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How To Be Pickpocketed 2X On The Same Train Ride & Still Keep Your Cash

by Tony · 19 comments

How to avoid being pickpocketed

photo credit: dullhunk

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…

Pickpocket

photo credit: stevendepolo

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.

Bingo.

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.

Seriously?

Again?

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?

A lot.

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.

About Tony
Quit his job to try actually following his dreams for once... and is currently loving it. He is working hard to to make this life-style permanent by writing about his adventures and brainstorming money making opportunities with his partner-in-crime, Meg.

ben March 7, 2012 at 12:09 pm

sooo…you had a wad of cash just chillin in your cargo pocket!? silly man. Kinda reminds me of the movie “My Idiot Brother” where he is just counting his cash on the train…

Tony March 7, 2012 at 8:24 pm

They were velcroed shut… but only on the edges. That left a big gap for pickpockets to dive into. Not my proudest moment, but money in any of the pockets would have been easy to target.

Barb March 8, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Many homeowner insurance policies also cover theft in foreign country. Your advice on filing a detailed police report is excellent. We were robbed in Spain and our HO insurance covered everything after a small deductible. If renting a car during your travels, be sure to lock car doors while you are in the car. We were robbed in Spain while stopped at a traffic light. The thief slipped into the back seat and took our carry-on bag which had lots of valuable items. Several locals started yelling to alert us to what was going down but we were too late.

Tony March 9, 2012 at 11:41 am

Great tips Barb! One of the many things i’ve read about traveling is to always lock your car doors whether in a rental or cab. Don’t make it easy on the crooks!

Amanda March 11, 2012 at 4:52 am

Good for you for catching them both! Like Barb, I was also robbed in Spain, but a lot of that was definitely stupidity on my part, so I particularly like the one about learning from your mistakes. I would add, though, to not get TOO paranoid.
I let this happen to me when I moved on to Morocco after Spain (though I do have plenty of unpleasant experiences with Middle Eastern men from living in Egypt that surely also contributed it it), and that definitely burned a bridge or two with some strangers that were just trying to be helpful!

Tony March 11, 2012 at 9:44 pm

GREAT point about not being too paranoid. While I am a big believer in trusting your instinct, you should never get so nervous that you stop having fun. Be alert, don’t take stupid risks, and you should be fine.

adventureswithben March 11, 2012 at 8:10 am

Have you heard of the P^Cubed Pants? They are pick pocket proof. Your pockets have zippers and snaps to prevent someone from reaching in. I live mine!

Tony March 11, 2012 at 9:45 pm

I’ll have to look into them! I normally wear the Scottevest travel pants which have hidden front pockets that close magnetically and velcroed backpockets that are also hidden beneath regular back pockets. I highly recommend Scottevest gear as well!

Jeannie March 14, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Hi! First time visitor…discovered your blog via another fellow SA traveler. We have been riding the subtre the last couple days in BA and while nothing has happened to us so far we definitely stick out like sore thumbs so we’re def on high alert. Glad you guys made it out okay!

Tony March 15, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Thanks for reading! Don’t be too paranoid on the subway… as long as you take precautions you should be all set. Love your blog btw… just signed up to follow along. Enjoy BA!!!

Pretraveller July 3, 2012 at 5:13 am

I think you were pretty unlucky to be targeted twice on the same train trip, but you did well to prevent your money being stolen.

I have also seen the gypsy ladies ‘work a train’ in Rome, and we watched with interested as they walked along a reasonably crowded train. So far in our travel we have done OK and have only had a pair of sunglasses and a camera stolen. We were able to get our travel insurance to pay out the cost of the camera, but definitely had to get a police report in Italy which was an interesting experience.

Tony July 4, 2012 at 6:08 am

Thanks for commenting!

Definitely unlucky, but I’m pretty sure the first pickpocket attempt attracted the other.

Now that it happened to me I am on high alert! I have become much better at spotting it and watch in interest on all trains. If someone is carrying a jacket and it isn’t that cold… watch out for your wallet!

ted July 18, 2013 at 11:00 am

I heard that Pick Pocket Proof pants by Clothing Arts make a far superior product.

They build high quality, secure clothing. Not only hidden pockets.

I love mine.

Tony July 18, 2013 at 11:07 am

Great tip! I have been using my Scottevest pants that have hidden pockets that close with magnets and love them. I might have to check out the ones you recommend though!

Maria November 10, 2014 at 1:16 pm

Great article to be vigilant in our upcoming trip to BA? What was your favorite part of BA?

Tony November 10, 2014 at 2:15 pm

We loved almost everywhere in BA… hard to choose! Even the parts that can be a bit dodgy still have some amazing things to see. Definitely check out Palermo, San Telmo, and Recoleta. Also, if you like steak check out our comments about La Cabrera… delicious and cheap if you no how to do it! http://www.landingstanding.com/buenos-aires-dining-guide/

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