It happened. A couple weeks ago I was pickpocketed in Bucharest, Romania. I was not in as obviously vulnerable a position as the woman in the title image. In fact, I thought I was doing everything right, and yet ….
I had gone to the ATM and made a withdrawal before meeting a friend for lunch. I got to the restaurant first and chose a table next to a wall with no one behind me and a view of the front door. I sat down and put my purse on the floor beside me by the wall.
Only when I went to pay an hour later did I notice my wallet was gone. Then I had to piece together what had happened.
Not long after I arrived at the restaurant I remembered a man sitting down behind me – but he did not walk past me to get to his table. He must have walked around the perimeter of the inside to sit behind me without me noticing him. I remembered feeling something jostle at my back, looked down and saw that his black nylon sack had fallen down beside my purse. When he picked it up, I shoved my purse under the table rather than leaving it next to me.
In that one second of contact of his sack with my purse he was able to get my wallet – and I didn’t even notice. These guys are professionals. I am sure he targeted me the ATM, which was less than a 100 yards from the restaurant.
Although this happened in Romania, I wasn’t “on the road” because the restaurant is in the Bucharest neighborhood where I have lived every summer for the past 10 years. Still, it happened while I was outside the US, and so losing both my credit card and American ATM card could have been big problems. Fortunately for me they weren’t.
Here are the steps you can take to minimize the pain of being pickpocketed while abroad:
- Choose a credit card with good international perks. I have one that has a significant yearly fee. It has an immediate access toll-free number to call anywhere in the world, overnights a lost or stolen credit card (48 hours in the case of Eastern Europe), and gains me access to airport lounges even when I’m not flying business class. When I canceled the card that had been stolen and got my new one so easily I felt I got my yearly fee’s money’s worth.
- Before going on your trip remove all US-only-pertinent cards from your wallet. When I arrive in Romania I remove my driver’s license, Duke card, other club cards, etc. and keep them in a drawer. Unless you’re planning on renting a car abroad there is no reason to carry your US driver’s license.
- Make a list of all credit card numbers and credit card company phone numbers and keep it separate from your wallet. This sheet helped me enormously.
- Many ATMs are in the front walls of banks. When you get your money, go inside the bank to arrange the bills in your wallet.
Good for me for following #1 – 3. However, I think if I had followed #4 I wouldn’t have been pickpocketed in the first place. And it’s such a simple step!
Even with all the privacy features of outside ATMs and even without being overt about putting the money in your wallet, the extra effort to go inside the bank suggests to the person hanging around the ATM, looking for a mark, that you have another transaction to make. The pickpocketer will lose interest in you and target someone more accessible.
What have I changed as a result of my experience?
The wallet that was stolen was like this:
It was long-ish and fat-ish, and I liked the way I could reach into my purse and easily find it. Oops! I have a purse that does fasten with a magnet clasp, but still I can see why a pickpocket would have assessed my set-up and figured I’d be good for some quick cash.
Now I have this wallet:
It’s about 3″ x 4″ and I keep it inside a zippered pocket in my purse. It’s more cumbersome to zip and unzip when I need it, but then again it’s not easy to be pickpocketed.
Now all I have to do is not lose my entire purse.
See also: All My Travel Tips
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen