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Fighting Back Against Pickpockets?

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Wondering if anyone has ever fought back physically against the pickpockets in Italy or France or the like? Reading all the posts about the constant harassment tourists undergo does not make me sympathetic towards this group of individuals who assume none of us work hard for those dollars we bring to Europe. Any stories of anyone really letting the pickpockets have it? I swear I feel like keeping my Swiss Army knife at the ready or breaking some kids arm while it's digging in my bag. Not PC, but this is ridiculous that Americans don't pressure foreign governments to police tourist areas better. And to have the natives stand by and accept this as the status quo reflects truly on their character. Any opinions?

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    Assuming you are not a troll I will try to give an answer.
    You don't NEED to have your pockets picked. Some simple precautionary measures suffice to make it impossible for pickpockets to do their job. Only lazy, ignorant and/or stupid people have their pockets picked. It is not a "constant harassment".
    And the risk is as big in New York City as in Rome, so why isn't the NYC police doing anything against it? And why do American "natives" accept this "status quo"?
    You have probably never been to Europe, and if you have, please don't come again.

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    Sjoerd, you don't think you're coming down just a LITTLE hard on our poster here, do you? I agree that being naive is "asking for it" and a little bit of street smartness goes a long way toward preventing -- all but eliminating -- this type of crime. That said, I think that to say ONLY lazy, stupid or ignorant people become victims may be going a bit far. There are stories on this board about people "fighting back", but many cases, pickpocketing is more a crime of stealth than an actual confrontation with someone. There is pickpocketing and then there is mugging. Take precautions, be alert and if you spot someone sizing you up, your demeanor can send a big message. After hearing about a rather infamous area at the Brussels Midi station from a local where thefts are rampant, I had the opportunity to "case" a particular young gentleman who was trying his his best to engage me in a situation that was quite obviously a set-up. Since the few valuables I had were secured like Fort Knox anyway, I played the situation out for nearly 10 minutes, just to gain some insight (business must have been slow for him that day). It was obvious to me that he had accomplices outside the station and he needed to get me to a particular location to complete the job. Keep in mind that pickpockets and thieves are not necessarily just a bunch of mindless thugs. Some of them have more creative, interesting techniques to engage you. Many travelers relish the opportunity to interact with "the locals" and that affinity is a characteristic that will sometimes be incorporated into the set-up. It's not all just "smash & dash". Forewarned is forearmed, but as for carrying a weapon, FedUp? Horrible idea. Forget about it. If you don't want someone digging in your bag, don't carry a bag. You CAN and SHOULD protect yourself with good-sense precautions. That said, the odds are such that even most lazy, stupid and ignorant people probably get through their trip without being robbed. Sjoerd is right: it is not a "constant harrassment". On the flip side of that, complacency about it will greatly increase your risk.

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    Good Afternoon or Morning as the case may be. Having been the target of a pick pocket in Paris, I would can assure Mr. Fed Up that if his pocket is picked sucessfully, he probably will not know it until well after the fact.
    I never felt a thing other than the fact that the fellow bumped into me as I entered the car while he was pretending to read the route map posted above the door.

    I learned that the guy had fingered my pocket only when another passenger on the Metro train asked me, in English, if everything was still in my pockets. I felt, and nothing was gone.

    Now this does not rule out some of the clumsy attempts to rip or cut a pack off of you and run. Nor does it exclude some of the vandalizing behavior that you encounter from time to time on the Paris Metro.

    As for toting a concealed weapon, I don't suggest it. The European cops don't take lightly to smuggled firearms.
    You could easily wind up in more trouble because of the weapon than the thief, if you pulled out a pistol and tried to use it. As for a knife, those guys probably have bigger ones and know how to use them.

    I also doubt very much if you could get a pistol through airport security.
    I have been stopped because I had keys and coins in my pocket.

    There are ways to conceal your passport, airline ticket, and credit cards.

    In my case in Paris, even if the thief had been successful in lifting my billfold, he would have gotten an old piece of leather, $7.00 US, and my voter registration card.

    I do not know if it was the skinny feel of my billfold or the fact that it was in a zippered pocket that foiled him.
    Perhaps some of both. I have never had an expert tell me if a zippered back pocket was a deterrant or not. One friend of mine who is extremely street smart said that the zipper would not hold up a real expert. It might if the would be thief picked the wrong side of the pocket to look for the zipper. But I would not count on it. And I am not going to stuff a wallet full of paper and parade about the Paris Metro system trying to attract a thief in order to find out.

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    I have made over 35 trips to Ireland and England, with only one trip to the continent back in the 70s, and have traveled extensively in the U.S. and Canada, plus one trip to Hong Kong.I have never been pickpocketed during any of those travels. I have every intention of being a "secured" traveler on my first trip back to Italy and France in over 25 years, but I am becoming overwhelmed by all the tales on this forum of thieves feeling about inside even zippered and velcroed interior pockets, slashing bags with knives (although nothing of monetary value inside) or, as in Paris, of slicing a woman's neck while trying to steal her neck-hanging money belt. Taking the money belt precautions religiously, I still find it hard to resolve myself that I am in danger of losing my little miscellaneous travel items or travel journal in a front hanging Eagle Creek Wanderer bag to the indiscrimate thieves. Additionally, the tale of the travelers' car being broken into four times in France was another concern for this solo traveler.

    I do wish to travel again to Europe. I look forward to and want to be open to the experience but to travel as an aware and prepared American. However, if this all becomes so accepted as the status quo, I'm concerned that it will morph into even more violent scenarios as time goes on. Here, it appears that the *majority* of violent acts are not between strangers, but those who already know each other. Are the rates of petty thievery the same here as in Italy? What accounts for the difference, if any? In every instance I have been privy to, if a tourist here in San Francisco is robbed and a local is nearby, there is none of this turning away or ignoring the poor individual. I've only seen concerned San Franciscans chasing down thieves, assisting the travelers in locating police, etc. Why, at least from the postings and from the guidebooks, does it seem that the Italians themselves accept that this is acceptable for tourists to endure? I just don't understand.

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    Oh, and by the way, I am a woman who is feeling this urge to lash back. Perhaps it's a reaction to having to always be super vigilant on a daily basis for my personal safety. Being aware of my surroundings at all times, with the possibility of being kidnapped and raped while walking to my car in a parking lot, is one thing--now traveling I have to worry about my small insignificant belongings being pilfered? It just seems one indignity after another. Sigh!

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    Sjoerd's response was WAY out of line!!! At the Gare du Midi in Brussels, more than 30 people have their pockets picked EVERY DAY. Similar problems at the Marolles market (which is patronized by locals far more than tourists). Are they all stupid, lazy, ignorant?? The police certainly don't think so. There are a lot of slick pros out there. I've had my wallet stolen at the Gare du Midi in less than 5 seconds and Sjoerd, for your information, I am neither stupid nor ignorant/lazy and it was EXTREMELY rude for you to give such an arrogant and insulting response.
    To answer the original question, yes, some people have. A friend of mine fought of a female pickpocket on the #1 metro line in Paris. The pickpocket made her try in the seconds before the metro doors shut; my friend recognized the attempt and shoved her off the metro; the doors shut and the pickpocket was left at the station shouting obscenities at her intended victim.
    BTilke (Brussels)

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    The only time I came close to being pickpocketed was on my very first trip to Europe, in London. Being that it was my first trip, I was a fairly naive traveler, and was carrying my camera in the back pocket of a small backpack. While getting onto a subway car, I felt a small tug on my backpack, whirled around, and saw a guy who had his hand partially in that pocket. I can't say I "fought back", but I was so angry that I kicked at him, narrowly missing (unfortunately) as he jumped back onto the platform smirking.

    Anyway, I agree with other people here who say that, unlike my situation, in most cases you won't realize you've been pickpocketed until it's too late so there would be no one to fight back against.

    Re: "Not PC, but this is ridiculous that Americans don't pressure foreign governments to police tourist areas better. And to have the natives stand by and accept this as the status quo reflects truly on their character."

    I suspect that if a country, or city, depends heavily on tourism, and tourism were to *significantly* decline due to petty crime, that steps would be taken. As for your second comment, does the fact that Americans accept so much *violent* crime as the status quo reflect, in the same way you're suggesting, on the character of Americans?

