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Tips to Prevent Pickpocketing

Weaving through a crowded Saigon market, a roll of freshly changed dong in my pocket, I almost crushed a tiny old woman who had suddenly stopped to pick up her cane. Ten minutes later, I realized my money was gone.

Pickpockets leave you feeling humiliated and violated. "Never again," you swear, though most of us can't figure out exactly how we got taken in the first place. Like a skilled magician, a good pickpocket makes you want to see the trick one more time.

THE SCAMS
The Dropped Cane An elderly or handicapped person is enlisted to let something fall down in front of the target (you). While you're distracted, nimble fingers slip into your pockets. A friend experienced a variation on this theme in Paris. He was about to step off a Métro escalator when the gentleman ahead of him dropped his wallet. Although my friend smelled a rat, he failed to pick up the scent of the man's partner, right behind him. Seconds later my friend had lost several hundred dollars (and a good deal of face).

The Grabby Children A persistent beggar hounds you for money, or plies you with fake watches, while her children clutch at your clothing. Feel free to indulge them with pens or candy, but watch your back—the waif behind you probably has her hand in your purse.

The Angry Couple This method is usually deployed in crowded places—subway cars, train platforms, airports. An attractive couple begin bickering loudly, or two boisterous yahoos start pushing each other around. When people stop to watch, accomplices work the throng. (Tourist attractions such as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the rose windows of Notre Dame may also provide sufficient distraction.)

THE SOLUTIONS
Money belts and neck pouches are virtually impregnable; but they're also uncomfortable and inconvenient. Besides, how would the waiters at La Tour d'Argent react if Monsieur had to unbuckle his trousers to pay the bill?Better to follow these simple strategies:

1. Put a rubber band around your wallet. The band makes it harder for the wallet to slide out, minimizing the pickpocket's effectiveness and possibly alerting you to wrongdoings.

2. Keep your wallet in a front pocket or, preferably, in one that buttons shut. Avoid trousers with oversize (read: easy-access) pockets.

3. Carry your purse with the strap around your neck and the clasp against your body. Opt for bags with clasps that require two hands to open or that automatically lock—professionals recognize the ones that present a quick score.

4. Keep a small amount of "daily" money separate for incidentals. It's better to hide the location and the amplitude of your assets: a full wallet in plain view will attract the eye of any observant pickpocket, who will also be sure to note where you put it when you're done paying.

5. Trust your instincts. If you keep your wits about you, your sixth sense will tell you when something is rotten (in Denmark and elsewhere). Don't wait until it's too late: when in doubt, stop walking, put your hands in your pockets or on your purse, and move away from the crowd.

6. Say something. My friend's wife had become suspicious on that Métro escalator, but rather than warn her husband, she waited till they were off the escalator. Then she told him to check his pockets. Too late.

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