7 Little-Known Pickpocketing Schemes to Avoid

Nothing spells disaster faster than getting pickpocketed and knowing your wallet got snatched one second too late. In many countries, thieves hunt travelers and tourists, watching them from afar before striking and taking off with their valuables. With scams and pickpocketing schemes getting more elaborate, it’s important to be informed about uncommon (and common) methods con artists have perfected. Here are some little-known pickpocketing schemes to avoid:

  1. Monkey Thieves in Bali

    Beautiful pictures of Bali’s beaches and tropical landscape often are missing one other strange attraction: Uluwatu monkeys. The popular temple of Pura Uluwatu, built by Javanese Hindus, are common grounds for unsuspecting tourists to get pickpocketed by thieves. Trained to grab bags, cameras, hats, sunglasses, and whatever else they can get, these monkeys are crafty and mischievous. According to The Brunei Times, a Korean tourist was standing at a cliff’s edge to record the sunset when a monkey jumped on him, almost pushing him over the cliff. After the monkeys snatch something, their caretakers are standing a number of feet away, offering them a fruit in exchange. Thus, the monkeys are conditioned to earn meals by stealing.

  2. Child Thief Gangs

    Gangs of gypsy (orphaned) children across Europe are forced to steal and beg for money, causing much controversy over how this type of crime should be handled. According to BBC News, Francesco Messina, the chief police officer who launched a major investigation on Romanian child gangs, reported after a month that each child earned about 12,000 Euros ($15,322 USD). Child exploitation continues to be incredibly difficult to track and contain, with many children going back to their life of stealing, even after being rescued from their gang exploiters. Tourists must pay particular attention when pulling cash from ATMs in Madrid and Romania.

  3. Diversion Heists

    In Chicago, an increase in pickpocketing thefts are on the rise, as of recently. When a victim is distracted (one man blocks the path by falling or stumbling), the thief helps the stumbler while his accomplice comes up from behind and snatches his or her wallet. This diversion method is also highly effective on crowded buses or metros, since the victim cannot feel when the snatch is taking place. At least 17 pickpocketing incidents on Chicago’s trains have occurred between between April 4 and April 20, according to the Chicago Tribune.

  4. Fake Police Con Artists

    Crooks in fake police uniforms approach you, requesting to see your ID or your wallet. Sometimes the “police officers” will ask you to accompany them to the police station for a crime they made up. Raviumar Prajapati’s story has been published in The Times of India: he was robbed by three men wearing policemen attire who accused him of carrying 3 million Rs (Rupees) of dubious origin. The policemen ended up throwing Prajapati out of the “police” car, keeping the money for themselves. This scheme is highly effective, especially when tourists do not question or ask to see police badges. Other times, they can’t tell if a foreign police badge is genuine or not and go along with whatever the officer says. Drunk tourists need to pay particular attention, as “police” gangs find them to be easy targets.

  5. Purse Snatches at the Grocery Store

    Virginia’s Fairfax Times highlighted one of the most popular purse snatching schemes to take place at your local grocery store. Two suspects, Tamara Claiborne and Jonathan Washington, were arrested for allegedly being involved in 50 pickpocketing incidents since 2009 around Maryland and Virginia. Their combined efforts resulted in more than $100,000 in fraudulent funds. The pair of thieves would work together: Washington engaging grocery shoppers in conversation while Claiborne asks for help reading a product label. With the victim distracted, Washington would snatch purses left unattended.

  6. Flat Tire Scam

    The Press-Gazette reports that all drivers should be aware of the “flat tire” scam, which especially targets unsuspecting women. The thief would intentionally drive a nail into a parked car, follow the car, then conveniently appear to offer help. While changing the tire (or appearing to do so) the thief would take off with purses or valuables in the car. This scheme is notorious in Europe (Milan, Naples, and Barcelona), so be careful when renting a car abroad. Thieves may target tourists in rental cars, pulling alongside them in their own vehicle while signaling to the driver about a flat tire. The driver may pull over, which creates the perfect opportunity for criminals to jump out with weapons to seize your belongings.

  7. Bait & Switch Method

    A beautiful woman is the culprit in this pickpocketing scheme. Men who are suckers for beautiful women be careful — she may only be after your money. According to MSN.ca Travel, a popular scheme in London, Budapest, and Istanbul is the Bait & Switch method: you spend your whole night with an attractive woman you meet at a nightspot. While she excuses herself to the bathroom, you’re left with a hefty bill, and you’re forced to pay up by the club owners. This may lead to physical violence, or emptying out your funds, or both. Avoid crowded, overrated tourist traps and don’t be too trusting with whomever you may meet at the club scene.