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    Capo: Yes, sadly, I do believe that Americans' acceptance of violent crime really reflects on our changing character...evidenced by my own desire to lash back at pickpockets. I never would have thought of such a thing years ago! We Americans have almost become numb to violent crime, and while spending millions of dollars on sports stadiums and player's paychecks, won't spend another dime on teachers' or policemen's salaries. We don't even police ourselves in the violent content of our movies, songs, etc., and I think it is being reflected in the increasing violence of our communities, in general, and in our children, in particualr. However, I don't believe the average citizen "accepts" violent crime or petty thievery per se; in fact, one hears more than enough stories of Americans ready to reek vigilante-style vengeance on criminals, or holding them down in the street until the police arrive, of chasing them down in their cars. While we allow it to some extent with our pocketbooks, we certainly seem to fight back as individuals. I'd be interested to know if Italians do the same. Do they right incensed articles in their newspapers protesting their own street thievery? Just curious.

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    Great discussion and BTilke is the one who clued me in to the Midi station situation. (You were RIGHT ON TARGET, as was all of your other advice! Thanks again!). It's true that in many situations, the victim may not discover the crime until some time after it has occurred. As for comparing crime rates, the U.S. gets a big rap for the levels of violent crime, but a good point is made above: much of it is NOT stranger vs. stranger. My impression is that theft, pickpocketing, etc. are far more prevalent in Europe. In discussing this with someone in France with respect to homeowners insurance, there is a reason beyond tradition that those shutters actually close and lock. The fact is that you may not be insurable against many types of theft without them in some areas. Where I live, car alarms are the exception, rather than the rule. Not where I travel in Europe, however. I will leave it to others to argue over my point and I'm sure they will, but based on what I've seen and heard, I believe the statistical risks of being a crime victim for something like pickpocketing or theft are substantially greater in many areas of Europe than they are in the U.S.

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    Fed Up, Re: 'However, I don't believe the average [American] citizen "accepts" violent crime or petty thievery per se;'

    Well, perhaps the average Italian or French citizen doesn't accept petty thievery either. I'm wondering why you seemed to make the assumption, in your initial post, that the natives in countries like Italy & France "stand by and accept" petty thievery?

    Good comments about violence in America. IMO, we're a country that's always had a bit of a love affair with violence.

    Back to Europe... I'm very sad that you're feeling overwhelmed by the stories on this forum about pickpocketing and other types of thievery and hope this does not dissuade you, in any way, from traveling to wonderful countries like France and Italy. Please bear in mind that countless numbers of people travel to France and Italy every year without incident.

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    I regrettably only assumed that the Italians and French were more accepting of the petty thievery because in no postings (I've read) regarding these thefts have I heard of any instances whereby the locals helped out the individuals being robbed, chased down the little thieves or otherwise intervened, other than, after the fact, reminding the tourist to check his/her pockets. I also have spoken to associates overseas who claim it rarely, if ever, is commented upon in the newspapers or journals, while our crime is a constant source of discussion and debate from Letters to the Editor to conference seminars on the subject by tourism groups or convention bureaus, etc. Criminal acts here tend to launch Americans into activism--Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, all the new legislation promoted by parents against violence. I'd love if Paolo or another Italian would enlighten us on if I am being ignorant and if Italians are up in arms about the petty crime and its increasing violence. I really am open to being educated. But nothing here yet has pointed to a different attitude by natives of some European countries. Please share if you know otherwise. Thanks.

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    Well, for what it's worth, let me share a very *positive* experience that my girlfriend & I had when in Rome about a month ago. While punching our subway tickets at the turnstiles at the Piazza Barberini station, we noticed a shifty-looking guy to our left. After we passed through the turnstiles, we were stopped by a policeman who asked to look at my ticket. I was dumbfounded, since I'd punched it and couldn't figure out what I might have done wrong. In the meantime, while we were being detained, this shifty-looking guy passed us and headed down the escalator. The policeman turned, pointed at him, and pulled down at the bottom of his right eye as if to say "bad character...keep an eye out for him." So the reason he stopped us had nothing at all to do with my ticket; it was just a pretext to detain us. He was merely going out of his way to warn us about this guy...and that REALLY impressed us as an "above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty" kind of act.

    We also talked with a 20-ish Roman woman on a train from Rome to Arezzo. She told us that she'd been pickpocketed in Rome, and I didn't get any sense that she was any less angry about it than a tourist would be.

    Romans seem to be on their guard too. More than once, when I'd accidentally brush up against someone on a crowded subway car, they'd quickly turn around and look at me.

    I've been to Europe ten times. In all those trips, aside from the aborted attempt at stealing my camera (which I noted above), the only thing I've had happen was our rental car being broken into in France. Not in Paris, or another big city, but in a car park in a small town in Provence. Fortunately, our luggage was in our hotel room and we'd taken everything else with us, so the would-be thieves came away empty-handed.

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    My husband's cousin has just retired from the government of Tuscany and had her offices in Florence. When we were there last she told us the city of Florence was terribly concerned about the petty thievery on the streets and was trying to take action to combat it.Even some private citizens made homemade signs warning tourists to Beward of Gypsies in certain areas--don't know quite how I feel about that one. The pickpockets are very clever, however, and the Italian government is always tied up in red tape at best. And, I believe if you read some of the posts here about wonderful times in Naples, that will confirm how that city worked to improve the situation for tourists. Just last weekend, I had to remind a young tourist not to let her shoulder bag dangle out into the street--from the California cable car in SF! Tourists are just not as aware of safety issues as they would be in their own home towns and so become an easy target.

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    I have lived in the USA all my life (50+) years is San Francisco Metropolitan area. Have traveled extensively in US, Canada, Mexico, Middle East, Africa and Europe. As a private citizen, I had never been a victim of any crime except having my car broken into 3 times.
    Just returned from Italy. On my first day there I had my wallet stolen on the Metro. Never even noticed it missing until after I arrived at the Vatican. Am I a"lazy,ignorant or stupid person?" I was wearing dark colored cloathing(black shoes and an Italian made and purchased sweater and shirt). My wallet contining some money ($80)only was in my front pocket against my skin covered by my translator book. The pocked was covered in turn by a black non-descript shoulder bag. (Note: you cannot hold onto Metro-car handrails and cover your pocket at the same time. No camera, maps etc. visable. I have 20+years experience as a law enforcement officer in San Francisco. I am trained and experienced in observation , crook-spotting and personal security. I noticed nothing unusual. Just what I took to be normal bumping on a crowded car.
    I am programmed to fight back and will do so because of that programing even if they stick a gun in my face. That's what we cops do. These guys are very well trained professionals. They work in teams. We have nothing even remotely simular in SF or anywhere else in the US that I have seen. You will probably never even notice the pickpocketing.
    Don't carry anything in your pockets that you plan to still have at your destination. Use hotel safe and money belt.
    I don't think it makes much difference what you are wearing etc. I lived in Rome years ago for 1 year. I could spot an American or other tourist 100 yards away. You can tell by their manner and how they walk. And you'll be speaking English or other language or Italian with a non-Roman accent(dialect).

    Please see my next post for continueation and comments.


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    As for letting the pickpocket have it: don't do it. I don't know for the rest of Europe for sure, but if you put a Swiss Army knife into the arm of a pickpocket in Germany, you're into trouble with the law. If you intentionally break the arm of a child, even if it was in you pocket, you're also in trouble.

    If your reaction isn't proportional to the threat you're facing, you're breaking the law. Intentionally causing physical harm to a petty thief, especially a child or using a knife, is way out of proportion. (Not to speak about guns. If you aren't licensed, you get into more trouble for carrying it than a pickpocket, let alone pulling and threatening someone with it. And personally I would agree with the police securing a person with a gun first and going for the thief second.)

    Don't forget that you might not even be able to prove that the attacked person was a pickpocket (and actually you might even be wrong). If the thief hasn't got a previous conviction, how exactly do you want to prove that he was trying to rob you?

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    Note to Capo: If there was a cop standing right next to me he probably wouldn't have seen it happen either.

