It really is true.
I was pickpocketed twice on the same train ride within a ten minute span.
This might be because I have never been mistaken for a local, but based on all of the locals in Buenos Aires who are fearful of pickpockets, I doubt this was the case.
Instead, I think I just broke about every classic pickpocket prevention rule except the most important one. And by following just that one rule, I was able to save my cash even though the thieves were wrist deep in my pockets.
What exactly happened to me on this train ride? What are the rules you need to follow to avoid being pickpocketed? What is the singularly most important rule that allowed me to save my cash?
What Exactly Happened On This Ride?
Let me tell you exactly what happened and you can count how many rules (listed after the story) that I broke. First person to guess correctly in the comments gets a shoutout in this weeks Weekly Roundup!
It is a typical day in Buenos Aires with temperatures around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I am walking in the only shorts I have, my zipoff cargos, with Meg and our two new friends, Leanne and Leah, by my side. Wary of carrying our camera in public, we have it in our day bag which I am carrying diagonally over my shoulders and with the strap fairly tight.
We are headed to the metro where we will take a 20 minute subway ride to the Teatro Colon. This being our first real tourist trip in Buenos Aires, we talk excitedly as we enter the metro on our way to one of the world’s most famous theaters.
The platform is busy, but not overly crowded as this is mid-day. After a quick 8 minutes of waiting, where we continued to talk in excited english to pass the time, the train arrives.
The train is packed and four other people are trying to board through the same door as us. Two of the other boarding passengers get in quickly and stand on either side of the door as we have to squeeze by them.
We are packed in tight with Meg not even able to grab on to any support besides my waist. The train lurches forward and I am on high-alert as I grab our daybag tight with the opening flap towards my hip.
As the train bobs and weaves down the rail, everyone is knocking in to everyone else. I can feel one of Meg’s hands around my waist, her other hand I can see at her side, and another hand I feel brushing my right leg…
I’m already on high-alert and without even fully comprehending what is happening, I simultaneously look down to see a man’s coat at my waist covering my shorts and lash out with my left hand and sweep it across my body to my right pocket.
My left hand encircles the wrist of the 20 yr old standing next to us as his right hand is buried deep in the thigh pocket of my cargo shorts where he is gripping my entire wad of 500 Argentinian Pesos (roughly US$115).
I wrench his hand by the wrist out of my pocket and start yelling at him to stop. He starts to deny any wrongdoing (trying to avoid a scene, even though I am catching him red handed) as I use my right hand to rip my money free. Some falls to the train floor as I pick it up and put all of the cash in my left pocket with my hand around it tight.
My mind is reeling from this violation as I push him back and signal for him to get off the train. In the universal expression for no harm, no foul, he puts both hands up and backs away.
Feeling like a solid punch to his gut is in order, but now paranoid of any accomplices, I back away into a corner of the train to avoid being groped by any further hands.
We are all slightly in shock, but the attempted thief exits at the next stop and we breathe a little easier.
No more than five minutes later, now standing with my back to the doors and watching the entire train, another man approaches me as if he is going to exit at the next stop.
I move to the other side of the door to give him a clear exit for when the train stops, but he sidles up alongside me anyways.
In shock, but pumping with adrenaline, I once again swing my arm to find him deep in the right pocket of my cargo shorts. He obviously had witnessed the first attempt and was trying to catch me in shock.
Luckily, I am now holding all of the cash in my left hand inside my left pocket, but am still embarrassed/angered/shocked that I keep getting targeted.
Pushing him back and out the door as the train doors open at the next stop, I am now huddling in the corner like a misbehaved puppy as I cannot wait to get out of this den of thieves.
Tips For Pickpocket Prevention
- Do not put anything in your backpockets
- Do not put anything valuable in thigh pockets (cargo shorts/pants)
- Put valuables in more than one pocket (not all eggs in one basket)
- Don’t make yourself a target by talking loudly in native tongue (even locals can be targeted though)
- Defend your personal space (try avoiding walking or standing in crowds like on busy trains)
- Carry bags in front of you with nothing valuable in outer pockets
- Don’t dress like a tourist (What do the locals wear?)
- Any purse or day bag should have a strap no longer than just under your elbow (helps prevent bag slashings and easy access to what is inside)
- Carry day bags/purses diagonally across neck and chest
- Be aware of scams that cause distractions, like being squirted with something and having a seemingly kind lady try to clean it up. Pickpockets thrive on distraction, whether they cause it themselves or you are just watching a street performance.
- Always remain vigilant
If You Catch A Pickpocket
- Be loud
- Make a scene (pickpockets try to avoid attention and often run from too much attention)
- If you still have your valuables, immediately walk/run/jump in opposite direction of aggressors
- Pickpockets generally avoid confrontation, but if weapon is visible, comply with their demands (duh)
If You Already Have Been Pickpocketed
- Inventory what was lost
- File a police report with great detail of theft at local police station
- Alert your travel insurance company if covered for theft (police report is key in this case)
- Learn and adapt to any mistakes you may have made
So how many things did I do wrong?
But the one thing I did right was always try to stay on high-alert. Being vigilant is the single most important thing you can do to prevent pickpockets. But this along won’t stop every pickpocket. Watch how good this guy is and remember him for next time you think you could easily catch a pickpocket.
While many Americans are terrified of being robbed while overseas, a few simple preemptive steps should keep you secure. Most of the top places to be pickpocketed in the world are actually in Europe, so don’t be fooled by its reputation as a tourist nirvana. Even though pickpocketing in the US has declined to almost nothing, pickpocketing overseas is still going strong.
Remain vigilant while on the road and take precautionary steps in advance, just don’t let your vigilance crush any fun you might have touring some amazing cities.