All around the world tourists like you and I are an easy target for people with bad intentions. In most cases we are not familiar with the environment and we are at risk of falling for one of these tricks people may try to play on us. While some of these tricks are easily avoided, there are others that are much more difficult to detect, and some of us end up being robbed without even realising it. People in each destination have their own specific methods of trickery, but there are some obvious situations we should clearly avoid, so the good folks at easytobook.com have compiled some examples of what to watch out for. Please pay heed to the following advice, and also, if you feel you have further insight and assistance to offer fellow travellers, share your tips in the comments section below.
Street game tourist traps
The most out-in-the-open form of a tourist trap is the so-called street game. Street games are often very simple betting games where the instigator is able to earn quick money; victims are lured into these games by a sense of favourable odds. Here’s a decent selection of examples:
The shell game is a game played with 3 shells, or other items, which can hold a bean-sized item. An operator starts by putting the bean underneath one of the shells, then moves them around, switching the bean from shell to shell. When he stops, people have to choose which shell holds the bean; a correct answer wins double the money staked. When you spot this game being played you will see people winning and losing. You observe this for some time and it looks so simple – every time you follow the operator you know the correct shell! At a certain point you think, “why not give it a try…” What you don’t know is that the people you’ve seen playing the game are all accomplices of the operator. The thing is that the operators are so quick of hand that whenever you play along they simply make the bean disappear by quickness of hand! Sometimes they let you win a few times to make you feel good and when a big bet comes they make you lose big time. Also, the accomplices will make you pay up after a lost bet…
Three card monte
Another version of the shell game is ‘Three card monte’. In this game you have to guess the position of 1 specific card out of 3 after an operator has shuffled them. At first sight it looks easy but when a victim plays along the operator pulls some tricks and is it nearly impossible to follow the right card:
If by chance you do guess the right card the operator will pull you a mexican turnover. A Mexican what you say?! A Mexican turnover is a trick of swapping 2 cards. Check the video below for a great example of this trick:
Just don’t fall for these street games. You think you can win but in the end you will lose a lot of money.
While the best pickpockets don’t need tricks to grab your wallet, there are often small signs that lead up to you being a victim of one of these thieves.
Cash machine stakeout
The most obvious pickpocket hangout will be the cash machines. Many people come here to withdraw a lot of money and tourists often do that in large amounts. The thing is that, in this position, pickpockets clearly see exactly where you put your wallet, and whether or not it’s in an easy-to-reach spot like your back pocket: you just marked an X on your forehead.
Lost wallet trick
Another trick is that of the lost wallet. In a crowded area a person picks up a wallet and shouts out that he has found it, asking if somebody lost it. Most people will immediately reach for the place where they keep their wallet. Accomplices of the yelling guy observe the tourists and look for some that are reaching for a spot that can easily be pickpocketed.
This trick you often see in Italy, especially in Rome. Small children beg for money while holding up a cardboard sign with English words written on it, which ask for money or food. Many children will close in on you and press themselves against you. The trick is that you’re less likely to feel the wandering hands with all these children jostling around you.
Bumping into you
The one often seen in movies. A person falling into you and holding onto you with a firm grip to keep themselves upright. During this contact the pickpocket is able to grab your wallet without you even feeling it. Smoothly done.
“Let me help you”
This covers any sort of circumstance where an unknown person is touching you to help you; for example, by pouring coffee onto you and then helping to clean it up, or seeing bird poo on the back of your shorts and offering to wipe it off. As mentioned before, pickpockets use this opportunity for contact to also grab one or more of your belongings.
Being the obvious tourist
Tourists are the best targets for thieves. Often tourists hold large sums of money or other valuables like cameras. Most people visiting an unknown destination don’t know what to do or who to contact in the event of being robbed. Some easy targets for identifying tourists are the following:
- Rental cars with big signs on them. Make sure you don’t rent a car that screams: I AM A TOURIST!! Rent a neutral car.
- Umbrellas with the name of hotels. If possible always carry an umbrella of your own if you go to a destination where rain is often the standard (such as Amsterdam or London).
- Bags or packs with flight labels still attached to them. When leaving the airport remove your labels straight away. You don’t need them anymore.
Taxi drivers are masters of deceit. In every city you have rotten apples amongst the good ones. Try to avoid the following situations:
Never get into a cab with a person already sitting inside or stepping in while you are already inside. Often the driver says it’s a relative or friend he drops off but it could also be that they have other intentions.
Taxi drivers take every chance of extending the ride to earn more money. They will ask if this is the first time you visit this city. If so, you will not notice if he decides to take a detour.
A broken meter should already warn you not to use the taxi. If possible take a taxi with a clear rate plan.
If your luggage doesn’t fit in a closed boot don’t go for the old, “I’ll close it with some rope” story. While waiting for a traffic light these ropes are easily cut and your luggage ends up stolen.
Moments of distraction
People that are distracted don’t pay attention to other things. Thieves know this and use all kinds of ways to distract you. See some examples below:
In Canada the trick of the falling child is often used. A woman holding her baby very close to the railing of a river suddenly drops it and screams. People rush in to help not knowing the presumed kid was just a doll or something else; in the process these conscientious people often drop their bags. Amidst the distraction, accomplices of the woman take the belongings of the people rushing to help.
On beaches the trick of the drowning swimmer is often used. People rush in to help or just run to the shore to see the lifeguard rescuing the victim. After returning to their beachtowels their valuables are stolen.
In the end the best advice is to just think logically and pay attention to your belongings. Still, as you can read above, there can be situations that you simply cannot avoid running into. There are some tips that you can follow to at least let the damage be as little as possible:
- Do not keep your wallet in your back pocket.
- Leave a minimal amount of money in your wallet.
- Spread money over multiple places if you need to carry a lot.
- Don’t put your credit card in your wallet.
- Photocopy your important documents such as passport and credit cards.
- Don’t put your important documents in your bag. Carry them on your body underneath your clothes.
- If possible avoid the use of your credit card.
- Don’t be the obvious tourist; you will be an easier target by doing so.
- When you think thieves may have identified the location of your wallet, replace it discreetly.