    On our next trip on the Metro was 2 days later from Barberini station(Capo). Within seconds of boarding my wife started screeming at and fighting with a gypsy boy who had his hand in her zippered handbag. Just then I felt a hand in my pocket, the one that no longer contained a wallet but still had the translator and my hotel key(mistake!--put you hotel key in your money belt too). I grabbed an arm and found myself holding onto a gypsy girl of abour 12 yrs old. Almost broke her arm, I was so mad. While holding her, I yelled at the boy in Italian. When, he left my wife alone, I released the girl. At home, I would have taken her into custody. But I don't know Italian law and did not want to spend my vacation fighting a kidnapping charge from an Italian jail. They immediately vanished.
    Everyone in this crowded car acted as though nothing happened except one well-dressed Italian woman who glared at me and told me that I could get in big trouble for "abusing" children!!!! I found this attitude very disconcerting. I absolutely agree with FedUp that this attitude is not shared by citizens in San Francisco or any other US/Canadian destinations that I know of.
    A few days later we were strogly warned by hotel staff in Florence to be very careful of pickpockets and gypsys. I asked him since the government was aware of the problem, why couldn't they do anything to stop it. His reply: "There is absolutely nothing we can do. When we try, we are labled Facist ans Racist." Acceptable answer?
    Unfortunately, I didn't get to ask any Italian policemen about thier take on the problem.
    Other comments:
    Police can do very little without citizen support.
    We didn't report either of these incidents. I'll bet these things are much more prevelent than police statistics show. Why bother to report and interupt your vacation for another bad experience?
    Tourists are singled out by crooks for targeting everywhere. They are fair game. The reason is that the perpetrator cannot be prosecuted without a witness. How many tourists are willing to go back to Italy,Spain,San Francisco or anywhere at their own expense(the prosecutors don't have the money to pay it) just to testify in court and re-live a bad experience? So the charges get dropped and they go free to freely pursue thier "prossesion".
    It you do ride the subway, don't get on in the middle(by the stairs). All the tourists crowd onto the middle of the train. The crooks know this and they wait there for them. Walk to the ends of the train where its less crowded and safer.
    Thanks For Listening.

    Happy Travels,


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    Gerry, sorry to hear about your loss.

    I used to think I was safe by doing what you did, putting my wallet in my front pocket. But then I read too many stories, like yours, where guys had wallets lifted from that pocket. So, I considered myself duly warned and, since reading those stories years ago, have never carried *anything* I can't afford to lose in *any* of my pockets.

    "Ignorant" may seem like a pejorative word -- and I think most people conventionally think of it that way -- but it really means just "uninformed" or "unaware". And I'd admit that's exactly what *I* was prior to reading the stories I mentioned; I was uninformed and unaware; I was ignorant.

    Now, if someone *has* been informed and *has* made aware, and yet *still* chooses to, say, keep a wallet in their front pocket, or keep their wallet in a fanny pack, then I think there may be another word for that... :~)

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    Gerry, Re: "Note to Capo: If there was a cop standing right next to me he probably wouldn't have seen it happen either."

    If you were stealthily pickpocketed (is that redundant?) then I'm sure you're right, a cop wouldn't have seen either.
    I just mentioned my story to point out that a cop in Rome went out of his way (IMO anyway) to help and warn us about someone he knew, or suspected, was a bad character. (We waited until we saw him board a car, and then got on another car.)

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    I'm interested ton seethat no-one has mentioned Prague which on a U.K. documantary last year was highlighted as the worst place in europe for pickpockets.You can imagine how vigilant we were on a visit a week later.Even then my husband had his pocket picked in the few seconds when he had to use two hands to lift a suitcase up on to the underground.All the rest of the time he has his hand in his pocket holding his wallet.He actually saw the thief's hand going into his pocket out of the corner of his eye and dug his elbow into his chest pushing him away.The fellow had the cheek to get on behind us and sit opposite us!We didn't know what we could do.In Britain we'd have carried out a citizen's arrest but we were quite out of our depth there.

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    My comment was meant in defense of the police. Your Roman policeman did you a favor. These guys are extremely clever and hard to catch. As I've said, they work in teams. Pass off the "take" immediately to a another team member. They usually get of train and vanish into the crowd. On another comment, however--We get mixed messages on this forum. Lots of posters say not to worry. It's just like any big city anywhere It only happens rarely. Just relax. I beg to differ. I couldn't get my wife on the Metro after the second incident. She was totally paranoid. Even after I told her not to worry since we had nothing left to steal. Why should you have to feel fearful and nervous while trying to have a good time on vacation?
    Francis: Even if you arrested that guy, chances are he no longer had the wallet on him but had passed it off to someone not even on the train.
    San Francisco police use decoys posing as tourists(and drunks etc.) that are watched by a team who snatch the bad guy when he makes his move. This results in lots of arrests but is criticised due to entrapment issues.
    By the way, I would not recommend fighting with them if you catch them (other than obviously defend yourself). I'm told they do carry knives. Losing a few dollars to a pickpocket is a very small inconvenience in the big picture--although a very aggevating one. Trying to fight off a "gang" in a foreign country could lead to much worse consequences.
    I repeat: Citizens attitude determines the police response. If the citizens see no big deal in this behavior neither will the police. I have no control over these things. Just a guest in someone else's country. I either choose to live with it or stay away. My right either way. Also my right to warn others and to voice my opinions to those who may value my tourist dollar. Hans: Just because the guy has no criminal record, doesn't mean he didn't try to rob you.


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    Well said! I can't agree with you more. However,I can understand perfectly well your wife's reluctance. Being a victim of violent crime in Spain,even after more than one year, I can't help keeping fully-alert whenever going to train/bus stations in Europe. It is not the worry of losing something, but,the feeling of helplessness. BTW, the other poster's comment about the victim being lazy/stupid or ignorant is way out of line. Sometimes people just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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    Sjoerd-"lazy, ignorant and/or stupid people"? You are either a troll or just another American basher common here.
    I feel like the Ambassador for "Those Less Traveled". I have said it before and will say it again-many of us are blessed to get to leave our towns once and again-not to mention leave the country. Most people I know think of me as the "world traveler" and I HAVE
    traveled-somewhat-not nearly as much as most on these boards. And we are learning about the world through our travels-sometimes we learn the hard way.
    Many of us want to assume the best in people and when planning trips we think of the fun things first (sites we will see, food we will eat)and don't think that we have to on guard every single second. That is not lazy or ignorant, just human.

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    People seem to have misunderstood my post. "Lazy" means too lazy to prepare a trip and at least know what are pickpockets and how they operate. "Ignorant" indeed means "uninformed" or "unaware". "Stupid" means aware but not doing anything to prevent pickpocketing.
    There are some very simple rules to prevent pickpocketing: 1. Keep as many valuables as possible in a hotel safe or other safe place (why do people walk around with large sums of money, passports and 4 credit cards??)
    2. Everything which you really need that day must be in a money belt or other secure place on your body. Best is to keep a hand on it in crowded situations.
    3. Be aware of your surroundings. I normally can tell who is a pickpocket from 100 meters distance.
    Also, the police are doing what they can to prevent pickpocketing. Here in Amsterdam, there are constant warnings in trains, on trams, in stations "Beware of pickpockets" in 5 languages. Also, the police have undercover agents who patrol the streets. They try to arrest pickpockets "caught in the action", and they also warn tourists and locals who have their wallets in an open handbag etc. I watched a documentary about pickpocketing on local TV here in NL and you wouldn't believe how easy some tourists make it for the thieves.
    In the last month, I personally told two tourists who were walking in front of me in Amsterdam to stow away their valuables. I could have stolen them easily.
    And yes, I have been pickpocketed as well. I was drunk. I was stupid.
    Remember that a few years ago there were a couple of murders of foreign tourists in Florida? These poor people also were lazy, uninformed and/or stupid. Had they asked for directions and a good map, this would not have happened.

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    Quote: "this is ridiculous that Americans don't pressure foreign governments to police tourist areas better. And to have the natives stand by and accept this as the status quo reflects truly on their character. Any opinions"

    Well my question is, are you always so totally insulting of the people you're about to visit? With such a low opinion of us, perhaps you should stay at home.

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    Michelle & Egg: Insulting? In what way? I respectfully asked to be educated (see my post 5/5/2001). What might have been less disrespectful on your part would have been to do so, tell me how the Italians or French or Spanish, etc., are actively combating petty thievery (as Capo's and Kam's 5/5/01 posts did), tell me what you and your friends think and believe personally about pickpockets. Explain why your countrymen and women stood by while tourists fight off the thieves. Don't, again, do as those locals on the subway did in Gerry's (5/05/2001, 5:58 pm) post, simply accuse the Americans or stand stonefaced and ignore the action. Capo's and Kam's posts did provide "education" for me and others and contributed to the "discussion" quality of this post. Your reply, on the other hand, is simply another matter. Why so defensive without providing defense?

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    There are some appalling generalizations on both sides of this entire thread. You don't get to make these sweeping statements without acknowledging all kinds of variabilities and contributing factors.

    America is a single country, largely suburban in profile but with an enormous range of wealth and ethnicity -- with the most severe differences concentrated in high-density urban areas. Europe is several countries, with ethnic distribution usually falling roughly along national lines and differences of wealth not nearly so defining.

    Sjoerd, of course travellers in a strange country don't always know where they are -- even with a map, I challenge you to navigate neighborhoods in Northeast WashDC or St. Louis or Flagstaff. We in the US have some major cities with essentially no subways -- of course people from these cities are going to lack savvy about how to use them. If you remove "ignorance" as one of your criteria, you might find "lazy and stupid" go with them.

