How to Outsmart Skilled Pickpocket Gangs, Purse Snatchers & Bag Thieves

By Mike Leighton | Travel Tips and Hacks
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Big crowds of people and shoppers in a shopping precinct pedestrian area - pickpocket gangs & purse snatchers featured image

Don’t ever assume it could never happen to you! Pickpocket gangs and purse snatchers are rampant in every popular tourist destination.

It only takes a moment… a second or two to be distracted by someone while their accomplice snatches your purse/wallet so smoothly that you won’t feel a thing, and by the time you discover it’s missing they’ll be long gone – not a great start to a vacation.

Being a tourist in any foreign country makes you a prime target for professional pickpocket gangs. Here are some safety tips and advice including video footage of pickpockets in action, the tricks and methods they use and how you can outsmart them.


three do-it-yourself hacks… DIY wallet security in less than 2 minutes, the DIY anti theft beach bag hack and how to pickpocket-proof your pants.

Crowded metro/subway stations are prime targets

Front pockets only… try this rubber band trick

Every popular destination in Europe will have pickpocket teams working in tourist hotspots, the shopping malls, the subways and busy railway stations. Always be on your guard in these places and especially when using crowded escalators.

Wear trousers with deep pockets and always keep your wallet in your front pocket and never in the back pocket, it makes it a lot harder to steal from you.

Useful tip: put a thick rubber band around the wallet, if someone should attempt to pinch it, the rubber band creates friction in the pocket and will prevent the wallet from sliding out smoothly, or you could get one of these wallets that come with an anti-theft chain attachment which can be clipped to a belt loop, and includes RFID blocking protection.

DIY wallet security hack in less than 2 minutes

Here’s a video demonstrating several ways you can quickly secure almost any type of wallet, making it practically snatch proof in less than 2 minutes. All you need is a one meter length of cord, even a sports shoe lace will do the job.

How to secure your wallet in less than 2 minutes

The SAFEST PLACES to hide your cash and cards

The safest place to hide your cash, cards and passport when you are traveling is to keep it on your person all the time and not in your backpack.

Keep a small amount of cash in your purse or wallet, just enough to see you through the day, and keep your main stash, credit cards and passport hidden somewhere much safer and harder to get at – like a low profile (almost flat) money belt hidden beneath your shirt.

Useful tip: if you find it too uncomfortable to wear a money belt then try a neck pouch or neck wallet instead, and women also have the option of hiding their stash in a bra pouch (a secret pocket that attaches to the bra) no light-fingered pickpocket is going to venture that far.

Are you an easy target for purse snatchers?

Women carrying bags slung over their shoulder are easy targets for purse snatchers, they’ll casually sneak up from behind and lift your purse or smartphone out of your bag and disappear, while you’re still distracted elsewhere.

Always carry your bag in front of you and diagonally across your chest, keep the zipper closed at all times and in crowded places keep at-least one hand on your bag. If you do a lot of traveling or commuting to your workplace it’s well worth investing in a quality anti theft crossbody bag.

NEVER do this in a busy cafe or restaurant

If you’re in a busy cafe or restaurant never leave your bag on the floor at the side of the chair or hanging off the back of a chair… you’re asking for trouble.

Either keep your bag on your lap when sitting down or put the front chair leg through the strap and place the bag by your feet so that you’re always in contact with it.

Useful tip: women wanting greater security from professional pickpocket gangs and purse snatchers should consider swapping their usual shoulder bag for any of these anti-theft bags by Pacsafe or Travelon.

These are not your ordinary everyday bags, they come with some serious security features that will protect your stuff from pickpockets and slash-and-grab thieves – including slash resistant bag and straps, hidden compartments, locking zippers and more.

Busy street cafes are prime targets for purse snatchers / photo: zoetnet

Which TWO credit cards you should always bring!

Bring two credit cards with you when traveling abroad, ideally a Visa and a Mastercard since they are accepted more widely than American Express and Discover. If one gets declined, is lost or stolen then at least you’ll have a backup.

Keep one of the cards in the hotel safe along with the necessary bank details and emergency contact numbers you’ll need should you have to cancel a lost or stolen card.

Don’t attract unwanted attention to yourself…

Don’t attract unwanted attention to yourself by wearing expensive jewelry or even ‘expensive looking’ jewelry… why take the risk?

Leave your sparkling bling jewelry at home and that goes for watches too… a flashy gold watch even if it’s a fake, it will get you noticed and you could get mugged for it.

