Guest post by Cassie Phillips

Eastern Europe is a fantastic travel destination, with countries that are rich in culture, cuisine and natural beauty. However, while taking in these wondrous sights, don’t forget to be aware of the dangers lurking in the form of thieves and pickpockets and be sure to protect yourself when you’re discovering new destinations.

For reference, the worst places in Eastern Europe for pickpocketing are:

  • Russia (1,038,566 thefts per year)

  • Ukraine (254,755 thefts per year)

  • Poland (230,751 thefts per year)

  • Hungary (130,229 thefts per year)

  • Czech Republic (119,367 thefts per year)

[FRANCIS INTERJECTS: Don't conclude that Russia is the most likely place to get pickpocketed. Russia is by far the most populous Eastern European country, so you'd expect it to have the most number of thefts per year. What matters is thefts per capita, not gross number of thefts.] 

To keep your cash and personal belongings safe when traveling, practice caution. Here are some helpful tips to help you minimize your chances of being pickpocketed.

Be Aware of the Most Popular Spots for Pickpockets

There are certain locations in any tourist city that are popular among pickpockets. It is important to know when and where you are most vulnerable to theft, so you can practice that extra bit of caution.

  • Tourist Attractions. Since pickpockets aim to target unwitting tourists, you are most likely to encounter thieves at various attractions. Whether you’re visiting the Charles Bridge in Prague or Bratislava Castle, pickpockets are certainly in abundance as they lie in wait for tourists to get distracted while taking in the sights or snapping photos.

  • Public Transportation. Subways and buses are hotspots for pickpockets as they are normally very busy and crowded, especially during rush hour. It is easy to get distracted or confused when traveling on public transit, making tourists prime targets. It is advised that you wear your backpack on your chest when using the subway or bus.

  • Train Stations. When fumbling with luggage and travel documents, tourists are even more of a target for pickpockets. Ensure that you are organized when visiting train stations, so you don’t get caught off guard.

Don’t Fall for Common Scams

pickpocketThere are some tried-and-true methods that pickpockets rely on to steal money from unsuspecting tourists. If you ever find yourself in one of the following situations, be cautious:

  • Ticket Machines: If a pickpocket sees a tourist struggling to purchase train tickets, they will step in and offer their assistance. They will offer to navigate the complex framework and use their card to purchase the tickets for them if the tourist gives them the cash. In many cases, they will buy you the cheapest ticket while pocketing the cash for a daily or weekly pass.

  • Helping with Bags: When you’re struggling to take your bag up or down a flight of stairs, there are some helpful people out there who will offer to help. While you can normally depend on the kindness of strangers, it is best to be cautious when traveling. When one person is helping you with your bag, their friend will come along and reach into your pockets.

  • Broken Cameras: Tourists often offer to take photos of each other at popular attractions, but it is important to be wary when doing so. Pickpockets will often ask you to take their photo but when you attempt to, the camera will be broken. As you’re handing it back to them, they will drop the camera and either demand that you pay for the equipment or they will pick your pockets while you’re helping them pick up the pieces.

  • The Flirt: Men traveling alone may be approached by an attractive woman who wants to go for a drink at a local nightclub. At the end of the night, the woman will disappear and the bill with arrive with a total that is several hundred euros more than expected. When you try to dispute the bill, bouncers will attempt to intimidate you

  • Cash Machines: If you’re using a cash machine to withdraw money, do so with caution. It is not uncommon for tourists to be approach by beggars whole will try to distract them. While one is distracting you, the other will attempt to grab your cash before you have the chance. It is also important to protect your PIN when entering it into a bank machine. Some thieves will remember your code and then follow you for the chance to steal your card.

You can’t always avoid these situations, so be sure to proceed with caution. If you’re offered help by anyone who isn’t a police officer or public transit employee, then politely refuse their assistance. When you are approached by locals or other tourists, it may seem antisocial to refuse to engage with them. However, it is best to rely on people that you already know, such as tour guides or new friends that you have made in your accommodation.

Pickpocket Precautions

When traveling across Eastern Europe, ensure that you are adequately prepared against pickpockets. There are many different tools that can keep you extra safe when traveling, so you can worry less about being stolen from and spend more time taking in the sights.

  • Theft-Proof Bags. There are plenty of backpacks and purses that are designed to be stylish and safe, helping to keep your belongings safe while traveling abroad. Brands like PacSafe and Travelon offer up a wide range of bags with various anti-theft features like puncture-proof zippers, slash-guard straps, and security buckles.

  • Money Belts. These are less specialized than theft-proof bags, but they are much more affordable. You can store your money and important personal items in the belt and wear it underneath your clothing. So, pickpockets won’t be able to get anything out of you when they for the usual spots, such as back pockets or purses.

  • Zippered Pockets. If you plan on going shopping, a money belt may be somewhat inconvenient, as you have to continuously lift up your clothing to access your money. In these cases, ensure that you have some clothing with zippered pockets. When you can zip up your money or cards into your pockets, pickpockets will have a hard time trying to get them. [Francis recommends ExOfficio clothes.]

Protect Against Digital Pickpockets

A new type of pickpocketing is emerging, as thieves aim to target tourists digitally. These are various tools available to help protect you from these scams, keeping all your sensitive data safe when you travel abroad.

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology is used in credit cards and passports to track sensitive data. A new form of theft called RFID skimming is a type of electronic pickpocketing in which thieves can scan and store sensitive information about your banking details and identity. To protect yourself from these types of scams, RFID-blocking wallets cannot be penetrated by the radio waves that are used to skim the data off of your card.

Tourists can also fall victim to digital pickpockets when using public Wi-Fi while traveling abroad. Data roaming rates can be extortionate, so you’ll be tempted to connect to public Wi-Fi networks when traveling abroad. These networks are usually unsecured, and you run the risk of compromising your personal details whenever you’re connected and sending personal information.

If you’re going to log in to your email account or access your online banking, ensure that you are using a Virtual Private Network that will encrypt any of your online communications. This type of security software is available for both mobile and desktop devices, and you can quickly activate it whenever you go online.

Being aware and prepared are the most successful strategies for avoiding pickpocketing scams while traveling across Eastern Europe. With the right knowledge and tools, you can rest assured that you’ll have a safe travel experience wherever you go!

Author Bio: Cassie is a technology blogger for Secure Thoughts, a leading online resource on cyber-security. As an avid traveler, she knows the ins-and-outs of keeping herself safe from in-person and cyber pickpockets.

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