    That said, based on more experience in Spain than in Italy, it seems absolutely certain that police must share a general attitude that pick-pocketing is just one more way to make money from tourism -- and it's highly improbable that even if the local constabulary aren't getting kick-backs from the thieves, they are at least consciously turning a blind eye to the whole process.

    A British consular officer in the Barcelona embassy told me he spends 75% of his time dealing with British nationals who have been victims of pick-pocketing or theft on the streets. While I will never, ever defend America's attitude toward guns, violence, or racist crimes, I doubt if 75% of any foreign embassy official's time is taken up with street theft in the US.

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    Well, Sjoerd, congratulations not only being rude and insulting, but also smug and judgmental. Also wrong with your facts. One of the major contributing factors to the tourist murders in Florida were the large bumperstickers/emblems placed on the cars identifying them as rental cars. Practically flag waving that the cars were driven by tourists. The attackers said they sought out cars with those markings. All the maps and money belts in the world wouldn't haven't helped. Since then, almost all car rental companies have gotten rid of those obvious stickers.
    YOU may be been drunk and stupid when you go pickpocketed, but I was NOT. Nor was I lazy, stupid or unaware. I LIVE in the city where I got pickpocketed, have been in and out of the Gare du Midi dozens of times, knew there were pickpockets on the loose (and knew their prime time was before 9 am week-ends when there were/are NO police on duty), and was carrying only the cash we needed for the day in Paris and ONE credit card for emergencies. And I still got nailed in less than five seconds.
    It's true I don't have your "magic vision" to spot ALL pickpockets 100 meters away. Neither do the police--perhaps you should offer your superhero services to Brussels officials. As one of the top ranking police said (direct quote): "Many of these pickpockets are professionals; this is how they make their living and it would be difficult to say that ANYONE can completely avoid being victimized."
    I suggest you drop your snide, know-it-all tone and admit there is a problem in some European cities and that it could be handled better. Even the Brussels politicians and police recognize that fact. They also admit that better handling of the problem is bogged down by political/bureaucratic infighting and that is NOT the fault of those stupid, ignorant, lazy visitors (in other words, everyone who's not just like you) that you so despise.

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    Hello Fed-Up: I'm having a quiet afternoon so I'll answer you, even though I suspect you're a troll.

    I stick by what I originally said. You were insulting.

    You did not "respectfully ask to be educated" in your intial posting. You did imply that Europe can't exist without American dollars. You stated that America should "pressure" European governments to change their policing policies (!) You talk of attacking pickpockets with a knife. You talk of "breaking some kids arm". How is this "respectuflly asking to be educated"

    Where do you live Fed-Up? It must be a pretty awful place. In Europe I have never had to be "constantly vigilant" because "of the possibility of being kidnapped and raped while walking to my car in the parking lot." Maybe you should get your own house in order before swiping at Europe and Europeans.

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    Gerry.I take on board all you say but I'm delighted to report that the pick pocket in Prague didn't actually get my husbands wallet because of the way he elbowed him back..
    The advice that you give about not fighting back has got to be good but it doesn't take account of human nature which has you responding faster than thinking.
    Its a most beautiful day here in Anglesey,North Wales,why does no-one ever seem to want to travel here?

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    Last year, the well-known travel writer Bill Bryson was mugged at a knife point while traveling.
    One syndicated newspaper travel colummnist was knocked unconscious while trying to fight back a pickpokets on Costa Del Sol last Winter.

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    Just wondering how big (small) the problem actually is. There are hundreds of millions of people travelling in Europe every year. I don't have the statistics here, but maybe less than 0.01% are victims of pickpocketing.

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    Gerry, Re: "Capo: My comment was meant in defense of the police. Your Roman policeman did you a favor."

    Comment understood, thanks! Yes, we thought he did us a very big favor. That happened on our last evening, and last Metro ride, in Rome, and it was a wonderful note to end on, to have someone go out of their way like that to help us.

    Also, since you're a policeman, a question for you regarding Han's comment that, in Germany anyway, "If your reaction isn't proportional to the threat you're facing, you're breaking the law." Do you know if that is the same in the U.S. (or specifically where you work)? Is it unlawful (or lawful) for someone who might catch a person picking their pocket to, for example, break their arm?

    Sjoerd, Re: '"Ignorant" indeed means "uninformed" or "unaware".'

    That's true. However, I think the problem with that word, as I noted above, is that it's come to have primarily a negative meaning, as if saying a person is ignorant means that they're stupid. As I also noted above, I'd readily admit that *I* was ignorant about certain precautions before my first trip to Europe. Now I am not, because I've taken the time and effort to become aware and informed.

    Also, Re: "Just wondering how big (small) the problem actually is. There are hundreds of millions of people travelling in Europe every year."

    That's a very good question. This is not to say there's not a problem with petty crime in Europe -- because, obviously, there is -- but some perspective in this matter is, I think, important.

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    I'd love to go to North Wales. Do you have pickpockets there too? Hope you can travel to Northern California someday too. Oh.. if we had the time and money!
    Do as I say, not as I do. I would have fought back too(See my posts above). But it helps to know when to cut your losses, as you did.

    European friends:
    Please understand that pickpocketing in North America(US/Canada) is a very rare occurence. It is unheard of in the suburbs and rare even in most big cities(usually performed by bungling amatures). We don't carry money belts. Most Americans don't even know what one is.(See What is this "secret" pouch thread.) Most of us never give this a thought as it is not a problem here. Not stupid. But, we need to be educated in this before travelling overseas. And, other than at the carnival, we have never before seen a gypsy. How whould we know what to look for? I have a cousin that is going arround telling everyone about how a bunch of nice Italian Catholic school girls robbed thier group after the Papal audience in St. Peter's square. They didn't even know they were gypsys. So Italian Catholic school girls take the rap.
    We do have our share of other crimes(purse snatchings,street robberies etc. Most of us have learned to protect ourselves against these things. If you ask us, we will tell you how too. (Its not as widespread a problem as Europeans perceive.)
    We try here(SF at least)to take action to protect travelers. When someone is a victim of crime we do not say:"Well the stupid tourist should have stayed home." No matter how dumb their actions may appear. Its our job to protect our guests. We feel embarassed and hope the actions of some dirt-ball(whom we do our best to stop/punish) doesn't cause the traveller to hate our city, country and law-abiding citizenry.

    I strongly suspect that this problem is much more widespread than statistics show. Only a small percentage of these crimes are reported. It seems that almost everyone I meet here at home has a pickpocket story to tell from thier trip to Europe.

    PS. I'll be returning to Rome as soon as I can. Hope they still want me. This time I'll be more of a veteran.

    Capo: next post


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    Take this as my opinions only.
    Very briefly. Under American law you have a privelege known as the right of self-defense. This is based on English common law and maybe has been expanded due to our so called "wild west" mentality. You are also protected by privelege of defense of others (you step into their shoes and assume thier right) and if on your property the "no retreat" rule (they can't force you our of your own house--"your home is your castle"). However, your response must be reasonable considering the threat. If its not a life threatening attack you can't give a life threatening responsc. Eg. Can't follow the pickpocket home and shoot him. Also, if you overreact the right of self defense might kick in for him and so on. If you were to get prosecuted,
    in the US the jury gets to decide what was reasonable under the circumstances. I'd want FedUp and her friends and you can guess which other posters on my jury. They might just award you a medal. If you got Hans, Sjoerd , Michelle, that Italian lady etc., you might be in trouble.
    In my opinion the American attitude expressed is a main reason why we don't have the same theft problem here. The pickpockets etc. know that their behavior will not be tolerated. They know that the victim along with FedUp and friends will practice "street justice" on him if he is caught. Most crooks are afraid to take that chance.
    Bad guys/bullies are basicly cowards in disguise.

    One note:
    Law enforcement(US) considers the knife in the hands of someone who knows how to use it, to be by far the most dangerous and deadly weapon at close quarters. FBI training says don't even think about defending yourself from a knife attack. Just shoot him.
    I always carry my Swiss army knife but would never think of using it as a weapon.(Not what its for and not trained.)
    I would never even dream about taking a gun to Europe. So what are we left with.

    Hope this is of some help to someone.


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    In London, where I live, there is a problem with skilled pickpockets in the main shopping street (Oxford Street) on on the underground (Subway)
    The perpetrators are gangs of young children of East European Origin ( I daren't sday gipsies for fear of being accused of racism!)
    The police are very vigilant, the whole area is covered by CCTV cameras, and plain-clothes police patrols, nevertheless they are almost powerless to act as the children are too young to be prosecuted, all they can do is harrass the thieves and keep them moving.
    Warning signs are posted everywhere, and victims are more likely to be shoppers then tourists, as they have money and cards on them, and are distracted and laden with bags.
    Much the same applies to the Underground, with CCTV and squads of police.

