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Robbed while traveling stories
Old 04-06-2012, 05:08 PM   #1
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Robbed while traveling stories

I thought it might be a nice idea to share stories about how travelers can be ripped off and/or robbed while traveling, especially overseas. I have never had such a problem, though there have been several attempts made. However, I do know people who have been robbed and I think it is worthwhile to share the story so others will not be duped.

A lady was making her first trip to Europe. On her first day there she was eating with friends at an outdoor cafe in Florence. She hung her purse on the seatback of the chair she was sitting in. As the waiter was taking their order, an Italian couple approached the waiter, interrupted and asked for directions. The couple soon became very rude and argumentative towards the waiter who seemed unable to satisfy their request for information. As their voices grew more angry and louder, all eyes were upon these rude people. The couple suddenly stopped their poor behavior and left in a huff. A minute later the lady turned around and found that her purse was missing. The rude couple were a diversion, while a third party stole the lady's purse. All her money, credit cards, passports, etc were in the purse.
Thankfully, the US Embassy in Rome was able to help her out.

Lesson: assume any disturbance may be an attempt to distract you and set you up. Keep large amounts of money, credit cards, ATM cards and passport in a money belt that is safely under your clothing. Keep one day's spending cash, at most, in your wallet or purse.
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Old 04-06-2012, 06:10 PM   #2
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I take students to Italy and the first and repeated thing we tell them is NEVER hang your purse on your chair or walk with it slung on your back. It will disappear in no time. Keep it in full sight at all times. Students really need lessons in how to be street smart, and no matter what we say someone usually gets ripped off eventually. Among other theives, gypsies remain a problem in Rome and often use their children to create diversions especially as people push onto buses or the metro. Years ago I was robbed by a family where the kids used cardboard "props" to hide their hands--they have it down to an art. The popular 64 bus across town is affectionately known as the "pick pocket express."
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Old 04-06-2012, 06:26 PM   #3
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I cringe a little at threads like these because they given the impression that leaving your house or your community is really very dangerous. Seeing story after story of how people were victimized can paralyze people who want to travel but are just a little afraid to step out of their comfort zone. My advice is to view all of these stories the same way as you view the ones on the nightly news - low probability random events.

Generally speaking, the same common sense you use at home works equally well abroad. Be aware of your surroundings. Know where you are and where you are going. Don't stumble around late at night drunk out of your mind. Don't wave large amounts of cash around. Don't engage in illegal activities. Follow those rules, and you'll be fine.

Certain locations may still require special precautions. We were told by a number of people that some of the places we were going in Central America had problems with ATMs being outfitted with card skimmers. To thwart any would-be theives, we tried to use ATMs inside banks instead of those outside, we covered our hand as we typed our password to prevent a camera from recording our pin, and we changed the pin once we arrived back home.
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Old 04-06-2012, 07:24 PM   #4
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A lady was making her first trip to Europe. On her first day there she was eating with friends at an outdoor cafe in Florence. She hung her purse on the seatback of the chair she was sitting in. As the waiter was taking their order, an Italian couple approached the waiter, interrupted and asked for directions. The couple soon became very rude and argumentative towards the waiter who seemed unable to satisfy their request for information. As their voices grew more angry and louder, all eyes were upon these rude people. The couple suddenly stopped their poor behavior and left in a huff. A minute later the lady turned around and found that her purse was missing. The rude couple were a diversion, while a third party stole the lady's purse.
A tried and true technique. DW had her wallet stolen in a similar setup at a crowded rental car counter at Midway Airport about 20 years ago. Always reach for your valuables when people are crowding around you, especially if they are arguing.
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Old 04-06-2012, 07:39 PM   #5
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She hung her purse on the seatback of the chair she was sitting in.
Now for me, that is something I would never do in any country (including the USA) because of the potential for theft. If it was on the seatback of her chair, she couldn't even see it and it wasn't secured to anything either. I usually put my purse in my lap, or else hang it from my knee under the table. I don't know if these options are any safer, but they seem so to me and the purse isn't easily visible.
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Old 04-06-2012, 08:00 PM   #6
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I'm not sure some places are "more safe" but some people travel smart and are safe no matter where they go while others can stay at home and not be safe in their own neighborhood. The advice G4G gives is as good as it gets. Travel smartly, stay aware, don't do dumb things and the odds are in your favor.
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Old 04-07-2012, 02:32 AM   #7
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I'm not sure some places are "more safe" but some people travel smart and are safe no matter where they go while others can stay at home and not be safe in their own neighborhood. The advice G4G gives is as good as it gets. Travel smartly, stay aware, don't do dumb things and the odds are in your favor.
While this is undobtedly true, it is downright hard to get stuff lifted in any reasonably nice part of Seattle. In contrast, Italy as mentioned above, and many South American countries seem to create PhDs in theft. Of course as we import more and more people from these "skilled populations" elsewhere, we more and more resemble those places. IMO a larger selection of exotic restaurants is not adequate compensation for this loss.

