If you’ve been to Europe before then it’s likely you’ve run into pickpockets at some point during your trip. If you haven’t been before and you’re in the process of planning a Europe trip then you’ve either been told to watch out for pickpockets or you already came across some stories about them during your research.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned traveler or if you’ve never been abroad before, pickpockets are prevalent in the majority of places you’ll be visiting in Europe.
Sure, some places like Paris, Rome and London have a bigger problem with it than smaller towns and villages but it’s still something you’re going to want to watch out for just so that a few seconds of carelessness don’t put a huge damper on your entire trip.
Hopefully, you don’t think that you’re immune to getting pickpocketed because every year there are thousands of travelers that become victims to these petty criminals that are looking to steal your wallet and gain access to your credit cards, take any of the cash you have and try to sell your passport on the black market.
There are few things worse that I can think of doing during the Europe trip than spending the entire day having to call the credit card companies, bank and any other financial or government based businesses or services having to deal with everything that I lost.
Thankfully, as long as you come prepared and learn what you can do to prevent yourself from getting pickpocketed you’ll be able to enjoy the time you’re spending abroad without having to worry constantly about having your wallet, purse or any of your cash/cards stolen from you.
In this post I want to talk about:
- Where you’ll typically find pickpockets
- Who pickpockets are most interested in targeting
- The various methods that they use to steal your wallet or purse
- How to prevent yourself from becoming a victim
Pickpockets in Europe 101
Where You’ll Typically Find Pickpockets
It’s pretty obvious that the busier, more popular city that you visit the more likely you are to run into a pickpocket.
On the flip side, if you’re visiting anywhere off the beaten path or you’re planning on exploring some small towns and tucked away villages it’s a lot less likely that you’ll run into anybody looking for trouble.
Here are some of the most popular cities in Europe where you can expect to run into a pickpocket:
- Paris, France
- Rome, Italy
- Milan, Italy
- Venice, Italy
- Florence, Italy
- Madrid, Spain
- Barcelona, Spain
- Amsterdam, the Netherlands
- London, England
- Vienna, Austria
- Prague, Czech Republic
- Brno, Czech Republic
- Bucharest, Romania
Of course, these are some of the more popular cities but it doesn’t mean that you should avoid them and even during your visit it’s not very likely at all that you’ll run into someone looking to steal the contents of your pocket.
All of the cities above are completely safe and on a global scale they’re much safer than most of the major cities you’ll find in the United States, Asia and South America.
Spotting a Pickpocket
If you’ve watched a few travel movies or TV shows before but you’ve never run into any problems with pickpockets then you probably think that they are shady looking guys in track suits that follow you around when you’re exploring a new city.
While I’m sure there are pickpockets that meet this description I’ve never actually run into any and even when I go searching for them it’s never the type of person that you would expect at first glance.
In Europe, specifically in places like Paris, Prague and Rome the most common type of pickpocket is a young boy or girl in their early to mid teens.
The reason that this is the case is because many people would never suspect a young person and you are a lot less likely to be suspicious if there are some young people walking around compared to if there were some shady-looking men standing nearby.
Young people are also more likely to be pickpockets because they’re not so worried about dealing with police and they’re also not worried about anyone being violent towards them because of their small stature and age.
However, keep in mind that these are just the obvious ones that you’re able to spot once you know what to look for.
Of course, there are more professional pickpocket that are better dressed and probably look like tourists just like you or me so you would never suspect them either way.
Another thing to remember when it comes to preventing yourself from getting pickpocketed is that the criminals involved usually work in small groups.
What happens is that one person will make an effort to distract you while the other person that you’re not paying attention to quickly grabs your wallet or purse.
After you’ve been pickpocketed the one distracting you will simply end the conversation, walk away and before you know it all of your cash, ID and credit cards will be long gone.
Where You’ll Find Pickpockets
Thankfully, not everywhere you go in a major city is going to be a popular place for people interested in pickpocketing tourists.
They mostly hang around areas where there are a lot of tourists around and where they’re least likely to get caught because of the crowds, lack of police and exit points.
Here are some of the more popular areas where it’s more likely that you’ll run into a pickpocket.
Major Tourist Landmarks and Attractions
It shouldn’t be surprising that the majority of pickpockets are going to hang out where the majority of tourists are and in big cities that’s usually close to the most popular landmarks, attractions and other points of interest.