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    The post is provocative, might even be a troll, I think thats why Sjoerd reacted as he did.
    I have fought off the more obvious attempts to rifle my bags/pockets, (this usually involves pushing them away & shouting at them) but I wouln't advise it against anyone who is really prepared to fight.
    Most thieves flee when they meet any resistance, it doesn't pay them to fight, but you might be dealing with a nutcase who is prepared to stab you for your wallet - unlikely, but you have to decide.
    A few months ago someone thrust their hand into my girlfriend's bag in a cafe in Malaga while I was in the toilet.She pulled her bag away, she said later she was just too surprised to do anything else.When I emerged she hustled me out of the place & wouldn't tell why until we were well down the street, judging that macho pride might lead me to do something stupid. As it happened I was carrying an umbrella which I felt like trying to open inside the thief.On later reflection I realised that there were two big guys, the one not doing the dipping was heavily built & had scars across his face & was probably more prepared for a scrap than I was, so she probably saved me a beating.
    Two years ago her father was mugged in Ronda by 2 men, one held him from behind while the other tore his shirt open & removed his moneybelt.They threw him to the ground (breaking his specs).
    When he got up his instinct was to pursue them, but he then realised this was foolish! (The police were not interested).
    If you really want to fight against pickpockets, write & complain the the local & national gov. representatives, tourist boards etc.
    I think it would help if Fodors could be persuaded to start a league table - city with most muggings, city with worst police attitude.
    Walking down most busy shopping streets its amazing how many open bags etc there are, must be a great temptation for some.Not everyone being dipped is stupid, but some people make it so easy it must encourage thieves, you feel like telling them to button their bag.

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    Gerry: You might get away from a German court, too. But if I was travelling in a foreign country, I wouldn't like to get involved in a trial, no matter how good my chances are. Since someone using serious physical violence in case of pickpocketing won't be sent away by the police with a smile and a handshake, I would seriously recommend not to do it.

    To put the number of pickpockets "in Europe" in some perspective: I have never been the subject of a pickpocket in Germany nor do I know of anyone who was. I wouldn't even think about carrying a money belt in any German city. Neither have I ever worn a money belt while travelling in Europe and nothing ever happened to me. I know of many people which act exactly the same way and nothing ever happened to them either. If every American tourist has a story about pickpockets, I can only say that I've very often read the story of the surprised American who was shouted at by Germans when crossing the street at a red light. Since I often cross the street at red lights and it never, ever happened to me, I have slight doubts that this is as typical for Germany as travel writers make it.

    There are some places in Europe where petty crime happens more than in the rest. For example, the Paris metro is problematic. Or the chances of getting your car broken in southern France or at the Italian border are much greater than for example in Sweden. Since Italians and Frenchmen are fearing this as much as anyone else (judging from the number of alarm systems and the behaviour of some Italian friends), my guess is that this problem isn't easy to solve since otherwise it would have been done.

    As for seeing this as an European problem which should be solved by Brussels: Very simple, the justice and the police are purely national tasks. There is nothing the EU can or is allowed or should be allowed to do.

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    Please don't take offense. I agree with you completely. These crimes are a local problem to be addressed locally. Not by the EU or travelers or anyone other than the people that life there. That's my whole point. Smart visitors should try to become aware of the issues they may face. And, hopefully someone might point it out to them. Like the Roman cop. Like the German who says don't cross agaist the red light. In Italy, you just walk into the traffic and drivers drive around you. It seems no one pays any atention to traffic lights. Don't try this the next day when you are in Switzerland or Germany! You might get killed. You should thank the locals for shouting at you. Even if it may have seemed rude to you, they may have just saved your life. This is the type of advice tourists need.
    I have travelled in Germany, Switzerland and Austria and never once gave a thought to wearing a money belt. It does not seem to be a problem there. But each local has its own dangers and requires its own precautions(even Germany). Hans, if you go to Italy wear your money belt. Take my advice and don't be stubborn or think I'm rude. As I've said, I lived in Rome for a year some 30 years ago. There was no problem then. Times have changed! Be warned! Spain looks like is has much more serious problems. And remember that these guys can travel more freely now that your borders are comming down.
    And, of course, I would not break a little gypsy girl's arm. Its just an expression of how you feel after having your person violated. She wasn't even the guilty party. It was her mother who I'm sure was lurking nearby and giving the orders, but I did not see her. That's who we would punish under American law. The parent is responsible.

    Just a cop story:


    Some time back I had to order a prisoner trasported to the hospital for treatment.(Broken nose, broken ribs etc.) He said he had been brutally beat up by 2 businessmen in suits for no reason. They just didn't seem to like him. And, he was cying! Turns out he had stuck a gun in these 2 business mens' faces and demanded their money. He didn't get their money. He got something else.
    No prosecutor in SF would either want to or dare prosecute those businessmen.
    And yes the police did pat them on the back. Do you think this guy went back to robbing businessmen when he got out of prison? Just food for thought.


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    Never ever ever ever fight for property. As Sensei says "nobody comes out of a fight clean" - I don't know of anyone who would like getting a broken arm or broken nose to save a camera.

    We (4 women) were accosted by two women (one with a 'baby' strapped to her chest), each trying to dip into our purses and pockets. As we hurried away (making no aggressive moves, as everything was secure), one of them grabbed my friend's arm to stop her; the other piece of crap was glued to her back, preventing her from escaping. That did it. I grabbed the scum and threw her off, got in her face and screamed threats until she and her lowlife pal backed off. Later we saw them working the line waiting to see the Last Supper, but they gave us a real wide berth.

    Unless you're prepared to do serious physical damage to someone, don't go into a fight. Walk or run away.

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    Does anyone else remember, rather many years ago, when Japan was having a terrible problem with pickpockets and purse-snatching, so bad it was affecting the tourist industry. My vague recollection was passage of a law making it a capital offence and once the first person was hanged, so to speak, the crime rate dropped considerably. Now it may very well be that this was an "urban legend" but it was broadcast as "news" over the radio. There will be always be crime at frontiers - and frontier can be partially defined as a place where cultures collide. As a single woman, I can appreciate FedUp's wearied sense of always being on guard, but I've traveled frequently and far without excessive diligence and never been bothered, except for the two revolutionaries in Paris who tried to be intimidating but stole nothing. Sometimes it's a good thing to stay away from the Forum for a while or just stop reading these posts; they can create a false picture.

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    Dear FedUp:

    You asked if anyone has ever fought back against pickpockets. Well, I have, although I was not being pickpocketed as much as I was in rush to get some friends to the d'Orsay and let my guard down.

    It happened two years ago at La Place St. Michel in Paris at an ATM machine. I was so concerned about getting on with what we were doing that I entered my debit card pin number incorrectly. Consequently I caused a tie-up at the machine and soon found myself being helped by a resident of that city, who pulled off a scam in which I let myself get caught.

    To make a very long story short, he pocketed my debit card and I thought the machine had kept it. So I went around the corner and into the bank to retrive the card. Some ten minutes later when I came out I found the "mec" who had tried to "help" me and his companion at the machine. Apparently they thought I had left the area. I realized immediately what had happened and confronted the guy and asked to see the card he was using. He refused and held the card behind his back. That was when I jumped on him and wrestled the card away. As soon as I saw it was my card I got angrier but my wife started pummeling the man with my hat! (My hat.)

    He tried to be brave for a few seconds but his companion had already taken off and my friend, who is bigger than I, was standing next to me. So the scam "artist" took off and I chased him until he went into the Metro.

    Afterwards, when I had calmed down, my friend told me that it was a very stupid thing for me to do. The guy could have had a knife and I, been hurt real bad. My friend was right. I realized I shouldn't have taken on the guy. My luck that day went beyond just getting my card back.

    I don't think I'll do that again -- I was already 53 at the time. Now I'm just very carefull and don't let myself get rushed and forget what I'm doing at the moment.

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    First, Michelle and others, let me say this is not a troll! I was/am dead serious with the question and appreciate the lively exchange that is resulting.

    Also, what I said initially was that "I feel like keeping my Swiss Army knife at the ready or breaking some kids arm." "Feel" being the operative word. I really don't know what I will do, but the frustration of having to waste so much of my precious travel time worrying about pickpockets and their complete disregard for me and my hard-earned belongings is what becomes overwhelming.

