickpocket-proof clothing

Keep your worries more at ease by wearing pickpocket-proof clothing. Find jackets with zippers on the inside, or perhaps pant pockets that can be closed with zippers or buttons.

I have also heard that there are good pickpocket-proof bags out there, but I have personally never tried one to share my opinions about them with you.

Have you ever been pick-pocketed? Do you have any wild stories? How about some tips on avoiding pickpockets? Let me know in the comments below!

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