For example, if you’re in Paris you can expect to run into pickpockets if you’re walking around the Eiffel Tower or the Cathedral of Notre Dame. I’ve spotted them in Paris myself hanging around near the Louvre and close to the Lock Bridge as well.
Another example I can give you is Prague.
You’ll mostly find them on the Charles Bridge and right in the heart of the Old Town, especially when the astronomical clock goes off and there are huge crowds not paying too much attention to what’s going on except for the clock above.
It’s no surprise that they hang out in these areas because all of the tourists are mostly focused on taking in their surroundings, taking great photos and just enjoying themselves rather than worrying about what’s going on.
Metro and Buses
Another popular area for pickpockets is public transportation and mostly the metro and buses.
They prefer these two methods of transportation because they tend to be packed, especially during busy commuting hours and it’s a lot easier for them to blend in and take something without getting caught or noticed.
The large crowds also make it harder for you to run after someone or catch them if they steal something out of your pocket and it’s also harder for police and security to have complete control over the situation.
Tourists are especially vulnerable when it comes to public transportation because they probably never visited that specific station or bus stop before and they’re usually distracted looking at maps or trying to find out where to go.
Train stations are another popular spot for pickpockets and you should be especially wary after you’ve gotten off a long train journey or if you’ve just arrived and you’re looking where to find the departure track.
Museums and Exhibits
You wouldn’t think so but museums and art exhibits are another popular place for pickpockets.
Entrance fee to these places tend to be quite cheap and obviously there are lots of clueless tourists walking around feeling quite safe about their surroundings so they’re especially not paying attention when they’re admiring art or reading some info about a special exhibition.
This is a major problem in big cities like Rome and Paris where there are some incredible, world-class museums and security are having a lot of trouble keeping out pickpockets.
Other Popular Spots
The places that I have listed are some of the more popular spots but it’s also possible to get pickpocketed anywhere you are in the city.
When you’re grabbing something to eat or enjoying a cold drink you should also be wary of anyone nearby that looks suspicious or any groups of young people that might grab your smartphone or purse when you’re not paying attention.
The beach is another popular spot where a lot of problems occur because too many people just leave all their stuff behind while they head out into the water.
This is almost too easy for pickpockets and when you’re visiting the beach you should never bring any valuables at all or just keep them on you in a waterproof bag.
How You Get Pickpocketed
Pickpocketing seems quite straightforward but it’s not as easy as someone just reach into your pocket and taking something away.
Sure, that’s the basic premise behind it but there is a little bit more methodology that goes into someone stealing your stuff while you’re just walking around.
The most important techniques that pickpockets take advantage of is their ability to distract you.
If you’re not paying attention to what’s around you or your paying attention to something specific you’re probably not worried about keeping what’s in your pockets or in your purse safe and this makes you a target.
Here are some of the more common ways that you might get distracted when you’re walking around being a tourist in a different city.
The Clipboard Approach
All over Western and Central Europe I’ve seen this scam going on.
The way it works is that a group of girls will approach you pretending to be deaf or mute or have some other illness with a clipboard in their hands.
Once they get your attention they start asking you to sign the clipboard and they’ll also look for a charitable donation that they can con out of you.
Many travellers are very kind and are more than happy to give a donation but while they’re signing the paper there is another accomplice that’s reaching into their pocket or purse and taking something of value.
Apart from that, the charity that you’re signing for doesn’t even exist in the money just goes into their pockets or to someone else without helping anyone at all.
I’ve seen this happened hundreds of times across most of Europe and every time it happens I can’t help but feel bad for the innocent tourists that are just looking to help someone in need.
Crowded Bus or Metro
During peak travel times it’s not uncommon for buses and metro cars to become completely full.
Pickpockets travel in groups will take advantage of this situation and will jump onto very crowded buses or metro cars.
During the trip to the next stop a few of them will pick some pockets and right as the doors open a few others might grab some purses and just run away.
If you ever experience any of these crowded public transportation situations it’s a good idea to keep everything of value and your hands in front of you and be sure to keep your back to the wall so that you can pay attention to everyone around you.
If you’re on an empty bus or metro car and someone sits very close to you or approaches you it would be a good idea to move away and find somewhere else to sit just to avoid any problems.
The phone snatch is much more popular in South America but it still happens quite often in Europe as well.
It’s a very straightforward pickpocketing method and rather than distracting you or actually picking your pocket someone will just snatch your phone or tablet right out of your hands and sprint away before you know what to do.