    And, Michelle, I live in one of the most popular and beautiful tourist destinations on earth--San Francisco. While, as a woman, I am vigilant when traveling alone in isolated areas of the city or late at night, I do not EXPECT nor is it LIKELY that anything bad will happen to me. I said "Being aware of my surroundings at all times, with the possibility of being kidnapped and raped." Yes, it is a possibility...just as it is possible my house will catch fire (that's what insurance is for) or I will trip on the sidewalk. As Gerry said, these occurrences are so rare here, that we're talking about an entirely different thing. I would laugh at the thought of having to wear a money belt here. Neither I nor my fellow citizens take the street crime or the violent crime lying down though, and as Gerry said, I think that's the crux of the matter. We don't accept it happening to us or anyone else for that matter. If I am not actively working to change the system, someone else will be.

    Also, Michelle, I did not mean to imply that Europeans can't do without American dollars...and didn't say that in fact. What I inferred, however, is that tourism dollars (no matter from which country) account for millions of dollars in a country's economy (such as Italy or England). You only have to read the BBC reports of what the U.K. economy has suffered due to travel cancellations because of foot-and-mouth disease to understand the impact tourist dollars have. To pretend that Rome's economy wouldn't be hurt if tourists boycotted it is naive (not that something like that would be done, in all likelihood). However, governments, tourism bureaus, legislators negotiate these kinds of things all the time. In the U.S., travel organizations meet all the time to discuss safety issues, etc., and towns/cities change legislation in order to win back travelers to assist their citizens in having a better livelihood. Just as Rome was spiffed up for the Jubilee Year, neighborhoods or whole cities are revamped in order to win tourism dollars. Anyway . . . .

    I really appreciate the opinions and facts people are expressing; the interchange is what's important with this difficult issue.

    And, Michelle, what I would still say to you is...what is YOUR personal opinion on pickpocketing? How has it impacted you, if ever? What do you feel can be done about it? And why would we or you consider it simply the status quo and not work to change the situtation? Thanks in advance for your thoughtful consideration of those questions.

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    Some people mix up pickpocketing (stealing without any violence) and mugging. We are talking about pickpocketing in this thread, right?
    I live in Amsterdam and never use a money-belt. None of my friends do. My 70-year old mother goes shopping with her purse in her handbag. But she does put her handbag tightly against her body with her hand on it. She has never been pickpocketed.
    Don't be paranoid, just hold your hand on your money, leave real valuables in your hotel safe, and you will be fine! Enjoy your holidays in safe Europe!

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    Well Fed-Up you asked so here goes. My personal opinion of pickpockets is that they are pretty scummy characters. It's impacted me in that I am more aware of my surroundings, but not to the extent that it stops my enjoyment of life or makes me less polite to strangers. Yes, I have been a victim of crime and fought back (Copenhagen). I hung onto my bag and people (European people) ran to help me and chased the would-be thief, belying your words "Explain why your countrymen and women stood by while tourists fight off the thieves." I would also say that I know Europeans who have been mugged in New York, San Diego and Chicago, but that doesn't stop me going to these cities nor has it impacted my positive opinion of Americans. Also, even if it were possible, I wouldn't expect the British government to "pressure" the Government of the United States in order to make New York etc safer for me. You said (first message) "Not PC, but this is ridiculous that Americans don't pressure foreign governments to police tourist areas better." Pressure????? What right has any foreign nation to pressure my country? None. Sorry Fed-Up, we may be smaller and less powerful countries but America does not have the right to pressure us. Negotiation/discussion - yes, pressure - no.

    You also said "And to have the natives stand by and accept this as the status quo reflects truly on their character." Now to me that's a pretty big put-down of Europeans - and I'm not taking you out of context here. We don't accept it, as other Europeans have already stated.

    I said you were insulting. OK I'll apologise for that. Maybe it's a different use of languageand/or a different way of looking at life. But I do not agree that Europeans would stand by and give no assistant to someone who had been robbed. I have seen an incident on the London tube where a bag thief was tripped and caught by other commuters. I therefore disagree with the low opinion of Europeans you seem to have.

    Lastly, yes there is crime in Europe, but I think you have an exaggerated view of it. I travel constantly (work and leisure) and have done so for 25 years, that's a lot of travelling. In all that time I have suffered the one incident mentioned above. Last year I was in Rome and Southern Italy for 6 weeks and didn't even see any incidents let alone be a victim. Yes, there were beggar types around, but I avoided them. I don't know what the crime statistics are but if you're reasonably alert (not to the extent of spoiling your holiday), you'll probably be OK. I'm off to Italy in 3 weeks, to be honest I haven't given a thought to pickpocketing. I hope you enjoy your stay in Europe.

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    Well said Michelle! As a fellow European I agree with you and must say that I was a bit amazed with the flaming responses the first European (Sjoerd) in this thread got, when responding to false accusations and (yet again) patronizing attitude by an American. It is very easy to see why an European might (and will) over-react to such opinions. The most annoying thing that caught my eye was the fact that FedUp thinks that Americans should PRESSURE foreign governments in some way. Hey come on! You are not in control of the whole world. I am not denying that there is a lot of pickpocketing in major tourist cities and attractions, but that does not mean that every European uses or has to use a money belt. I (a Finn) don´t own one and have never used one. Perhaps I have been fortunate, but have never encountered any troubles even in large cities.

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    I really appreciated your post, Michelle. The whole point of my original one was that all I was hearing on this forum were the horror stories about constant pickpocketing and no locals coming to the tourist's aid. Your personal experience provided a different perspective, and a welcome one. Thanks.

    And perhaps everyone is misunderstanding my use of the term "pressure." When I refer to "pressuring foreign governments," I am not referring to strong arm tactics or one "powerful" nation running roughshod over a less "powerful" nation [others term, not mine]. I am speaking of the everyday negotiations (direct and indirect) between tourism agencies, legislators, the public, etc., that go on all the time.

    For example, the current energy crisis in California is really causing concern to our city and state officials with regards to our tourism industry, as tourist dollars account for over $1 billion (!!) of San Francisco's economy!! Therefore, our local officials and tourism respresentatives are feeling a covert pressure to deal with this crisis. Tourists have expressed their fears of rolling electrical blackouts causing them to have a "camping out" kind of experience in SF. That's the kind of pressure I'm talking about.

    And regarding the "natives standing by" I said before, in very few of the posts on THIS forum regarding pickpockets is it ever mentioned that any other person came to the aid of the travelers. I was referring to the posts I've read here. That's why I asked to be educated about the subject. And, thankfully, some people did provide the good Samaritan stores, which were encouraging. There were not a lot of them, regrettably.

    I still say, however, [and will stand by this] that if an American, European, Asian, whoever--any "native"--stands by while someone in their sight is being robbed, beaten, etc., that that action through inaction is an indirect sign of acceptance of that as the status quo and that it reflects somehow on their character. I believe it of myself and hold others to that standard as well. If anyone finds that a "put-down," well, I'm sorry I don't understand. I call it expecting behavior exhibiting concern for your fellow human being.

    Again, thank you, Michelle, for your encouraging words about visiting overseas safely. I do look forward to my own trip in the near future and hope you and others have enjoyable and safe travels.

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    Fighting back Against Pickpockets

    I have one message to all of the people who have come to any european city and been pickpoted abused or whatever.
    The answer is as we found out long ago in england is to kick shit out of anyone who tries it on.
    Unfortunately most European countries appart from the UK hates tourists and foreigners.So forget all of the lovely tourist attractions just be on your guard.Why do you think we have had so many wars between the UK and European nations? Answer they hate us we hate them.
    So if indoubt just kick the shit out of any low life scum because they cant fight anyway.
    As an aside the USA is not full of angels either I have had problems in New York.L.A. San Franscisco,and Florida and ive had to fight there too.
    I am not naturally agressive but the secret is take no shit from anyone and be on your guard.

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    Gerry, thanks for your response above; I appreciate it.

    FedUp, Re: 'I still say, however, [and will stand by this] that if an American, European, Asian, whoever--any "native"--stands by while someone in their sight is being robbed, beaten, etc., that that action through inaction is an indirect sign of acceptance of that as the status quo and that it reflects somehow on their character."

    On the character of the individual perhaps. (Out of curiousity, how certain are you that you would go to the assistance of someone being beaten?)

    However, on the "character" of all the people in the country -- which is what you seemed to be implying in your original post -- no.