I had my pocket picked at Churchill Downs when I was 15. Never again, but it does take work and attention.

Ha
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Old 04-07-2012, 05:28 AM   #8
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I didn't have to leave town to get my purse stolen from the back of my chair; and I didn't even need any distraction for it to happen, someone just took it and none of us even noticed. Chicago Police Department appropriately smacked me down for being stupid.

We also had a camera stolen at the Paris airport while we were busy distracting ourselves with our small children, but that could happen anywhere.

A young woman friend's taxi driver took a "shortcut" to the airport in Peru and a couple of guys tried to pull her out of one cab door (now there's a distraction for you!) while someone opened the other door and lifted all her stuff. Maybe that's less likely to happen in the US than the purse lifting scenario but I don't know.
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Old 04-07-2012, 05:29 AM   #9
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While this is undobtedly true, it is downright hard to get stuff lifted in any reasonably nice part of Seattle. In contrast, Italy as mentioned above, and many South American countries seem to create PhDs in theft. Of course as we import more and more people from these "skilled populations" elsewhere, we more and more resemble those places. IMO a larger selection of exotic restaurants is not adequate compensation for this loss.

I had my pocket picked at Churchill Downs when I was 15. Never again, but it does take work and attention.

Ha
Ha, that may not be a fair comparison. The counterpart to a reasonably nice part of Seattle may be just as safe in Italy or Brazil. Most travelers, however, go to other parts of town where they increase the odds of encountering the skills you mention. They also make easy pickings and stand out as targets . We have lots of crime and delinquency right here in the US that doesn't involve foreign born folks, but it is in areas we avoid.
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Old 04-07-2012, 06:37 AM   #10
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Being on a vacation can sometimes make you do things you wouldn't do at home. The only time we were ever robbed while traveling was when someone in my party left his wallet out in the open, in an unlocked car, with the windows down at a deserted beach in the Bahamas where the car was not visible from the beach...and even then, they only took the cash and left the wallet.

I don't even leave my wallet in my *locked* car at home...so while this was unfortunate, it was really dumb and could have easily been prevented with even the most basic precautions.

I person I know had there purse stolen (on the same island), when they picked up a hitchhiker, gave them a ride, and after she dropped them off at their location discovered the missing item. I don't pickup hitchhikers, even at home.
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Old 04-07-2012, 07:08 AM   #11
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One of the slickest jobs I ever saw was in São Paulo. A group of 3 or 4 had come down for a conference, and I took them to a local restaurant. They had all been warned about the obvious things, and one of them had commented about how odd it felt to keep his wallet in his front pants pocket instead of a rear pocket.

As we walked back to the car after leaving the restaurant (good part of town, pleasant evening), he felt a touch and by the time he realized what happened, the pickpocket was across the street with his wallet, running fast. The street was fairly crowded, so it would have been futile to try chasing the thief.

My guess is that he had telegraphed his vulnerability by constant touching of his wallet in his pocket, giving away its location.

