On a recent business trip to lovely Buenos Aires, one member of our group was walking in town in the middle of the day. She realized that a bird had pooped all over the back of her coat. An elderly lady just in front of her kindly offered to help, removing some paper towels from her shopping bag and wiping the mess.
When our associate returned to her hotel, she mentioned the mishap to the desk clerk, who immediately told her that it sounded like a scam used by a team of pickpockets, in which one person squirts liquid on the victim. Sure enough, her wallet was missing. Variations on this pickpocket scam are common around the world. Here are seven tips to avoid becoming a pickpocket victim:
- Strip down your wallet for travel. You do not need your library card, frequent shopper cards, voter registration card, or slew of store cards in your possession. You need no more than two credit cards and a form of identification - your passport. Leave all the other cards at home.
- Make two copies of your passport and the two credit cards (front and back) that you are bringing. Leave one copy in your luggage and another copy at home. The toll-free number you need to call to report a stolen credit card is on the back of the card. If your passport is stolen, you have all the critical information on hand and can call a consulate to get a replacement quickly.
- Use an under-shirt flat pouch when traveling in a busy city. They are cheap ($15–$20) and very effective.
- Leave your wallet and most of your cash in the room safe. I fold over smaller bills amounting to perhaps $40 or $50 in local currency, and put this money in my right front pocket, as back pockets are pickpockets’ favorite target. I use this quick at-hand cash for little purchases, tips, cab fares, etc. If I am planning to shop for gifts or more expensive souvenirs, I put additional cash in the pouch along with one credit card and my passport.
- Keep your cell phone and/or small camera in your front pocket. Try to keep your hand in that pocket when you’re in big crowds.
- Keep your purse across your body, with the bag facing opposite the street side. A common event in many countries involves two guys on a motor scooter or cycle. The driver slows, and the rider uses a razor-sharp box knife to slash through the shoulder strap and grab the purse as the driver speeds away.
- Accept that pickpocketing happens, and be prepared to minimize the impact if it does. I recommend that you get a police report if you want to have your loss covered at home. It is also a way to see a foreign city in a way most tourists miss. I speak from experience.
James F. Hollan III, CAE can be reached at jimhollan@ internationalmeetings.org