Brushing up on Pickpocket Facts and Skills

13 April 2013
Brushing up on Pickpocket Facts and Skills
Pickpockets at the Louvre

Recently over 100 members of the staff at Paris’ world-famous Louvre museum walked out in response to concerns that they were simply unable to protect themselves and museum guests against a recently high number if aggressive and even belligerent pickpockets. The museum was closed for a time.

While the official statement from the Louvre upon reopening was that pickpockets were a growing problem, staff members had simply grown tired of being not only the victims of pickpocketing themselves, but also of having been spat on, insulted, threatened and kicked by those discovered in the act of picking pockets.

The US Embassy in Paris indicates on their website that the most likely places to get pick pocketed are major tourist sites and that Americans should be particularly alert to thieves in those places. Most pickpockets work in groups and are often adolescents – both boys and girls – since it’s extremely hard for minors to be jailed in France.

Before your next trip, it’s a good idea to brush up on your pickpocket facts and skills.

Be aware of the distractions pickpockets use

While it’s not clear which techniques are being commonly employed by the pickpockets frequenting the Louvre, be aware that there are many techniques pickpockets around the world use to rip off travelers. Here are some of the most common ploys:

  1. The innocent bystander who ‘witnesses’ another person (their partner) trip or bump you. While they’re helping you up or brushing you off, they pick your pocket.
  2. The person asking for directions or pointing something out to you. While you’re focused on them or what they’re pointing to, they also pick your pocket or purse.
  3. The couple in an argument who creates a scene. While you’re distracted by the show, their partners are pilfering your wallet.
  4. A person who spills something on you. This is a common trick to distract you and while apologizing or attempting to clean up, they may pick your pocket.
  5. Someone who drops things like change or other items near you and engages you in the act of helping them pick things up. They may be picking up your wallet too.

It’s likely that the pickpockets lurking in the Louvre used some of these techniques, but the most likely one is simply getting very close – to look at a painting, for example – and picking the pocket of a visitor distracted by the art.

See How Not to Get Robbed on the Street in a Foreign Country for more information.

How to spot a pickpocket

In addition to the distractions pickpockets use to confuse you or temporarily divert your attention, there are a few ways you can spot a potential pickpocket. While it’s impossible to generalize, there are a few signs to look for:

  1. Watch for people who are carrying things like jackets, newspapers, etc. These are often used to shield what their hands are doing.
  2. Be aware of those who are watching you. If you feel like someone is taking too much interest in your bag or clothing, it may be time to get out of there (but don’t reflexively check for your wallet – that’s a sure give away to its location).
  3. Watch out for people who are standing too close. In a crowd, it’s normal for strangers to press against you, but you won’t notice something pulled from your pocket or purse.
  4. Children or groups of children begging for change – especially if they crowd around you.
  5. Stay clear of people who are drunk. They may be faking it and a stumble against you can make it easy for them to pick your pocket.

Remember that pickpockets like to blend in with a crowd. Take note of those who look like they blend in a little too much while watching everyone else. A pickpocket will often take their time picking their target and this may require them to do loops – going and coming back to the same place – while looking for something.

Unlike a mugger, a pickpocket is typically non-confrontational and making it clear that you see them and are aware of them is often enough to make them move on to an easier target.

See How to Avoid Getting Mugged While Traveling for more information.

Tips to avoid being pickpocketed

While there are all sorts of pickpockets with varying levels of skill, many simply watch for people who’ve been naive and left themselves vulnerable. The key is to maintain a low profile, make yourself a difficult target, and remain vigilant.

  1. Use a money belt to carry the bulk of your cash, your backup credit card, and your important travel documents and wear it underneath your clothing.
  2. If you carry a wallet in your pocket, put a rubber band around it and tuck it into the front pocket. While the back pocket is most often used, it’s also the easiest to pick.
  3. If you’re carrying a purse or backpack, keep all the zippers shut and wear it across your body and in front (never behind you where you can’t see what’s happening).
  4. Be particularly aware in crowds, in lines, and anywhere people are in close proximity to one another.
  5. Pick up credit cards as soon as it’s returned to you and put it away in your wallet immediately. This way, a distraction won’t result in it’s going missing.
  6. Leave nothing unattended or out of sight. Hanging your purse on the back of a chair is a sure way to lose it, for example.
  7. Carry no valuables in the outer pockets of purses, pouches or bags. Anything of value should go deeply inside where it’s at least harder to reach.

See Safe Travelers Love Money Belts for more information.

Limit your losses if you are pickpocketed

Not only do you want to avoid being pickpocketed at all, you also want to limit the level of your loss if you are the victim of a pickpocket.

  1. Only carry a limited amount of cash and one credit card in your accessible wallet, and consider using a mugger’s (fake) wallet.
  2. Never carry all your money – cash or cards – in one place.

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Damian Tysdal

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.