Bottom line: It's best to review your personal security occasionally, and adopt protective measures as a routine precaution, not just when traveling.
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Old 04-07-2012, 08:33 AM   #12
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Ha, that may not be a fair comparison. The counterpart to a reasonably nice part of Seattle may be just as safe in Italy or Brazil. Most travelers, however, go to other parts of town where they increase the odds of encountering the skills you mention. They also make easy pickings and stand out as targets . We have lots of crime and delinquency right here in the US that doesn't involve foreign born folks, but it is in areas we avoid.
Good point. Certain crime types however do seem to feature foreign organized crime groups. Seattle has a big problem with car theft and shipment abroad. Car snatching was a big deal, but may be less so now. Sex trafficing and enslavement of women seems to be similar, both here and elsewhere. I recently read that Spain is being transformed by mostly foreign or international criminal groups who trick women into coming for promised jobs and and then enslave them. No personal knowledge, but I also believe that much of the US narcotics business is controlled at the highest levels by groups from the south of our borders.

Likely I was wrong about pocket picking and purse snatching. That is inherently more a small busines I guess, and may depend more on unwary travelers. Similar to how foreign vacationers here often stray into areas that residents would mostly avoid and become victim of violent crime. In some cases because they are not accustomed to high levels of street crime wherever they come from.

Ha
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Old 04-07-2012, 08:47 AM   #13
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I've had a hotel room robbed in Puerta Vallarta, and various pick pocket incidents in our family. The scam I haven't see here yet is the "loud counter" or the "wrong change". When you are working with money that you are unfamiliar with, count your change before leaving the view of the person giving you change.

The "loud counter" even happens in the US. I got change from a supermarket and it was supposed to be $40. The quiet guy just suddenly started counting out loud in an assertive way, doling out a mix of $5s and $10 - he added up to $40 but the change going by was only $30. As soon as he started counting out loud, I knew to check. I told the manager, and he wasn't seen again...

The wrong change scam is to give you change for a $20 when you give them a $50, or change from a $10 when you give them a $20. When you complain, they just shrug. Now I always say out loud "here's a twenty, sorry I don't have change". Warning: Airports are the worse. In France the guy tried to give me change for a 50 as if I gave him a 20 - I had to threaten to call the police before he shrugged and gave me the balance.

There was also the young girl at the snack bar in Newark airport. She wasn't very good at it! She was supposed to give me 83 cents change, but I could see from her behavior that she was thinking thru what might work. She gave me a mix of the smallest coins possible, about 20 cents worth. I held out my hand and said "unless you want to lose your job, you might want to rethink that..." They assume because you are in an airport that you are too stressed and busy to notice.
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Old 04-07-2012, 09:47 AM   #14
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In cairo airport - the currency exchange in the airport just outside customs.... the clerk and his pals took my $100 and started holding it up and then tried to pass me a bogus bill back saying the bill i gave them was no good - interesting on how when i stated saying very loud where the POLICE where that they quickly agreed to take the bogus one they handed me and proceed with the exchange.
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Old 04-07-2012, 10:11 AM   #15
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Even in the US I've taken to carrying 2 wallets. Front pocket one for credit cards and other important things. Back one is a decoy with just a few easy to replace cards and some cash.

Nobody has tested my system yet.

Overseas it's the money belt + front pocket decoy wallet.
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Old 04-07-2012, 11:11 AM   #16
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I was at an all-inclusive resort in Cuba, my first visit to the island and was offered (at the pool bar) for only 10 extra dollars a lobster dinner that evening. I signed up and gave my room number and time we would eat when asked (I know ..dumb). When we returned the electronic key would not work, it had to be reset. Later in the morning we found things missing in the room...the unscrupulous bartender...a woman my age had set me up good. I am sure she didn't break into the room but had one of her friends. I gave a if-looks-could-kill stare the next day...and she avoided me...she sure looksed guilty...but how could I prove it??. In the end it was only a cheap camera and some clothing...the valuble stuff was locked away in the safe. A lesson learned..
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Old 04-07-2012, 11:28 AM   #17
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Good point. Certain crime types however do seem to feature foreign organized crime groups. Seattle has a big problem with car theft and shipment abroad. Car snatching was a big deal, but may be less so now. Sex trafficing and enslavement of women seems to be similar, both here and elsewhere. I recently read that Spain is being transformed by mostly foreign or international criminal groups who trick women into coming for promised jobs and and then enslave them. No personal knowledge, but I also believe that much of the US narcotics business is controlled at the highest levels by groups from the south of our borders.

