Regional Advisory: Over the past week, one of our mission personnel experienced the theft of items from their backpack while they were carrying it, shopping at one of the more modern malls.
With security officers patrolling and security cameras present, it was a place where it would be all too easy to “let down one’s personal guard,” and become a victim. While this team member has had excellent training, the ruse was performed so quickly and effectively, that by the time our member was realizing something was not quite right, the theft had already occurred.
Here is how it happened:
- Team member was looking at items on a stand in the middle of the department store with another friend.
- She realized that things had become “tight” i.e. there were several people around her.
- In fact, it was very tight. A review of CCT cameras revealed that it was actually a group of 6 people working together. Four individuals were at the four corners surrounding the team member, effectively “keeping watch.” A fifth unzipped the bag which was on the team member’s side, and a sixth grabbed the contents. The entire group then quickly separated just as quickly as they had formed.
- These events happened over the course of seconds.
Below are some safety tips from blogger Rick Steves.
Make photocopies of key documents — your passport, rail pass, car-rental voucher, itinerary, prescriptions (for eyewear and/or medicine), and more — to bring along. For a backup, leave a copy with loved ones, too, in case you lose your copy and need to have one faxed to you. You could also bring a couple of extra passport pictures.
If you have expensive electronics (camera, tablet, smartphone, etc.), consider getting theft insurance. Take a picture of your pricey gear and store the picture at home, in case it’ll help you settle an insurance claim. As you travel, back up your digital photos and other files frequently.
Leave your fancy bling at home. Luxurious luggage lures thieves. The thief chooses the most impressive suitcase in the pile — never mine.
If you exercise adequate discretion, stay aware of your belongings, and avoid putting yourself into risky situations (such as unlit, deserted areas at night), your travels should be about as dangerous as hometown grocery shopping. Don’t travel fearfully — travel carefully.
Here’s some advice given to me by a thief who won the lotto.
Wear a money belt. A money belt is a small, zippered fabric pouch on an elastic strap that fastens around your waist, under your pants or skirt. I never travel without one — it’s where I put anything I really, really don’t want to lose.
Leave your valuables in your hotel room. Expensive gear, such as your laptop, is much safer in your room than with you in a day bag on the streets. While hotels often have safes in the room (or at the front desk), I’ve never bothered to use one, though many find them a source of great comfort. Theft happens, of course, but it’s relatively rare — hoteliers are quick to squelch a pattern of theft. That said, don’t tempt sticky-fingered staff by leaving a camera or tablet in plain view; tuck your enticing things well out of sight.
Establish a “don’t lose it” discipline
Travelers are more likely to inadvertently lose their bags than to have them stolen. I’ve heard of people leaving passports under pillows, bags on the overhead rack on the bus, and cameras in the taxi. Always take a look behind you before leaving any place or form of transport. At hotels, stick to an unpacking routine, and don’t put things in odd places in the room. Run through a mental checklist every time you pack up again: money belt, passport, phone, electronic gear, charging cords, toiletries, laundry, and so on. Before leaving a hotel room for good, conduct a quick overall search — under the bed, under the pillows and bedspread, behind the bathroom door, in a wall socket…
When you’re out and about, never idly set down any small valuable item, such as a camera, ereader, wallet, or rail pass. Either hold it in your hand or keep it tucked away. At cafés, don’t place your phone on the tabletop where it will be easy to snatch — leave it in your front pocket (then return it to a safer place before you leave). Make it a habit to be careful with your things; it’ll become second nature.
Secure your bag
Thieves want to quickly and unobtrusively separate you from your valuables, so even a minor obstacle can be an effective deterrent. If you’re sitting down to eat or rest, loop a strap of your daypack around your arm, leg, or chair leg. If you plan to sleep on a train (or at an airport, or anywhere in public), clip or fasten your pack or suitcase to the seat, luggage rack, or yourself. Even the slight inconvenience of undoing a clip deters most thieves. While I don’t lock the zippers on my bag, most zippers are lockable, and even a twist-tie, paper clip, or key ring is helpful to keep your bag zipped up tight — the point isn’t to make your bag impenetrable, but harder to get into than the next guy’s.
Stay vigilant in crowds and steer clear of commotions.
Go on instant alert anytime there’s a commotion; it’s likely a smokescreen for theft. Imaginative artful-dodger thief teams create a disturbance — a fight, a messy spill, or a jostle or stumble — to distract their victims.
Crowds anywhere, but especially on public transit and at flea markets, provide bad guys with plenty of targets, opportunities, and easy escape routes.
Be on guard in train stations, especially upon arrival, when you may be overburdened by luggage and overwhelmed by a new location. Take turns watching the bags with your travel partner. Don’t absentmindedly set down a bag while you wait in line; always be in physical contact with your stuff. If you check your luggage, keep the claim ticket or locker key in your money belt; thieves know just where to go if they snare one of these. On the train, be hyper-alert at stops, when thieves can dash on and off — with your bag.
Use your web browser and search, “Avoiding Pickpockets” for many more excellent resources.