Travel Thieves I Have Known

by TFB Editors on April 11, 2012

By Christine Krzyszton

They can steal your happy vacation away with their magic hands, in the blink of an eye, without you even knowing it. They have become craftier and more talented as we learn their old tricks. But some travelers are not prepared and even if they are, they can still become a victim of these modern day scam artists and thieves.

My first encounter was in the Paris subway where I was preparing to get on the train. He ran by me, but for some blessed reason I saw him and threw my hand out and screamed at him — but not before he had unzipped my bag. In an instant, while running full speed, he had managed to unzip my purse. My heart raced as I reached in the pocket. I was so relieved when I found he had not taken a thing. I was lucky.

My friend was not so lucky. On a return trip to Paris, we were on the escalator when a few boys ran past,  pushing and shoving, and it was during this distraction that her wallet was lifted from the bottom of her closed shoulder bag!

Thieves are not always obvious and their scams get more divertive. A mother with a child sits on the ground begging for money, you reach in your bag to pull out some change, and now the surrounding thieves know where you keep your money. Their eyes are watching you when you purchase tickets, put away your passport, or pay for your lunch. You’re busy watching a street performer and they’re busy working the crowd and pickpocketing. They will offer you a newspaper, holding it at your midsection while they unzip your fanny pack. Kids will throw you a ball and when you try to catch it, the pickpocket runs by and snatches your wallet. If you think you would notice and not be taken advantage of, you are wrong.

Knowing all of this, you would think I would be savvy enough to avoid being taken. Not so. Recently in a plaza in Madrid, some lovely ladies came by with roses: “Tango lessons at 1 p.m., tango lessons at 1 p.m., come to our show! Would you like a rose? Only one American penny.” After saying no repeatedly, I finally reached for the penny and she said, “No, not that penny,” but it was already too late. Her accompanist already had a wad of my cash. Fortunately someone saw her and she realized it because she quickly said, “Here — you dropped your money.” It was not a lot, maybe $20 because I had divided my money up into several places. But it goes to show, they catch you when you least expect it.

Everyone knows to beware of dishonest taxi drivers. I do as well. I always ask what the approximate fare will be before I enter a taxi. When I arrive at a strange airport late at night, I have already armed myself with knowledge about the approximate fares to my destination and negotiate with the driver before I even get into the cab.

So in Athens, when we asked to be taken to a specific area of town for dinner I negotiated the fare ahead of time and we got into the cab. “No, no, the food is not good there,” the cabbie said. “You should go to this other area, and the food there is much fresher because it is by the water. Where you’re going is where the tourists go — expensive food and not so good.” He had a local recommendation and the taxi fare would be”just a little more” and the food “not expensive and the view is beautiful.” Makes sense, right?

Wrong. It was very expensive and the restaurant was probably owned by his brother or he was getting a hefty kickback. And when we completed our dinner, it was difficult to get a taxi back to our hotel. It was not a huge deal as we had a lovely dinner on the water and all worked out well, although pricey, but it could have been much worse.

Just like in any large city in the world, you have to be aware of what is going on around you and not be as trusting as you might be back home. Most people are honest and will help you. It’s just those few bad apples that can ruin your vacation. Read up on the most recent travel scams before you leave Be alert, protective, and smart with your actions, and you’ll be just fine.

What travel scam artists and thieves have you encountered in your travels?

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