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    I concur with Bob Brown. Most criminals preying on tourists in Europe are so rapid & so adept at their "craft", that the victims do not realize they've been victimized until after the crime has occurred. A friend of mine was walking down a street in Rome when a guy on a motorcycle came by with a knife & cut her purse strap right off her shoulder! The joke was on him, however, as my friend had put a small amount of cash in her front pants pocket, the rest of her valuables were in her hotel safe & her purse contained only make-up and a hankie. Likewise in Florence, pickpockets would usually follow their "marks" or intended victims for a block or so, prior to skillfully "accidentally" & apologetically bumping into them. Alas, the back pocket or backpack had been "picked", they would later discover. I think this is part of why the victims don't fight back & why foreign police don't appear to do a lot. Capo had a favorable experience with an official who obviously knew his stuff & was more than happy to assist visitors to his country, but I fear gendarmes & polizia would have to be 20 thick on each block of France & Italy to effectively eye every suspicious character & prevent all crime to tourists. I think all the commonsense advice you take in your own country to prevent yourself from being a victim will also prevent you from being one while on any journey.

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    Capo: You asked, so...I, with a family member or a friend on different occasions, have actually come to the aid of four (4) separate sets of travelers or citizens once in San Francisco, once in Ireland, once in Florida and once in England. Three cases were attempted or successful muggings where we chased down the muggers or were able to retrieve the belongings; the fourth was a hit-and-run accident in which we chased down the driver, alerting the police to his location.

    Perhaps it is being raised in Montana that instills this don't-let-them-get-away-with-it mentality. I really don't know. But I would feel terribly guilty to sit by and do nothing or just turn the other cheek while someone is in trouble.

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    FedUp, good for you! (I'm being serious, not sarcastic.) That's impressive, especially chasing muggers, since one can never be sure whether or not they're armed. I'd feel guilty doing nothing too, and would like to think that I'd take some action, but I think most of us can't really be certain how we'd act, or react, in cases like that until they actually happen.

    I remember when we were reading a lot of stories about pickpocketing and mugging in Barcelona before going last year. There were at least a couple I recall where people did mention that locals helped chase people down, or helped thwart an attempt, so I certainly think there are people who are willing to go out of their way to help.

    Out of curiousity, after reading all of these posts, are you any more (or less) inclined now to visit Italy or France?

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    Actually, this msg. is to ask for advice on how to protect myself from theivery and pickpockets. From the discussion, I gather that I should use a money belt, but are there any special ways that I should wear the money belt to protect it? Do travelers cheques provide any security? Please provide some tips on how to protect myself from pickpockets and theivery. Thank you.

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    Linda, my girlfriend and I do the same thing; we carry cash, a credit card (and an ATM card if we plan on getting more cash that day) in a money "pouch" which is securely attached to a thin, but strong, strap that goes around our waist. The strap is hidden under our shirts, and the "pouch" is tucked into the front of our pants.

    Is it more awkward to get money out this way? Yes. (Do we care? No. :~) Is it uncomfortable? No. Do we feel lot more secure? Yes. Have we ever been pickpocketed? No.

    Because of this, we don't feel the need to carry traveler's checks.

    Now, this is probably not going to help all that much, or at all, if you're actually mugged, especially if the assailant has a weapon. But I think the vast majority of European street crime is non-violent petty crime like pickpocketing.

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    Just came back from Rome where I had my first experience in twenty trips to Europe, getting hit by a pickpocket.

    And while I think that Sjoerd is a great contributor to this board, I don't think that I was lazy, ignorant or stupid. I simply let mt guard down - - for maybe one, two or three seconds. For what it's worth, Sjoerd, I know how it feels to make a word choice that sounds harsh, when it wasn't exactly what you meant.

    As fot the pickpocketing - - if it had not been for some other American teens nearby, I don't think I would have realized that I had been hit - - they were THAT slick.

    It was at the Colosseum. I had just stepped away from the ticket booth. In retrospect I virtually "announced" myself to the pickpocket(s). The tickets (for six) were 60.000 lire, and I handed over a 100.000 bill. The ticket seller asked me "do you have a 10.000 lire note to go with this?", and I pulled out a "paper wallet" (the kind that American Express provides), thumbed through it, and replied - - no, I have nothing but "fifties" (50.000 lire notes - - there were five of them in there). I stuck the "wallet" back in my (front) pocket, and stepped away to show my family the ticket. They (my family) virtually encircled me - - then I took a few steps forward towards the turnstile.

    Right then, an American teen said "Mister" - - I think you just got pickpocketed - - or at least they tried. I saw two boys run off that way.

    I felt my pants quickly - - my "real wallet" was still in my hip pocket, my passport (front pocket) was still there, and some loose smaller bills in both front pockets. I actually thought they had not succeeded, but then I realized that the "paper wallet" was gone.

    I was angry and irritated of course. But I was almost equally impressed in a weird way. I had not seen them, and no one in my family had seen them. I didn't feel a thing.

    I'm quite certain the American teens were not part of it. We continued to talk to them as we went onward with our visit in the Colosseum.

    I didn't notify the police. These were (I guess) slick operators, who were no doubt long gone in a minute. And I hadn't personally seen or really even experienced the crime committed against me.

    The only thing I would different in such a situation is to be very, very careful when you have out a "stash" of cash (and of course, this wasn't all THAT much) - - especially in the next 60 seconds.

    Best wishes,


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    Did you know that pickpockets often stand by "Beware of pickpockets" notices. It seems that 99.9% of people when they see such a notive, tap their pocket to check that it's still there. This shows the pickpocket exactly where it is! As other people have said, professional pickpockets are very skilled. Even if you spot the thief, he will have passed your property on.
    A friend of my daughter's caught a teenage girl stealing her 'phone in London and carried out a citizen's arrest. She held the girl until an officer arrived.

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    Twice, a couple of years ago, once in Prague and once in Paris I instinctively reacted loudly and pushed back into the offending pickpocket.
    In Prague, it was on a train going to the opera, and we had just got on to go only 2 stops when I felt a tug at my bag (which had a lipstick and a tampon in it - no money). I looked around to see the bag open and another male passenger in front of me indicated I had trodden on his foot. Somehow I pushed back at the offender and yelled quite loudly in English something like 'how dare you' etc. The train stopped at a station and the 2 men shot out the door.They were quite respectably dressed and obviously out for a night doing a few pockets and bags. The other passengers (all locals)were very supportive and looked quite angry.I was quite surprised and shocked at my own rather outraged reaction.
    A similar thing happened with some gypsy children in Paris on the Metro when we were trying to cope with a suitcase and carry bag each(yes a bit of a crazy thing to attempt but we did make it) but they got nothing and shot off down the carriage.Several other local passengers on the train were vocally supportive.
    Last year on the Paris Metro we were with friends and a 'blind'man fumbled along the carriage and lifted the wallet from a friend's pocket where he had foolishly placed it. I was sitting about a foot away and was well aware of him. He was so quick and good and professional at his craft and my friend didn't realise until too late-he'd gone - thus ruining my friend's weekend in Paris from London.
    We also have Roman friends who told us of an incident last year where a local woman had her bag picked on a bus and yelled out loudly to the driver to stop and lock the bus door as she knew who had done it. The culprit evidently finally threw the purse across the bus when she couldn't get off and the driver finally did open the door and she ran off. Maybe we would do that at home in Australia but tourists are very vulnerable in another country.
    There is no way I would dream of carrying a weapon - even for defence. I believe the locals are just as concerned and they do get 'done over' too - it's not just tourists.
    The message is to keep valuables close to your body and well secured. Mind you I had my husband so paranoid about being robbed in Budapest and was feeling very visible and vulnerable to tourist scams.With me urging him to hurry, he shoved a wad of notes he'd taken out of an ATM machine into a money belt on the inside of his trousers belt and we took off across the street whereupon he suddenly grabbed his lower leg and hopped awkwardly to the pavement. The money had missed the purse inside his trousers and fallen down his leg.We collapsed in hysterical laughter.
    Nothing has changed since my first trip to Europe in 1972 when we were regaled with stories of pickpockets. I reckon the current lot are 3rd or 4th generation professionals who are cleverer than any police.

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    I am a sophisticated traveller who has been to 40 countries and lived in both Europe and the U.S. I lived in Chicago for 3 years, travelled alone at night often, and never experienced crime. On a THREE day trip to Amsterdam, Holland, I had pickpockets attempt to grab my wallet in the Central Train Station/Red Light district area. I also had to fight off a mugger who physically attacked me. AMSTERDAM IS A DANGEROUS CITY. If you travel there, expect to have someone try to grab your wallet or attack you. The situation is worst in the Central Station/Red light district at night. I WILL NEVER RETURN TO THE NETHERLANDS SINCE THE POLICE AND GOVERNMENT HAVE ALLOWED PUBLIC SAFETY TO DETERIORATE SO BADLY. I tell all my friends and others not to go there. I have also experienced problems with crime in France and Spain. The situation is much worse there than in the U.S. Scandinavia and Germany are still very safe. I am trying to decide whether to go to Spain this summer. Eventually, when no tourists visit Amsterdam and all of the hotels, restaurants, etc., have gone out of business and all the people employed in the tourist industry are out of work, maybe the Dutch government might realize there is a problem. To Sjoerd: Go to the Central station area in Amsterdam at night by yourself and see what happens to you. Write back and let us know what happens.

