Don’t let your much-anticipated holiday be ruined by thieves, crooks and scammers. Criminologist Bob Arno reveals how to be street-savvy while enjoying the trip of a lifetime
BE WARY The sneakiest thieves play on our innate tendencies to trust and be nice. Question the motivation behind an encounter, regardless of how friendly the stranger appears to be. That nice woman who asked for help with directions was opening your purse under her map.
KNOW YOUR AREA Research popular crimes and rates for the areas you’re visiting. For example purse-slicing is common in St Petersburg. Necklace-snatching happens all over South America and Naples is famous for its scooter-riding bandits, who snag purses on the move.
HOLD YOUR BAG CLOSE Keep bags close and in front of your body, not hanging behind. Never hang bags on the back of a café chair, leave them on the floor or in a shopping trolley, or on a bench in a shoe shop. Watch your belongings when arriving at a hotel in a car. If not paying strict attention your purse, backpack or shoulder bag can be ripped off you as you unload or pay the taxi. Men should carry big money and credit cards in an under-clothes security pouch. They can keep small money in a pocket for coffees and taxis. Failing that, men should carry their wallets in their tightest pocket. To avoid scooter-based crimes, walk on the inside of the pavement, away from the curb, and walk against the traffic.
DONT STAND OUT Dress down. If youre wearing a Rolex or diamond earrings – even if theyre fakes – you look like you have something worth stealing.
BE PREPARED Photocopy the front and back of your credit cards and the first page of your passport and email it toyourself so you have it on file. To be extra cautious print and leave the copy in the hotel safe along with another credit card, so if you’re pickpocketed, you have an easy source of funds and the phone numbers, on the back of your cards, to cancel the accounts.
AVOID GANGS Watch out for gangs of children, women and girls. Many are controlled by organisedcrime bosses, who tutor them in various techniques of pickpocketing.
GADGETS Cameras and mobile phones are highly desirable objects and far easier to steal than your wallet. I’ve never met a pickpocket who isn’t using a mobile that he or she previously stole. Carry your camera on a wide sturdy trap and dont flash it in locations with a reputation for ‘grab and run’ crimes. Local hotel staff can advise on what areas to be careful in and at what times of the day.
GETTING AROUND Public transport is by far the most common locale for pickpocketing, especially at the moment when you enter or depart the tram, car or bus (at the door). The busier it is, the higher the risk. Professional teams travel in groups of three and create their own choke-points or blocking scenarios. Be on guard and hold purses and wallets tight.
CASHPOINTS Cash machines have two threats. One is the ‘skimmer’, a small device at the mouth of the machine. The second is the shoulder surfer’, who lurks near the cash machine and observes the PIN code used; the lurker then follows the person who used the cash machine, waiting for an opportunity to steal the card. Always shield your code as you enter it. If your card is ‘eaten’ by the machine, try to cancel the transaction, even if you have to abandon your card. Do not accept help from a stranger.
POISONING Drink spiking is not uncommon and, worryingly, the drugs used have no colour, taste or smell, and may take a while to affect you. Watch your drinks at all times. Avoid sharing drinks and accepting drinks from people you don’t know. Don’t drink anything you didn’t open or see opened or poured. Stick to your group, and if you feel dizzy ask to be taken to a safe place.
Bob Arno and Bambi Vincet’s Travel Advisory: How To Avoid Thefts, Cons, And Street Scams While Traveling is available at amazon.com