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How to Avoid a Pickpocket


There is very little violent crime in Italy, but there are pickpockets.   They are experienced and good at their job.  Pickpocketing is a crime of opportunity.  Your job is to eliminate the opportunity.

Pickpockets are not limited to European cities.  Many years ago we were in Honolulu and heard a warning on the news that pickpockets were working the streets near Waikiki Beach.  That evening we sat on our balcony on the 10th floor enjoying the evening and watching what was happening below.  Brake dancing was very popular at the time.  A group of young people sat their boom box on the street corner, cranked up the tunes and began to dance.  A crowd circled around to watch.  Other persons moved along the outside of the crowd lifting wallets from unsuspecting onlookers.  There was quick interaction with a third party who took off on a skateboard.  It was the classic pickpocket set-up with (1) a group to create a distraction, (2) pickpockets and (3) runners to move quickly away from the action.


Sometimes pickpockets act alone, but more frequently it is a team.  The distraction can be as simple as bumping into on a crowded train.  Sometimes children are used to distract.  Sometimes they spill a drink on you, apologize and lift your wallet at the same time.  Sometimes they pretend to be lost and ask directions.

Avoid crowds

It is not always possible to avoid crowds and still see the things we came to see.  Be particularly cautious when boarding and leaving buses or trains.  Thieves crowd the door then stop as others crowd from behind.  When waiting for a subway, there is less crowding if you wait at the end car rather than the middle car at the foot of the stairway.

Don’t signal where you carry your money

In Italy there are frequently signs posted in rail stations, bus stations etc. warning tourists to beware of pickpockets.  They can’t pick your pocket if they don’t know where the cash is being carried.  Unfortunately, pickpockets hang out near these signs to get their clue.  Tourists read the sign and almost instinctively reach their hand to check the pocket with their wallet or check their handbag.  Resist the urge.

Carry money and valuables under your clothing

Place larger amounts of money, credit cards and passports under your clothing in specially designed pouches.  Put the amount of money you may need for the day or tickets in a more accessible area so you don’t have to reveal your hidden stash.

Traveler’s checks are obsolete

Most stores or restaurants will no longer accept them.  The only way to cash then is at a bank.  Banks have more limited hours and we know from experience that the whole process can use most of your morning.  Use ATMs if you need more cash.  Get enough cash to last a week, so you don’t waste time finding the ATM every day. Be aware of your surroundings when you are getting cash.

Carry belongings in front of your body

A backpack on your back is an invitation unless it is slash proof and has secured zippers.  Fanny packs can be convenient for carrying supplies for the day, but wear them on the front of your body.

Ladies be careful of your purses

Setting your handbag beside you on a park bench or beside your chair at the side walk café can be a serious mistake.  The thief walks along takes the bag and without breaking stride continues on their way.  Consider using a handbag with a slash proof detachable shoulder strap.  While you dine, wrap the strap around the arm of your chair or around the leg of the park bench.  Here is another word of caution about shoulder bags.  Choose one that is carried across your body rather than carrying it on one shoulder.  Motor bikes  are everywhere in Italy.  If you are walking down the street with a shoulder bag over one shoulder, the thief can drive by, grab the strap and keep going.  If you are still connected to the bag you may be thrown to the ground and seriously injured.

Stop identity theft

Identity thieves can download and steal personal information from microchips on your credit cards and passport.  Prevent this with special RFID blocking pockets in your bag or wallet.  A simple sleeve available for about $5 can protect your passport and you could slip credit cards inside as well.

Take advantage of specially made anti-theft bags

There are numerous products on the market that help eliminate the opportunity for thieves to be successful at your expense.  There are RFID blocking bags, sleeves or wallet and bags with slash proof straps,  locking zippers and stainless steel mesh panels that prevent contents from falling out if the bag is slashed.  Any travel store such as AAA will have a variety of products to meet your needs.  Check out PackingLight.com online.  Do your research, plan ahead and go and have a wonderful time. Picketpocketing is a crime of opportunity.  Your job is to eliminate the opportunity.  Picketpocketing is a crime of opportunity.  Your job is to eliminate the opportunity.