Travelers abroad can be at risk, especially if they don't know the area where they are traveling. From the concerns of pickpocketing and other common theft to the threat of terrorism, preparing for the worst-case scenario is now a key part of the travel planning process.
How prevalent is the threat of tourist crime? According to British non-profit organization Victim Support, up to eight million tourists become victims every year when away from home. These crimes can take many different forms, including strong-arm mugging, theft from hotel rooms, all the way up to violent crime and murder.
In the event a traveler becomes a victim of crime, the worst thing to do is to give up and pretend the incident never happened. Instead, all victims should become their own biggest advocate. In the event of an emergency, here are the steps every individual can take to report something stolen abroad.
When Safe, Take Inventory
One of the most common crimes experienced by tourists is theft. Theft is the easiest crime of opportunity, with the majority of travelers either being a victim of a past crime or becoming a victim while traveling. Theft can take place anywhere, from a crowded street to an unmonitored hotel room.
When it is safe, the first thing travelers should do is take a personal inventory of what was stolen from them. The first thing to check for are the most valuable items that can be exploited first, including passports, credit cards, and currency equivalents. Make a list of everything that is missing, before going to the local law enforcement to file a report.
During taking the inventory it is important to report everything that is lost, no matter how minuscule the item may seem. Those who do not report everything could face another round of losses when it comes to filing travel insurance reports or recovering currency equivalents.
If it is unsafe, individuals should remember the three steps to ensure personal safety: run, hide or fight, and then tell.
File a Police Report
After taking inventory of what is lost or finding necessary medical treatment, the next step should include contacting the local police to file a report and request immediate help. Those who don’t know how to contact law enforcement officials at their destination can request assistance from many sources, including hotels, hospitals, or even the local American embassy.
When filing a report with the police, be sure to recall every detail that you can. This includes a description of the thieves, the location where the incident took place, and what items were lost as a result of the crime.
Those who have a contingency plan can rely on copies of their documents to illustrate what was lost as a result of the crime. When reporting is complete, be sure to leave a phone number for the police to follow up during and after the investigation. This should include hotel information or a cell phone number.
Contact Your Embassy
American travelers who become victims of crime a long way from home can receive additional assistance from their local embassy or consulate. Consular officers at U.S. embassies are available to help travelers every day of the year at all hours of the day.
By contacting the nearest embassy for help, travelers can unlock a number of benefits available to them that may not have access to on their own. In the event of a criminal emergency, consular officers can help individuals with:
- Replacing a stolen passport
- Contacting family, friends, or employers
- Obtaining appropriate medical care
- Addressing emergency needs that arise as a result of the crime
- Explaining the local criminal justice process
- Obtaining information about your case
- Connecting you to local and U.S.-based resources to assist victims of crime
- Obtaining information about any local and U.S. victim compensation programs available
- Providing a list of local lawyers who speak English
Once again, travelers who have a travel contingency kit created can expedite the process through copies of their important documents.
For all the assistance options consular officers can help with, there are several limitations to their work while in another country. For instance, a consular officer cannot assist in a criminal investigation, provide legal aid to those accused of crimes, serve as official translators or interpreters in legal procedures, or pay any fees on a traveler’s behalf.
Before traveling abroad, it is important for travelers to consider adding a travel insurance policy that guarantees payments for medical procedures, or provide legal assistance in the event of an emergency. Each embassy offers different levels of assistance to their citizens while abroad.
Call Credit Card Companies
After filing a police report and contacting the embassy for assistance, the next step every traveler should take is contacting their credit card and currency equivalent providers to replace items. While some documents, such as passports, can be replaced by the embassy, credit cards and currency equivalent products (like traveler’s checks) can only be replaced by the issuing bank.
Most banks allow individuals to call collect from international destinations so that the call is toll-free. During this call, the bank agents will often go through recent transactions, in order to identify fraudulent purchases after a crime takes place. The banks will then cancel the card, to ensure it cannot be further used by criminals. Some banks will also offer to reissue the card to the traveler at their destination by forwarding a new card to their hotel.
In the case of traveler’s checks, travelers can call their issuers to report the theft and order a replacement. When reporting a theft, be sure to report the serial numbers of the stolen checks, which travelers should record and put away. In some situations, traveler’s checks can be replaced in as little as 24 hours, depending on where the traveler is in the world.
Unfortunately, actual cash cannot be recovered as a result of theft. Even with travel insurance, don't expect the loss of actual currency to be covered.
Contact Your Travel Insurance Company
After filing all of the appropriate reports and reporting items as stolen, the next step is to determine what a travel insurance policy may cover as a result of a theft. In certain situations, travel insurance can cover much more than lost luggage and delayed flights.
First off, a good, well-rounded travel insurance policy will cover certain medical costs while away from home. Unlike medical insurance, which only covers travelers at home, travel insurance can guarantee payment to a foreign hospital or pharmacy. This is not the only benefit offered by travel insurance: some plans can also offer reimbursement for lost or stolen items.
Although it may cost a little more, travel insurance may also cover many uncommon situations travelers may face. This can include replacing visas lost with a passport, along with a certain number of electronics lost or stolen during a trip. To claim these items, be prepared to provide a copy of the police report, as well as you did to prevent the theft. Without these items, a travel insurance claim may be delayed or declined.
Leave Investigation to the Experts
Thanks to modern technology, many travelers can track lost items through apps on smartphones or tablet computers. If an electronic device is stolen, travelers may be able to find it through an app. However, it is unadvised to try and recover an item without help.
Because travelers may not know the dangerous areas of their destination, nor are they prepared to handle possible assault from multiple people when trying to recover an item, travelers could end up walking into an ambush without knowing it. Instead, any information about the location of a lost item should be turned over to the local authorities for follow-up.
If a traveler is contacted about an item that is lost, be sure to contact the authorities before arranging to meet with the individual. Those who are not on their guard at all times may inadvertently walk into an ambush.