Likely I was wrong about pocket picking and purse snatching. That is inherently more a small busines I guess, and may depend more on unwary travelers. Similar to how foreign vacationers here often stray into areas that residents would mostly avoid and become victim of violent crime. In some cases because they are not accustomed to high levels of street crime wherever they come from.

Ha
I'm certainly no expert on crime, and I also don't want to give the impression that safety is the same around the world. Overall I think the US is very safe, but like many countries, crime concentrates around tourist destinations and among the poor, and that may be why delinquency is more evident to us as we travel.

OTOH, there are places in the "mid-income" countries where safety is becoming a real issue. Venezuela is an excellent example, and parts of Mexico as well. Brazil will be sorely tested with the World Cup and Olympics, and we will then see if it has improved its poor safety record.
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Old 04-07-2012, 11:59 AM   #18
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I cringe a little at threads like these because they given the impression that leaving your house or your community is really very dangerous.
I certainly hope that is not the impression I created. I have never been successfully robbed in all my overseas travel. I was the victim of an attempted 'con' once while in Florence, but I backed out quickly when I realized the story was hogwash. In Rome, I was attacked by a mob of gypsy kids who kept pulling at the zippers on my backpack to try and get it to spill out my stuff. However, I had been warned and all the zippers were secured with twisties. When I started yelling Aiuto! Polizia! Dove sono la polizia! they left on the run. That happened only once on my first overseas trip. I must have looked like a confused, inexperienced American tourist!! Never again in over 10 years of travel.
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Old 04-07-2012, 12:43 PM   #19
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Here is the kind of money belt I've used in travels: Amazon.com: Eagle Creek Travel Gear Hidden Pocket: Clothing
You just loop one end to your pants belt and it hangs down on one side of your leg. Very comfortable and convenient.

Once I was walking by myself in Paris and a young woman stopped me and asked if the gold ring on the ground was mine. Then she gave me this look and pointed to both of us, like it must have been the fates that brought us together. I took off in a hurry. Have since read this is a common European con game.
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Old 04-07-2012, 01:00 PM   #20
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Back in 1963, 'we' ( 2 companions & I), came down through India to Ceylon, (now Sri Lanka), and encountered an assorted group of hitchhikers who were shipping out a couple days later, (Ceylon, being an island, is at the end of the line).

(At that time Ceylon had restrictive currency exchange rules.....the black market payment for hard currencies was ~ 3 times the official rate, and arrivals were 'required' to declare all their money on arrival, obtain official stamps for any/all conversions, then hand in the completed forms upon departure.)

The people heading out directed us to a travel agent who would provide temporary fake papers, (which he would then destroy), allowing his 'clients' to purchase tickets, (through him), with local money obtained 'unofficially'........the onus would then be upon the departees to claim they had lost their papers when exiting.

So far, so good.

About three weeks after our arrival, (at this time we had expanded into a group of about 20, assorted nationality, travellers), three Brits showed up on a motorcycle & sidecar.......we informed them of the procedure, off they went, and we didn't see them again.....until:

Our day of departure, on a small French passenger ship en route to Singapore/Viet Nam.........20 of us, all having mysteriously 'mislaid' our currency conversion papers, piled onto a tender to take us to the vessel moored in the harbor.

As we approached the ship we're hailed by the three Brits who are up on deck waving over the rail.

Once boarded we asked them if they'd gone to the travel agent....."Oh no" they exclaimed, (very taken with their own astuteness), "We got a much better deal.....we met a guy who took us to a place up country and provided booze, women, food, etc" "He told us to go out to the boat as 'visitors' and he'll arrange for our tickets/passports/motorcycle/stuff to be brought out prior to sailing".

Open mouthed, we all responded with versions of "You didn't actually do that...did you?"

They had. And, after the final "All visitors ashore" announcement, when the ship prepared to sail, the three of them were on the tender, heading into Colombo, with no passports, no motorcycle, no money.....no nuttin'.

(The moral, I guess, is don't think that because you're coming from the First World that the residents of the Third World are dumb and/or in awe of your self-perceived 'status.)
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