Useful tip: much more practical for travelers is this inexpensive digital watch – it’s water-resistant to 50 meters so you can swim with it, it has an LED back-light so you can tell the time in the blackest of nights, and it has a multi-functional alarm that will wake you in time for your flight.

On a side note: Is you home attracting unwanted attention while you’re on vacation… have you prepared a home protection to-do-list?

The 7 ways pickpockets take advantage of you

Matt Windsor a professional ‘on stage’ pickpocket entertainer enacts seven everyday scenarios showing how professional pickpocketers use distraction to steal your valuables… this eye-opening video reveals their tricks.

Learn the tricks pickpocketers use to steal your possessions

(1) The escalator stall (00:12) – you’re on an escalator going down and picker-1 (the staller) is standing in front of you. At the bottom of the escalator he ‘accidentally’ drops a bag and bends down to pick it up. While you’re distracted picker-2 who is right behind you slips his hand into your jacket’s outer pocket and steals your phone.

Prevention: always use inner pockets.

(2) The park distraction (00:26) – you’re relaxing in a busy park when picker-1 approaches you with a map and asks for your help, he stoops down on your right side and shows you the map, while you’re distracted and giving directions picker-2 walks past from behind and steals your bag at your left side.

Prevention: always keep your bag in your eyeline and put your arm through the strap.

(3) The ATM machine ‘helper’ (00:40) – while you’re at the ATM machine, picker-1 watches from behind as you enter your pin number, he then drops a banknote near your left side and interrupts you by asking if it’s yours.

While you’re momentarily distracted, picker-2 quickly moves in on your right side, takes your card out of the ATM machine and disappears… and you’re left thinking the card was swallowed up by the ATM.

Prevention: always cover your hand when you enter your PIN.

(4) The bus stop block (01:02) – while you’re checking the bus times on the information board a pickpocket approaches you from behind reading a newspaper. He stands next to your shoulder bag and blocks it from view with his newspaper, then with his free hand he reaches into your bag and steals your purse.

Prevention: always keep your bag closed and in front of you in busy places.

(5) The busy street pickpocket (01:12) – you are walking down a busy street with a backpack on your shoulders, a pickpocket follows closely from behind and bit-by-bit he unzips your backpack without you noticing and steals your wallet.

Prevention: always keep bag openings close to your sides or carry the backpack facing front

(6) The Cafe Table Cover (01:26) – you’re sat outside a cafe with your phone on the table beside you. A pickpocket approaches with a map asking for directions, he holds the map in front of you and covers the phone from view, while you’re distracted he snatches the phone from behind the map.

Prevention: never leave your phone in plain view on a table, keep in your inside pocket after use.

(7) The Photo Opportunity (01:42) – picker-1 approaches you with a camera and asks you to take a photo of him. You put down the bag you’re carrying and watch as he shows how to use the camera. While you’re distracted and turned away from your bag, picker-2 walks past from behind and steals your belongings.

Prevention: always keep your valuables in view or on your person.

These are the 10 WORST CITIES for pickpocket crime

Barcelona the pickpocket capital of Europe / Las Ramblas – photo: sk

According to travel website TripAdvisor these are the top 10 cities where you are most likely to be a victim of pickpocket crime. Not surprisingly these are also some of the most tourist visited cities in the world.

  1. Barcelona, Spain hotspots: Las Ramblas, Basílica de la Sagrada Família, Sants train station, the central metro stations, Barrio Gotico, Plaza de Cataluna
  2. Rome, Italy hotspots: St. Peters Square, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, Termini rail station
  3. Paris, France hotspots: Eiffel Tower, Paris Metro, Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, Champs-Elysees. Montmartre
  4. Madrid, Spain hotspots: Plaza Mayor area, Puerta Del Sol, Plaza de Santa Ana , the Metro, Casa de campo, Paseo Del Prado, Parque del Retiro
  5. Athens, Greece hotspots: Athens Metro, Syntagma, Parthenon area, Kolonaki, Metaxourgeio, Omonoia, Exarcheia
  6. Prague, Czech Republic hotspots: The Old Town Square, Dejvicka Railway station, Florenc bus station, Karlova Street, The Charles Bridge
  7. Costa Blanca, Spain hotspots: the popular resorts of Benidorm and Alicante are the prime hotspots along 200 km of Mediterranean coastine which stretches from Denia in the north to Pilar de la Horadada in the south
  8. Lisbon, Portugal hotspots: Alfama and Bairro Alto districts, Belem, Oriente, Castelo de Sao Jorge, Santa Apolonia, Sete Rios bus station, train stations and Rossio metro, Trams 15 and 28
  9. Tenerife, Spain hotspots: Los Gigantes, Los Cristianos, Santa Cruz, Playa De Las Americas, pickpockets can be found all over Tenerife but are mainly in the south operating in the seafront areas
  10. London, England hotspots: mainly located in the areas of Westminster and Camden, Oxford Street, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street, Gerrard Street, Soho, Tottenham Court Road, Camden Market & High Street, London Underground Tube Stations.

