While it can happen in your hometown, getting pickpocketed is something that many times happens when you are visiting a different city. This can be especially true when traveling abroad. There are many reasons for this. Some of those reasons include that travelers are easier to pick out as being tourists, they are likely carrying significant money for the trip, and they are unfamiliar with their surroundings.
So, here are some tips on what to do if you are pickpocketed as well as some ways to help prevent it.
Travel Tips: What to Do If You Are Pickpocketed & How to Prevent It
What to Do If You Are Pickpocketed
- Take inventory of what exactly was in your wallet
- Tip: before your trip, it would be a good idea to lay out your credit cards and anything else in the wallet and take photos so you know exactly what is in the wallet/bag/purse
- Check nearby trashcans
- Tip: most pickpockets are only interested in the cash and will quickly dump the wallet in case they are caught. That means you may be able to get some of your things back if you check nearby trashcans
- Contact local police and file police report
- Tip: most of the time, the police will never be able to recover your stolen items but having a police report about the incident can be invaluable if you have any repercussions from your lost cards/ID. This is also important for getting your temporary travel documents and for insurance claims.
- If you lost your passport, immediately contact your embassy in country to get temporary travel documents
- Tip: it is not just for leaving the country that you will want your temporary travel documents. Many hotels, car rental companies, and other businesses will need to see your passport before serving your travel needs
- Call credit card companies to report stolen cards
- Tip: see the list below for major US credit card issuers and their phone numbers (since those numbers are often on the back of the cards!)
- Contact friend/family member in your hometown and let them know
- Tip: while most pickpockets are small-time, local thieves, there are those that know the value of information like your home address and the fact that you are outside the country. Make sure that someone in your local town knows to check-in at your place if your have your ID stolen
- Try to enjoy yourself
- Being pickpocketed is an incredibly unnerving and violating experience. Do your absolute best not to let that ruin your trip and sour you on your view of the city/country you are in.
Before You Go on Your Trip
To the first step, it is a good idea to take pictures or some other kind of inventory about the credit cards and ID cards in your wallet. Some people carry insurance cards or similar as well so it is good to know exactly what you have in your wallet/bag before you go.
Another good thing is to take a picture of your passport and ID page. Take all of these photos and put them in some online storage, like Google Drive or Dropbox (or Evernote). This will let you be able to access this from any computer in case you lose your phone as well. Having pictures of all of these things will make it easy to take appropriate action after a pickpocket episode to limit the spending that may be done.
For prevention, it is a good idea before you take your trip to have a good way to secure your credit cards/money/ID while you are out. I wear Bluffworks Chinos pretty much all the time and they have hidden zippered pockets in the back and inside the side pockets. This makes it much more difficult to pick my pockets!
If you don’t use clothes like this, consider something like SPIbelt (which can be worn under your shirt) or any backpack/sling that keeps those documents in a special pocket in the front of the strap (to keep it front of you).
Steps If You Are Pickpocketed
If there are police nearby, go and talk to them right away. They can help you get to the station to file a report as well. But, something else you will want to do right away is to check nearby trash cans. Since European cards use chip+pin technology, people are not as used to our (USA) older style of chip and signature. This means that many times, your wallet/bag will be tossed into a trash can shortly after picking your pocket.
The reasons for this are twofold – one is that the thief does not want to be caught with your items and the second is that the only really valuable thing to the thief (that they are aware of) is the cash. They take it out and lose the bag.
Make the police report and then contact the US Embassy for travel documents. To make it easy, click here to find the location for the US Embassy for you (or Consulate). If you need a different country’s embassy or consulate, search Google for that. Here is a PDF with the emergency numbers for all countries.
Next, start calling your credit card companies to report your card as stolen. If you have your smartphone still, you can login and freeze your card through the app or contact the bank through the app. But, if not, here are the phone numbers for the major US credit card issuers to report your card stolen:
- American Express – 800-528-4800 (the replacement can be handled as soon as next day)
- Barclays – 866-250-2878 or 302-255-8888 if you want to call collect from abroad
- Chase – 800-432-3117 and replacements can be handled as soon as next day)
- Citi – 800-950-5114 or 605-335-2222 if you want to call collect from abroad
- Discover – 800-347-2683 (it will take 4-6 days for a replacement)
With some cards, you may be able to get them overnighted to you where you are, or at least to your home address and then have someone overnight it from there. I had a problem with my Chase Sapphire Reserve in the past and they were able to mail it overnight to me and I had it from the US in a total of 2 days from when I had called.
Be Careful of Personal Information and ID!
While most pickpockets are only after the cash, some are more devious than that and may use your personal information or ID as a sale item. That is why it is a good idea to let someone back at home know that it was stolen so they can check on your place.
In some parts of Europe, US passports are one of the hottest commodities right now with human smugglers paying up to $10,000 for a US passport to turn around and sell to a refugee that is trying to cross European borders. So, if you do lose the passport, get that taken care of right away!
How to Help Prevent Being Pickpocketed
I have had friends get pickpocketed before, one as recent as this week. One thing I always encounter is the feeling that it was the person’s fault in some way or that they had been stupid. You can take some good precautions but always remember that these thieves are professionals and they know what they are doing so try not to blame yourself.
That being said, there are a few things you can do to help prevent being pickpocketed. I already mentioned about wearing clothes that have some kind of inner zipper/hidden pocket to tuck your valuables in. Many people put their wallets in a front pocket but that may not always be safe either (recent event was a front pocket pick). Don’t assume that where you have your wallet is a safe place, unless there is a zipper protecting it.
Here is a common pickpocket move – on a crowded street or on transportation, you will feel a bump. The instinct is to feel for your wallet to make sure you still have it. Make sure you pat/check more than one pocket! That first bump shows the pickpocket where your valuables are located on your person by your checking it so try not to lead them to it.
If you are in a crowded mode of transportation, try to stay with your back against the wall (if you have it in a pocket) or keep your bag/backpack in front of you. This will let you have a buffer and also keep your valuables right in front of you.
One more thing to prepare properly would be to keep an extra credit card and some spare cash back in your hotel room or in a different bag. This way if you do lose your wallet, you will at least still be able to have money until you get more.
This is also one way that digital wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay can be a huge help since you can still use them to pay for things at many stores without needing ID.
Just make sure you have at least one card in your digital wallet that you didn’t bring on the trip in case you lose your wallet and have to cancel that card!
Finally, if you are pickpocketed, once you do all of the things above, try your absolute best to go on about your trip and enjoy the country/city you are in. Something like this can leave a sour taste in your mouth but you need to remember that it is one bad person and they may not even be native to the country you are in.
What are your tips for preventing being pickpocketed?