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    I think it happens in every big city. I was once a victim in my favorite bargain store. On the subway I have seen someone try to lift a wallet out of a lady's handbag. I yelled out:Watch your wallets!" He bolted the next stop. Usually they travel in twos. One lifts, passes it to the other who may have a rolled up newspaper that he fhides the stolen goods. He leaves, the other stays but if confronted, he has nothing. Men, donot put your wallet in your back pocket. Ladies hold your bag in front, bandolier style. When I travel , money, passport are in a little leather french bag i wear around the neck. It has a leather string strap. I hope I have been of some help....P.S. do not leave maps, etc., visible in your rented car.

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    Now you've REALLY got me worried!!
    Reading here about the man having his shirt ripped open and his money belt ripped away from under his trousers,then hearing about how dangerous it is for rental cars around the French and Italian borders-- wow! That's exactly where I'll be-- with my money belt, which I thought was the safe way to go. HELP! What's the solution?

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    While In Venice,Italy in 1985, I actually caught this guy trying to lift my wallet.

    I said: You feel like dying?

    My cousin, who is not a fat stupid American, had his pockets picked in Paris. The guy that hit him was a real pro since he lifted my Cousin's wallet and passport. My Cousin had to go to the American Embasy in Paris.

    Of course, we Americans should do a beter job of not getting our pockets picked. We really should not be fat, stupid and silly.

    Sun( American bashers, toung planted firmly in cheek) Vol

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    one year when I was living in the Back Bay, there were a series of women tourists that had their handbags snatched by boys on bikes. One victim was an elderly neighbor of mine who was walking her dog. She always carried an old handbag in which she would deposit her dogs turds. We laughed so hard imagining the thief opening up his loot.....and, surprise!!!!

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    HELP! A repeat request (from 2 replies above).
    I'm serious about needing input from Fodorite experts. Might this be a common occurrence? If so, what to do/how to avoid driving at the border? Thanks. Sallie

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    To Sallie: Where are you going in France and Italy? AVOID MARSEILLE BECAUSE IT HAS THE WORST CRIME PROBLEM IN FRANCE. Nice is also questionable. Never leave anything of value in a rental car overnight. Try to avoid distinguishing markings which identify the car as a rental. If you rent the car in one country and then drive into another country, be careful because you will have the original country's license plates, which will make it a target. Keep the car doors locked at all times.

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    To Scottster: Thanks for the reply and valuable tips. Picking up the lease car at Nice airport (much cheaper), then driving directly to Tuscany. I will bypass Marseille, but, of course, can't avoid the Italian border. I'm told that French plates are red (again, nothing I can do about it), but I assume I'm not going to be the only one w/ French plates in Italy. What to do, besides being careful??

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    I'm with you on this one...

    What a lousy comment from Fed Up.... "Not PC, but this is ridiculous that Americans don't pressure foreign governments to police tourist areas better."

    Hmmm, I might go and pressure my government to make it safe for me to send my child to a school in the United States - heaven knows those places are much more unsafe then any place I've ever been to in Europe....

    Geez, take precautions and it's quite possible that you won't get pickpocketed !!

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    To Sallie: You might tell a little white lie and tell the rental company agency in Italy that there is a problem with the car and you need to exchange it for another car. That way you would not have the tell-tale French plates on your car. This assumes that there is a office of the car company in Italy--check before you go. Most car rental places are understanding and do not want their cars damaged. When thieves tried to break into our car in Spain, locals told us it was because we had French plates on our car.

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    Hi Sallie. I did a search on "border" and found the comment which seems to have unnerved you so much. It was in Hans's post; he wrote: "Or the chances of getting your car broken in southern France or at the Italian border are much greater than for example in Sweden."

    Hans was not saying that your car had a 100%, or 50%, or even 25% chance of getting broken into in southern France or at the Italian border. All he was saying was that the chances are much greater in those places than, for example, in Sweden (a country which may very well have an extremely low rate of auto break-ins.)

    I'm also not sure what he meant, exactly, by "at the Italian border." It's not as if you have to stop your car at the Italian border -- because you don't -- and then gangs of evildoers surround your car.

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    To Scottster-- thanks for the good suggestions, and to Capo-- for your search and your reassurance. Really appreciate it. I'm sure I'm not the only female driving solo in Italy with these concerns. Sallie

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    Jeez! It happens to residents as well as tourists. Handle yourself as you would in any city that's familiar to you.

    Bearing that in mind, remember that these people (no matter what city they're in) have only one thing on their minds -- easy money. You're thinking about hotels, restaurants, photo ops, kids, spouses, museums, appointments, etc. All they have on their minds is an easy mark. Their heads are a lot more clear than yours, and their advantage is home turf (even if you're not a tourist -- if you're walking in your home town, you still have things on your mind).

    The guy who beats a tourist for his money belt isn't just a pick-pocket. THAT'S a serious crime, not petty thievery. And that's MUCH less frequent than pick-pocketing.

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    We were in Italy earlier this month; didn't have any problems in Florence or Venice, but we (our group of 10)were victims of attempted pickpocketing 3 times in Rome. We didn't have any problems the first 3 days we were in Rome; then on the 4th day (which was a Friday, if that matters), we were hit 3 times.
    The first attempt was on my husband on the metro. A gypsy man and a young (maybe 6) boy, who I assumed to be his son, got on the metro; my husband caught the boy reaching his hand into his front pocket. The second & third attempts were by a group of 4 young ladies (late teens or early 20's) who boarded the metro ahead of us at a very crowded stop. Two of the girls suddenly stopped & wouldn't move forward; as we were getting around them, one of the other 2 girls reached her hand into my brother-in-law's front pocket; another tried to get my (very small) purse, which I had worn badoliero-style (all it contained was a lipstick, a small mirror, & 2,000 lira). Fortunately, we were on to them and they didn't get anything. However, it seemed to make them very angry and they got off at the first metro stop after that.
    My advice is just what others have said: be aware and take precautions. All the men in our group wore either the money belts under their shirts or the leg stashes around their ankles; no one had anything in their pockets or anything of value in small purses. You may have no problem at all; but don't be lulled into a false sense of security because no one attempts to pickpocket you the first day or two you're there. Stay aware.

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    Couldn't help notice that the second to last comment was made in 6/01. We visited Rome also during the same month but the 2nd week, we did not come across any pickpocketing attempts. However, I notice the person said they were targeted while taking the metro. We didn't take the metro and maybe that's the difference? We walked to our destinations but of course we stayed in Prati and the furthest we walked was up to via Veneto. With the crowds at the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain we didn't experience any pickpocketing also. So maybe, like in Paris, the pickpockets target the metro and buses mostly?

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    If I had never been to Europe, I wouldn't go after reading this thread.
    Gracious, the probability of being robbed is little more than being run over by a truck. Just be careful.

    BTW I am reminded of the early scene in 'Casblanca' where the pickpocket warns the tourist "Be careful. There are vultures everywhere" as he takes his wallet.

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    Im from the UK and just returned from a 3 night stay in Rome. I can fully confirm that Barberini Metro is a haven for pickpockets as I was stealth attacked. I was getting on to a train on Line A and I was in a party of 4 - the first 3 of us got on and I was last to walk onto the train. As I walked on a young girl stood in front of me (looking away from me) as if trying to see if she could spot someone she knew, while extending her left arm and grabbing a rail. At this stage I already could sense there were 2 other girls behind me!. What seemed like 3 or seconds before the doors closed she popped out of the train and the doors closed. My friends said "that was very strange" and what seemed like seconds later we were all checking our pockets, only to find that I had been attacked. The girl in front of me or her partners to my rear had removed my wallet from my front right cargo short pocket. It contained a couple of credit cards and an equivilent of 60 euros. The thought of myself being targeted was more upsetting than the loss of the money. Rome is a great city and this event wouldnt stop me from going back and even using the Metro...I would just know what to look for next time, and would more than likely not go to via Barberini Station again as its a well known site for attacks.

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    Most people take me for a little girl so guess I'm not a likely target. I'm also very aware and you wont' believe where i keep my money (a money pounch inside my panty hose!!!Sometimes in a baggie inside my shoe. Yes a little awkward to get to it! LOL

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    Agreed that some of the general rules regarding pickpockets still apply, but in 9 years the world has changed, non? Have there been crackdowns in certain cities, have the laws changed, are there new locations that are worries, are Spanish police now enforcing the laws,is the gold chain scam now more prevalent for taking your money in Paris,etc?

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