Close-up action of pickpocket gangs in Barcelona

Barcelona pickpockets are notorious throughout Europe, and even though this stunningly beautiful city is almost always ranked in the top 5 best places to visit, the presence of so many pickpockets is giving the city a bad name and violent crime is also on the rise.

Eastern European gangs filmed in action on Barcelona’s subways

It’s a huge problem for the city, a problem that the authorities can’t seem to stamp out… So why has Barcelona become such a hotspot for thieves, bag snatchers and pickpocket gangs?

Under Spanish law anything that’s stolen and has a value of less than €400 euros is classed as a misdemeanor which carries a maximum fine of €50 euros.

Fifty euros is hardly a deterrent, they pay their fine and are back on the streets within hours, but what makes matters worse is that there are no harsher penalties for repeat offenders.

It doesn’t matter how many times they re-offend and get caught, 10, 20, 50 times!… if the value is less than €400 euros it still remains a misdemeanor and a €50 euros fine, the offence is not cumulative.

They see this as nothing more than a tax on their earnings, and until the Spanish law is changed to address ‘petty crimes’, Barcelona will continue to reign as the pickpocket capital of Europe.

The 6 most common places where tourists get robbed

Mark from Wolters World shares his tips and offers some good advice on how to avoid becoming a victim, by pointing out the six most common places where pickpockets are at work and when you should be more vigilant.

Although filmed in front of the Vatican, this isn’t only about pickpockets in Rome, the advice given is universal, you could be in Paris, Barcelona, Prague, London or in any other city, the methods and tactics used are the same.

Tips and advice on when and where you should be more vigilant

BEACH THIEVES caught on camera… learn their TRICKS!

Beaches chock-full of tourists are ideal places for bag snatchers, and the thing is, it’s pretty damn difficult to spot them. They blend in easily with everyone else, sunbathing, swimming, and having fun on the beach.

But while you’re relaxing and soaking in the sun they’re busy spotting targets, then when your guard is down they snatch your bag right from under your nose without you even realizing.

Watch how they do it… hidden cameras capture two bag thieves working as a team.

Bag snatchers in action on crowded Rio beaches

Here’s a DIY beach bag hack to STOP bag snatchers

Here’s an easy-to-do beach bag hack that will stop bag snatchers running off with your gear, and all you need is a pair of scissors, two cable ties, a lock and 3 feet of chain.

How to stop ‘snatch and grab’ bag theft on the beach

It’s not perfect but it should deter most opportunistic bag snatchers. For a more secure solution you’d want a bag with a puncture-proof zipper and slash proof lining like this ingenious multipurpose anti-theft beach bag which also comes with a cooler compartment, or this anti-theft shoulder bag by Loctote, it’s like an extremely light and portable safe for your valuables that folds flat when not in use.

What about other options?…

If you need something smaller to lock-up your smartphone, wallet, keys and jewelry etc., then this portable safe is ideal for the beach, it can also be used as a hotel safe substitute – you may not be aware of this but hotel room safes are actually not safe.

Another option is to keep your smartphone and other valuables in a waterproof pouch that fits around your waist, giving you the freedom to enjoy a swim or some other water sport.

Useful tip: here’s a quickie solution if you haven’t got any of the above items and you want a dip in the sea. Put your valuables in a plastic bag (or wrap them in a sarong) and bury them in the sand then cover the spot with your beach towel.

And for added security stay close to the lifeguards tower, beach thieves will generally try to avoid these areas for fear of being spotted or getting caught.

Is your money safe?… DIY pickpocket proof pants hack

The ‘Barcelona subways’ video on this page makes you aware of how incredibly easy it is for these brazen thieves to dip into someone’s pocket and steal their phone or wallet.

If you’ve got kids to worry about and luggage to carry, it’s almost impossible to consciously keep a hand on your phone or wallet at all times. If you don’t have a zipper on your pocket then the next best thing is this DIY hack…

do-it-yourself pickpocket proof pants hack

The only other option is to get yourself a pair of pickpocket proof pants with a hidden zipper pocket like these, it might not be at the top of your list of things to buy, but if you’re a regular traveler it’s something you need to consider.

Travel clothing with hidden zipper pockets give you that extra added layer of protection and there’s lots more to choose from at

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