What to do if you get pickpocketed?
My story – Pickpocketed in Europe
After years of solo travel around the globe and never once encountering a pickpocket, it’s safe to say I just never expected to be pickpocketed in Europe. As it turned out, my complacency ended up being my undoing – I’d lulled myself into a false sense of security thinking ‘this won’t happen to me, I know what I’m doing’.
After three flights and over 24 hours of travel from Sydney to Nice, France (via Singapore and London) it’s safe to say that I was pretty delirious on arrival in the French Riviera. This was my second visit in as many years, so arriving in the Cote d’Azur held none of the nervousness that can sometimes be experienced when arriving in an unfamiliar place. I felt I’d been there, done that and was eager to get out on the Promenade des Anglais in the sun.
Of course, in that exact moment, I was spotted by a couple of young girls who boarded the airport tram from Nice Airport to stop Jean Médecin in the heart of Nice. One was on the phone, carrying on and making noise. The other stood quietly stoic and the only indication that the two of them were together was a brief moment where they exchanged a look at the screen of the phone.
On arrival in the city in the hustle of transferring trams and lugging baggage around, I lost sight of the odd, but harmless seeming girls and focused on trying to squeeze onto a crowded tram. Suddenly, a man yelled out to my mum “Watch your bag!” and when I looked over one of the two girls had her hand in mum’s secure ‘theft-proof’ satchel trying to get her wallet.
Luckily, we saw it just in time and the girl quickly skipped off the tram as the doors closed. When I turned around, I realised that I hadn’t been so lucky. My bag was open, and my conspicuous bright pink wallet was gone. With it went all my credit cards, bank cards, drivers’ licence, health insurance cards and about $20 AUD in cash. It could have been much worse as I’d been debating getting cash out from an ATM at the airport.
Because I realised so quickly, I was able to cancel all my cards within the hour before any transactions were made, but quickly had to face the reality of the next ten days without my wallet. Because it is easy for panic to set in and hard to know what to do in a foreign country, I’ve pulled together these steps on exactly what to do if you’re pickpocketed in Europe and how to minimise the damage if you are.
Tips: What to do if you’re pickpocketed?
Find space: If you’re in the middle of a busy city or on a tram, find a quiet place like a hotel lobby where you can catch your breath and think.
Don’t panic. Stay calm and make a list of exactly what has been taken. Panic won’t help you here and you want to make sure you know exactly what is missing so that you know what needs to be cancelled and replaced.
Report it to the police. Most of the time, this won’t do anything to help you get your belongings back – they’re long gone – but you may need a policy report for travel insurance or to avoid paying reissue fees.
Passport Reissue. If your passport has been taken, you’ll need to head to the embassy or consulate to arrange a new passport. This may mean you’ll need to get new photos taken in order for it to be issued. Take your police report along.
Cancel stolen cards. You’ll likely need to wait a while in the police station waiting rooms and or passport office to make a statement and get your report or passport, so use this time to call your card and banking providers to cancel your stolen cards and reissue new ones.
Check for dodgy transactions. Check online banking to make sure no transactions have been made by the thieves. Continue to monitor for the next few weeks to make sure nothing untoward occurs.
Arrange for emergency credit. If all your cards have gone or you don’t have access to your money because you’ve cancelled your plastic, then you may need to arrange for an emergency card to be sent to you. Most banks can organise this service and get a card to be delivered to your hotel within 48 hours.
Use Apple/Android Pay. If you’re away for a while, once your cards are reissued, get a trusted family member or friend to send you the new details for your accounts via an encrypted message service (i.e. WhatsApp). Activate the cards and set up phone payment – you’ll then be able to access your cash again to pay for things. My ING Apple Pay was a lifesaver when this happened to me.
How to avoid getting pickpocketed when on the road?
Keep an eye out for people making a scene and if you spot them, make sure your valuables are not accessible to them – they could be distracting you in order for someone to snatch your belongings.
Don’t keep your wallet or passport in a backpack. You won’t be able to keep them in sight and pickpockets can easily sneak their hands in without you noticing and can even cut off a padlock quickly to grab your items. The same goes for back pockets – avoid using these for your wallet or valuables.
Split your valuables. If you have credit cards and cash, store them in two different places, so that if you do get pickpocketed, you’re not completely out of cash and credit.
Move over money belt and get yourself a pair of Squirrl robber proof undies, ladies! A brand-new Australian company have designed pickpocket proof underwear that have a little front pouch for passports and cards. Check them out here and pictured below.
Avoid people who approach you to take part in a survey or who claim to have lost something. They’re a decoy to distract you from a pickpocket.
Be extra alert in crowded areas, museums, public transit and around tourist attractions. These spots are rife for pickpocketing hands.
Keep an eye on your bag and belongings when you are sitting in a restaurant.
Buy a slash-proof bag. Elecom or Pacsafe make some good ones.
Try not to look lost or look like a tourist – that’s like a beacon to pickpockets.
Only use clean, well lit ATMs. I prefer to use an ATM that is inside a bank rather than on the street.
Europe is an amazing place to be, but it is rife with potential pickpocketing opportunities. In major tourist areas, sneaky hands wait for tourists to let their guard down and it is important to keep your wits about you.
I’ve learned that I had become complacent in my many years of travel, so I hope this guide helps you identify risky situations and know what to look for. But I also hope that if you are pickpocketed in Europe, this article also helps you catch your breath, be prepared and take the right action to protect yourself and still enjoy the rest of your trip.
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase.
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