Warning sign that’s backfiring on tourists
THE well-worn streets of Europe's major cities are places Australian tourists can feel reasonably safe from crime - except for the dreaded pickpocket.
While we have both bewildered eyes on the sights of a foreign city, the city's petty criminals have their eyes fixed on us. And they're very clever at knowing exactly when, and how, to strike.
We probably all have a story about being pickpocketed, or narrowly avoiding a pickpocketing, in Europe, even when we think we have our wits about us.
And even the instinctive actions of a conscientious tourist can inadvertently backfire and make them an easy target for street thieves.
Seasoned traveller Rebecca Baldwin, from the United States, raised the point in a Quora discussion about things tourists did that screamed, "I'm asking to be pickpocketed".
She said in her experience, signs that warned people to beware of pickpockets - which are often seen in subway stations in big cities like Paris and London - often backfired on tourists.
"This is one tourists never realise. In fact, a lot of people never realise this," Ms Baldwin said.
"When the subway stops and tourists immediately see these signs, they stop in their tracks and check their most valuable possessions. They check for their money, credit cards, passport, and visa by touching their pants, coat pocket, or purse where their valuables are.
"They will even check their neck and wrists to make sure their necklaces and watches are still there from the subway ride.
"Once they feel their valuables are still safe with them, on they go."
And that was pickpockets looked out for, Ms Baldwin said.
"What they don't realise by doing this is they've actually told pickpockets and other thieves where their valuables are," she said.
"That sign they saw is an unknowing prompt to check their valuables. People in pickpocket rings on the subway will signal the other pickpockets waiting RIGHT UNDER THOSE SIGNS and they'll follow you for a bit and take your very important papers, currency, or keepsakes.
"They even have children as young as eight years old who are trained to pickpocket so you won't suspect them."
Ms Baldwin suggested tourists kept their things safe by putting them in unusual places and not checking for them while on, or getting off, the subway.
"You're just telling everyone where your good stuff is," she said.
And another dumb thing Ms Baldwin said she saw was tourists wearing expensive jewellery while sightseeing, including during the day.
"It's just stupid to do that and too easy to get a nice necklace yanked off your neck," she said.
"Even wealthy people rarely wear expensive jewellery when sightseeing. Many even wear replica costume jewellery during nice dinner evenings out.
"The only times I see people wearing a ton of nice jewellery are when people want to shove their wealth in your face. That's just asking to be robbed.
"The locals don't take kindly to that type of attitude, either."
An Australian traveller recently told news.com.au she fell for two common street scams twice in 48 hours in Rome.
In the first robbery, Mary Wallace had her bank card stolen from a seemingly genuine man who offered his help while she was struggling to use an ATM.
Two days later, on a bus in Rome's popular Trastevere district, she had her wallet swiftly stolen from the bag she was tightly clutching under her arm.
"I was furious. I also felt very vulnerable, was I an easy mark, did I look frail, stupid? Why had it happened to me twice in two days?" she told news.com.au.
"I felt unwilling to leave the apartment, unsafe and suspicious. I was on edge and angry."
Travel insurance company Travel Insurance Direct said there was a variety of common crimes targeting tourists in Europe this year.
• The "there's something on your shirt!" scam: A foul substance such as fake bird droppings or mustard is splashed on to your shirt, and while a "helpful stranger" cleans it off for you someone picks your pocket.
• The infamous "gold ring" scam: A passer-by stops you and says you've dropped something, and shows you a "gold" ring. It's either a distraction technique - and your pocket is picked - or they insist you pay them a reward for finding it.
• "There's something wrong with your car!" scam: As you're driving a car pulls alongside and the driver indicates there's something drastically wrong with the rear of your vehicle. You stop, and as you and the stranger go to inspect the problem an accomplice makes off with your wallet/purse from the front seat.
• Hotel rats of Paris: Gangs of thieves are disguising themselves as tourists and infiltrating hotels around Paris. Some of them are opportunistic and will hang out in the lobby waiting for luggage and personal belongings to be left unattended before swooping.
Others are a bit more sophisticated and will actually check into hotels popular with tourists and then break into other hotel rooms to steal valuables.
• Moped gangs of London: Groups of armed thieves are roaming the streets on mopeds and scooters mugging and assaulting unassuming pedestrians and motorists. This includes tourist who are seen as easy prey. These gangs have a propensity for violence and are usually armed with bats, axes, knifes and won't hesitate in using force to get their way.
If you've fallen victim to pickpockets, scams or other crimes on holiday, make sure you notify the police immediately and contact your travel insurer's Emergency Assistance team should you need any medical assistance.
Has something happened to you on holiday? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
- With Kate Schneider.