If you’re traveling with a heavy suitcase you are surprisingly a target for thieves as well.
What happens if someone will notice that you’re struggling up the stairs with your luggage and will offer to help you.
Once they offer you’ll let go and take a breath of relief but while this is happening either the person helping you or someone else that you didn’t notice is grabbing something out of your pocket or your purse.
Getting Bumped Into
Whenever you’re walking in a crowded area it’s quite common for someone to bump into you by accident.
Pickpockets know that this occurs and will actually bump into you on purpose while at the same time grabbing your wallet, grabbing something out of your purse or taking something out of the pockets in your jacket.
Getting Asked Directions
Another one of the more popular pickpocketing technique is for one of them to approach you with a map or something else that they can ask you about.
When your face is covered and you distracted on a compass will be grabbing something out of your bag, taking your wallet or even snatching your smartphone from the table you’re sitting at.
Approached at the ATM
Taking money out of an ATM makes you especially vulnerable and you should know by now that there’s never any reason for someone to start a conversation with you or ask many questions when you’re busy taking your money.
What happens here is that someone will come up to you and make an effort to divert your attention towards whatever they’re asking or showing you.
As you are distracted another member of the pickpocketing to you will either steal all the cash that just came out or press the cash button then steal your cash once it has been ejected.
Who is a Target?
There really isn’t a specific type of tourist that is most likely to be a target for pickpocketers but if you look like an easy target chances are you might experience some issues when you’re traveling.
Looking Like a Tourist
one of the easiest ways to become a target is to look completely like a tourist.
By this I mean flaunting expensive electronics, wearing any clothes that reveals what country you’re from, speak in your native language loudly in the streets or dressing in a way that isn’t so common in the face or visiting.
Walking Around with Luggage
Unfortunately this can’t be avoided if you’re traveling with a lot of stuff but if you’re pulling along a pair of suitcases and you have a huge backpack along with an over-the-shoulder bag then you’re definitely going to be marked as someone vulnerable to getting pickpocketed.
With so much luggage it’s hard to keep an eye on everything and any small distraction can be a huge problem, especially if you’re traveling with a lot of expensive gear.
How to Avoid Getting Pickpocketed
If you’re traveling a lot then even if you take all the precautions you still might become a victim of pickpocketing.
However, there are some things you can do to stay safer and prevent any problems from being devastating to your trip.
Common sense goes a long way and as long as you’re paying attention to what’s happening around you you’ll be a lot better off than the majority of people that aimlessly wandering around and are clueless to their surroundings.
Don’t Carry Any Valuables
This might sound like the most straightforward tip but the best way to protect yourself from pickpockets is to simply avoid carrying anything that’s valuable.
You shouldn’t be traveling with a wallet in your back pocket at all anyways but you should also avoid keeping large sums of cash, all of your credit cards or all of your important travel documents in one place that’s easily exposed.
Just bring out a few dollars for the day and maybe one piece of ID and one credit card rather than bring everything you have.
It’s a better bet to leave anything important in the safe back at your hotel, locked up in your hostel locker or hidden in your AirBnb apartment.
Use a Money Belt
Traveling with a money belt is one of the best ways to make sure that all of your valuables can be kept secure.
I actually wrote a post on the best money belt for travel so I recommend taking a look at that if you’re interested in picking one up.
When you’re using a money belt keep in mind that you don’t want to be flashing it around or accessing it on a regular basis when there are people around.
You should only be using it to keep any of your extra foreign currency or even a spare credit card that you don’t have to use it throughout the day and are only needed if there’s an emergency.
Keep an Eye on Your Backpack/Purse/Camera Bag
Backpacks, purses and camera bags are prime targets for pickpockets this so it’s a good idea to always keep an eye on them whether you’re just walking around town or taking any public transportation.
You don’t have to go too overboard but just make sure that you always have an idea where your backpack or purse is and that whenever you’re not using it it’s kept completely zipped shut.
If you’re in a crowded area you should wear it on your front and keep both your hands on it and if you’re sitting anywhere to eat or drink be sure to keep it in front of you within arms reach.
As long as you follow the tips and techniques that I covered today you are much better off than the majority of travellers when it comes to staying safe from pickpockets.
Don’t worry, it’s not like everyone everywhere is looking to steal something from you.
If you practice some common sense and you’re a little bit more vigilant about your belongings and valuables when you’re traveling you should be well on your way to avoiding having to deal with any issues.