This article is from the April 1998 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Pickpockets, Bag Snatchers and Other Travel Delights

by Robert B. Simmonds, Ph.D.

Your trip can end in a flash of a second, and sometimes you may not learn about your misfortune till much later, like when it’s time to pay the dinner bill. "Hmmm...let’s see, my wallet was in this pocket, I’m sure. But no, maybe it’s here. Now, let me see....hon, did I give you my wallet?" And then after scanning your day, clinging to denial for as long as possible, there comes that jolt of realization that your wallet is gone and you’ll never see it again. Instant panic and/or depression hits. How can the world be so cruel? We’re here for pleasure, for life experience...and then the shadow rears its dark hue. You have instant rapport with the survivors of the Titanic.

Jens Jurgen, editor of Travel Companion Exchange (rated recently by Newsday as "one of the three best general travel newsletters," a publication which focuses on matching up people who would otherwise travel alone and who want to take advantage of price breaks given to couples or small groups), has published a 24-page manual which is essential reading for anyone planning a trip abroad...and his tips even work in your local shopping mall in the States. Even the most seasoned veteran traveler can fall prey to clever schemes and diversions. He gives over 200 examples of scams and prevention tips in his publication, Foiling Pickpockets and Bag Snatchers and Other Travel Related Crimes or Scams.

He describes the "lifted skirt" diversion and the "taxi trunk bag grab." He points out that pickpockets always work in teams. "While one person diverts your attention for a moment, a second crook picks your pocket or walks off with your bag. Most thefts are over in a second or two." Jurgens warns that you can’t spot thieves by their appearance— it’s hard to believe they are crooks. They may be look like well dressed business travelers, tourists, or may even pose as clergy, a guard, porter or granny.

He describes the "locker trick." While you are placing your valuables in a coin locker, found in train stations and airports, another well dressed "traveler" just happens to have the right change...and this person may even help you with your bags, close the locker door and hand you the key. What you haven’t noticed is that the key is switched— you get a key for an empty locker and the thief has yours.

He also warns that many people carry their money and documents in the popular neck pouches worn beneath a skirt or blouse...but this is hardly a safeguard anymore. Some thieves cut the string or lift it right over your head before you know it and are gone within seconds.

Jurgens provides ways to safeguard your belongings against all of the popular tricks used by thieves you may encounter during your travels. For example, you might try carrying an old wallet in your back pocket...and let the thief take that instead of the real thing hidden elsewhere. Arthur Frommer wrote, "I have read a lot of material on this subject, and this report is the best advice of its kind I have seen."

To order a copy of this 24-page booklet, mail a check for $3.95 to: Travel Companion Exchange, Inc., Attn: Pickpocket Reprint, P.O. Box 833, Amityville, NY 11701, or send $6.00 for two copies. An annual subscription to his newsletter, Travel Companions, can be ordered for $48.00. This includes four free back issues, as well as the "Pickpocket Booklet." Send your order to the above address or phone 516-454-0880 or fax to 516-454-0170.