Three Pickpocket Tricks Travelers Need to Know

Stay ahead of thieves by knowing these pickpocket tricks

Montmarte District in Paris, France
••• Crowded tourist destinations are easy targets for pickpockets. Bruno De Hogues/Getty Images

No matter where travelers adventure world, thieves are always looking for an easy way to make money at their expense. According to the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, over 20,000 British passports are reported lost or stolen every year, forcing travelers to scramble to replace their important documents while away from home. If more than 20,000 British passports disappear every year, imagine how many American passports are lifted from unknowing tourists.

Although modern passports contain microchips with traveler's biometric information, many thieves aren't looking to use a stolen passport to see the world. Instead, a passport is one of many documents that can be used to steal an identity. When a passport is stolen along with a wallet or handbag, an identity thief has everything they need to rack up charges to traveler's accounts well before they arrive home.

As with many things in the world, knowledge is power. When visiting your next destination, be on the lookout for these common pickpocket tricks.

Pickpocket Trick: The Bottleneck

It's no secret that pickpockets like to work in teams and in crowds. In addition, pickpockets go out of their way to target unsuspecting tourists at popular destinations. When everything aligns, thieves come together to complete a classic pickpocket trick called: "the bottleneck pick."

This pickpocket trick works with at least two thieves.

Once they have soloed out a target, the first mugger will stand in a narrow and crowded place, like the entrance to an escalator. Before entering, the mugger will suddenly change his mind, backing off and "accidentally" bumping into the person in front of him. This allows the second mugger to stealthily pick the target's pocket without causing suspicion.

By the time the target realizes what happened, his passport and wallet are gone. 

The key to success is the element of surprise and a target who is not paying attention to their surroundings. Before entering an enclosed space, be sure to take note of everything around, including anyone who may be too attentive in their stare. As you enter, keep your hands on critical items in pockets or purses, and make sure yours is the only hand that touches them.

Pickpocket Trick: The Hugger-Mugger

There's nothing wrong with living the life of the party while abroad. In fact, many young tourists backpack across the world and stay in hostels just for the experience, or look for festivals to celebrate international culture. Smart muggers know this – and use pubs as the perfect place to look for uninhibited targets.

One of the most clever pickpocket tricks is the hugger-mugger. This trick works as an unsuspecting patron is entering a pub. When the mugger stumbles out, they will try to get friendly with the person entering – usually embracing them with a hug. When they go in, the mugger uses the opportunity to take a passport or wallet with them.

This is an easy scam to pick up on and watch out for. If someone's going for the hug, simply step away.

It is always better to simply step off and be rude than to have a passport or wallet stolen.

Pickpocket Trick: The Cover-Up

Even with the near-global availability of digital maps, some still opt for the always-available analog paper maps, especially when data is out of reach. This also allows muggers an easy opportunity to go diving into a handbag using the cover-up pickpocket trick.

The trick works when the thief approaches a target. The thief will "assume" the target knows their way around the city, and present them with a map. Their "goal" is to get directions to their destination, but while the target reads the map, the thief will position it directly over a handbag or pocket. Because the handbag is covered, the target cannot see the pickpocketing taking place. Once the pickpocket thief has stolen from the target, they will all-of-a-sudden remember where they are going, and go on their way with the target's documents in tow.

While it costs nothing to help out a stranger, be aware of their trick before they strike. If a stranger comes up with a map, make sure a handbag is up and in front of any map, making it more visible. If the mugger becomes pushy, get out of the situation as fast as you can.

No matter where you go, common muggers will always be looking for a way to separate travelers from their items. By knowing these pickpocket tricks, everyone can make sure they stay safe from unwanted advances and keep passports and wallets in the right hands.