It’s a sad fact of life there are people out there who will try to take advantage of you. Being a tourist makes you an especially vulnerable target for many things. It is not always obvious when travelling if something that is happening is out of the ordinary and should be observed with caution or if it is just a local eccentricity.
Thieves prey on this vulnerability and they have methodically polished their strategies over the years to invent the craftiest pick pocketing techniques. Gone are the days when a mugging or petty crime was obvious. These days a person may not know they are being robbed until hours later.
While we may not be able to put a stop to these malicious acts all together there are a few pointers which should always be adhered to when travelling in busy cities.
Try to avoid walking down the street staring at a map. If you need to consult a map, then do it inside a shop, where lurkers cannot see you doing so. People tend to scope out busy areas and prey on people who stop to check the map.
Keep your cash in a money belt. It may not look super cool, but it is one of the best ways to avoid the quick pick pocket.
Here are a few of the scams I’ve been warned of or heard of from friends who succumbed to the trickery.
The Gold ring.
I was warned about this one when I was visiting Paris. This is said to be most popular around the Eiffel tower and Champs Elysees. The gist of it is, a tourist is walking along and notices a gold ring on the ground and stops to pick it up. Or alternatively, a tourist is approached by a ‘helpful’ local and asked if the ring on the ground belongs to them. Some tourists may stop and pick up the ring or accept the ring that is offered to them. This is the point that the local gains the trust of the tourist. The local then asks for a reward, help to feed their children, pay their bills etc. Either this happens or the gold ring is just a distraction while an accomplice pick pockets the tourist.
If you see jewellery on the ground or if someone stops you to ask if you dropped your ring, keep walking. Unless of course it really is yours!
My friend succumbed to this one in Barcelona. Street performers are a tough one to categorise as many are honestly trying to earn their keep. However, there are those who will get too close and try to interact with tourists and this is when you need to be weary.
The performer asks directly for one of the tourists possessions, most likely their wallet, in order to perform the trick. They will either run off with it, or take out cash as part of the magical act. Although blaringly obvious, my friend said it was too obvious to be a ruse. Turned out nothing is too obvious! If it seems fishy it probably is.
Surveys or questionnaires
In many cities tourists will encounter different types of locals who will approach holding a clipboard and asking to have their survey or questionnaire filled out. This is another of myriad distraction tricks intended for the tourist to lower their guard and occupy their hands with something else.
If you are ever travelling with large denomination notes, try to mark them in some way as to make them distinguishable. Some restaurant owners will take a 50 Euro note as payment, then return to your table a little while later returning the note to you and informing you that it is a fake note and you must pay again.