6. The “friendship” bracelet
Bad actors tie string around a tourist’s wrist or finger and braid it into a bracelet, then demand money and threaten the tourist if turned down.
7. The fake police officer
In city centers and resorts in Spain, some thieves pose as police, approach tourists and ask to see their wallets for identification, the British government warns. If this happens to you, establish that the officers are genuine and, if necessary, show some other form of ID. Genuine police officers don’t ask to see wallets or purses.
8. The phony petition
In tourist enclaves in Paris, young boys and girls, some pretending that they cannot hear or speak, approach with a petition and ask for your signature — and money, French police officials warn. The youths may seem to be affiliated with legitimate associations but are not. “Their only aim is to get money from you, which will never be transferred to these organizations but instead used to fund illegal organizations and underground networks,” the officials say.
9. The crush-and-grab on the subway
Several people swarm you as they try to get on or off a train car and, as they push you, pick your pockets. Another tactic is grabbing the purse of a passenger sitting by the door and hopping off as the doors close. So find a seat away from the doors and minimize access to your pockets and purse.
10. The highway pirates
These thieves wave your vehicle over for assistance with a flat tire or mechanical trouble, but as you help, an accomplice makes off with possessions in your unlocked vehicle. Also, in many parts of Spain, rental cars carry a large sticker on the back of the vehicle, and there have been numerous reports of thieves breaking into rentals parked at scenic overlooks and other tourist spots and stealing valuables, the Overseas Security Advisory Council says.
These aren't small-time crooks
Criminals preying on tourists may be part of major crime rings. Europol, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement, has said that although pickpocketing still is sometimes considered petty crime, “highly professional groups” often are to blame and can reap millions from the illegal activity.
Ringleaders bankroll luxury lifestyles for themselves, but many pickpockets, some children, are “exploited foot soldiers.”
Before you travel
- Alert your credit card company to set up fraud protections, such as a daily limit on charges to your account from the same location on the same day.
- Review the State Department’s country information at travel.state.gov/destination.
- Enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program for the latest safety information about your destination.
- Keep the phone number and address of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate handy, “so you have it in case you need help,” says Tuttle, now with the nonprofit Council on Foreign Relations. Here’s a general number for State’s Office of Overseas Citizens Services: 202-501-4444.
- Avoid using handbags, fanny packs and outside pockets that are easy targets for thieves, the State Department says in “A Safe Trip Abroad.” One of safest places for valuables is in a pouch or money belt worn under your clothing.
- Be extra careful at tourist hot spots. Thieves prowl in and near museums, monuments, restaurants and hotels, at beaches, train stations and airports, and on subways and trains. Some target vehicles with nonlocal license plates. Pickpocketing is a threat “in major urban centers and highways across Spain,” the U.S. Embassy in Madrid has warned.
- Avoid placing passports, cash, cellphones and other valuables in the outer pockets of backpacks or purses or on tables in public places. Do not leave bags unattended or bags slung over the back of chairs, on hotel or store counters, on top of your suitcase or travel bag or out of your physical control. Keep only what you absolutely need in your wallet.
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