Pickpockets are a fact of life. If you consider Charles Dickens tale of Oliver Twist and Fagin, the man who led a gang of children who were trained sneak thieves, you will see it is not a new concept. Sleight of hand pickpockets have been around for a long time.
Some countries and cities have a bigger problem with such thieves than others. Here in the UK pickpockets have become a problem in London. As the cosmopolitan capital of England, London has busy streets and a large number of naive tourists always on hand. Most tourists have been foolish at one time or another. It is so easy to feel safe and comfortable on vacation. Relaxing in such a way in public can be a godsend for pickpockets. A mobile or cell phone, an IPad, wallet or open handbag can all seem like an open invitation to a crook.
Some nationalities are targetted more than others and of course if you are wearing huge gold rings and flashing the cash you could set yourself up to be a victim of theft.
A recent British Transport police campaign to alert visitors to London about the prevelance of pickpockets has issued warnings. Campaign videos have been posted showing the way that a pickpocket may manage to nick your possessions from under your very nose.
Officers are deployed, uniformed and plain clothes, in busy train stations and on tubes and trains but there is only so much they can do. They need visitors to stay alert to potential pickpockets. We should act as we would in our home town but sadly many tourists forget to pack good sense in their travel luggage.
Transport police confirm that the most common theft is a mobile phone followed by luggage. Pickpockets are skilled but also opportunistic. The more you make sure your possessions are secure the harder it is for them to suceed.
London has gangs of pickpockets, some from abroad, who target obvious tourists. You can minimise your chance of this being you by some simple steps:
- Study a map at your accommodation before going out. You may have to use it occassionally outdoors but this will stop you looking too touristy.
- Check what areas in the vicinity of your hotel are safe and which are not.
- Ask if there are any “no-go” unsafe areas you should avoid.
- Travel on public transport when it is not almost empty.
- However avoid the busiest rush hour times also when a good pickpocket may steal items such as your purse.
- If a stranger tries to brush something from your back, perhaps claiming it is dust, step away. Distraction techniques take many forms and that is what it could be.
- There is safety in numbers so avoid travelling alone unless you have no other option.
- Stay alert at all times.
- Know where the items on you are at all times. Do not put your mobile phone on a train seat and then move away to stow your luggage.
- Check the Transport police online advice before you travel. It can be found here.
- Keep valuables out of sight.
- Do not flash bundles of cash around as it is asking for trouble.
- Do not put a wallet, cash or credit cards in the outside pocket of a jacket.
- Consider the location of cash points before using them.
- Try not to stand out from the crowd but instead blend in.
- Remember pickpockets do not necessarily look suspicious nor scruffy and neither are they necessarily foreign. You could get stung from an unexpected source!
- If you need to report a pickpocket theft when you are in London: Call 0800 40 50 40 ( a freephone number) or tell a police officer or member of station staff immediately. In an emergency always call 999.
- Mark your possessions with an ultra violet security pen.
- Lock your mobile phone with a pin number.
- If your hotel has a room safe for hire do so. Leave valuables in the safe when you are out.
- Have photcopies of your passport and insurance documents just in case.
- Keep pin numbers safe and not written down in diaries or on pieces of papaer in handbags.
- Keep bags tightly closed.
- Watch out for distractions.
- If you put a suitcase or handbag on the floor put your foot through the strap.
- Similarly if your bag is next to you on a seat wrap the strap around your arm.
The above is not exhaustive but it is a start.
Do not let the thought of pickpockets deter you from enjoying a foreign vacation or visiting a busy city. Just make sure you are pickpocket aware. The chances are you will not be targeted but if you are make sure the pickpockets fail.