International Intrigue: How to Spot a Con Man in a Foreign Land
Nothing ruins your dream vacation like being the victim of a pickpocket. Suddenly, those foreigners you found so charming are all suspicious in your eyes, and since your money and credit cards are gone, you’re in a panic figuring out how to replace and cancel what was stolen.
Or … none of this happens to you because you took the time to read about how pickpockets do their dastardly deeds and you never became a mark in the first place. Pickpockets tend to use the same tricks the world over, although what works well in Paris might be slightly different from what flies on the streets of Sydney. But generally, it all boils down to blending in and distracting people. A thief tries very hard not to look the part. Some will dress as respectable businessmen; female thieves will sometimes bring their kids along for a subway ride; even the frail elderly grandmother on the bus could be a professional pickpocket. Other thieves will do their best to look like a tourist. They want to appear as people you wouldn’t give a second thought to; you’d never worry that they’d dip into your purse while you weren’t looking. They’re friendly. They’ll smile at you. They’ll help you with directions. Meanwhile, that businessman is reaching under that newspaper he’s holding and unzipping your backpack.
So lesson number one is to be aware of the people around you, especially in tourist cities. Look like you know where you’re going and what you’re doing, even if you don’t. Use your confident body language (review Chapter 4 for details) and do some blending of your own.
The other ploy that street thieves love to use is a good distraction, and this usually involves two or more pickpockets working together. You’re walking down the street, using your smartphone to find walking directions (in other words, you aren’t being aware, as you’re supposed to be as a tourist) and suddenly, you trip over a woman tying her shoe in the middle of the sidewalk. She’s the accomplice.
You stumble, and in the confusion, a passerby helps you to your feet. And now … it’s a fait accomplis. Your wallet? Gone.
Of course, body language is part of warding off thieves anywhere in the world, including your own hometown. Keeping your valuables protected is just as important. Keep money in a belt under your clothing. Lock camera bags if possible. And if you carry a purse, zip it and keep it under your arm when riding mass transit.
Or a man is ranting and raving about UFOs, religion, politics, or who knows what (you can’t tell because you aren’t that fluent in the language) and he is putting on quite the show. He’s obviously off his rocker, and a crowd has gathered to see what’s going on. He’s the distraction maker. His pal is wandering the crowd, helping himself to whatever he can get his hands on.
So lesson two is to not take anything at face value in large cities where tourists gather. Show that you are alert. Look around. Don’t get so lost in anything that someone can take advantage of you. A thief will take one look at you and decide that there’s an easier target out there.