Even inside Cologne Cathedral, pickpocketing happens. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Whoever took the wallet from my purse without my noticing was pretty slick. And it happened in a cathedral.
I was visiting Cologne Cathedral, a beautiful Gothic church in Köln, Germany, walking around and taking photos of just about every stained-glass window and statue there. As I walked through the cathedral and down to the crypt, I kept opening my purse to get my camera.
Getting ready to leave, I shoved my camera back into my purse. That’s when I noticed my wallet was gone. It had my credit card, driver’s license, and some euros. Thankfully, my passport and extra money were in my money belt.
Panic ensued. Chasing down a priest at the cathedral, I told him what happened. I could see by his expression that he’d heard this before. He said pickpockets unfortunately target visitors at the cathedral. I was dumbfounded. He told me to file a report at the police station, which was located a few blocks away.
At the police station, while waiting to file my report, I used my travel buddy’s cellphone to cancel my credit card. The officer taking my report explained that pickpockets wait by the cathedral and often look for unattended wallets.
Pickpockets can strike anytime and anywhere, targeting novice travelers and seasoned jet setters alike. Being of various ages, the thieves work independently or in a group. They can bump into you and reach into your bag or pockets. They can also distract you by asking you a question or spilling something on your clothes. They work in crowded areas such as famous landmarks or at events such as a street performance that draw crowds. Even public transportation is fair game.
Here I share some tips to help you safeguard your belongings. I also include tips for what to do if you are pickpocketed.
Before your trip:
A passport is just one of the important documents you should copy before traveling (Photo: Thinkstock)
Make copies of important travel documents. Get printouts of your passport, driver’s license, and credit cards. Copy the phone numbers (for overseas calls, especially) for your cellphone service provider and bank and credit cards, and keep them in a separate place. As an extra precaution, scan these documents as PDFs and email them to yourself and, if possible, someone you can trust with your private information.
Money belt (Photo: Thinkstock)
Use a money belt. It’s an extra layer of security and a good place for separating some of your money.
The hotel safe, a great place to store cash. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Don’t carry all your cash, cards, and documents in one place. Try to spread out your items in different yet secure places like your hotel safe or a hidden pocket in your suitcase. Consider getting clothing with hidden pockets where you can stash your belongings. Take out just what you’ll need for the day and/or night.
Don’t let this be you! (Photo: Thinkstock)
Pay attention to your surroundings. It’s easy to get distracted in public places like museums, cafes, or transportation hubs. But remember to always keep your stuff in check. I use a purse made by Pacsafe, which specializes in antitheft accessories. One of its many security features is a lock that prevents the zipper from being opened. Guys should carry things in their front pockets, leaving the back ones empty. Ladies, don’t hang your bag on the back of your chair.
Skype is a great way to communicate if you loose your phone. (Photo: Malthe Sigurdsson/Flickr)
Consider signing up for Skype. In case your cellphone is taken, Skype lets you call people (and companies) in another country. I believe the cost to make a call is based on the country you’re in.
If you are pickpocketed:
Cancel your cellphone and bank and credit cards immediately. Get to a phone or use Skype to call and close these accounts ASAP. Ask the issuers to overnight new cards to your hotel or, if necessary, a family member. Need cash stat? Contact someone you can count on to wire you money.
Filing a police report will help you with insurance claims. (Photo: Thinkstock)
File a report with the police. Although it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get your wallet or belongings back, it’s still a good idea to file a report with the local police. Having the report will also help you file a travel insurance claim and provide proof to your cellphone provider.
It’s OK to ask for help. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether you are indoors (e.g., a train station) or outside (e.g., a park), flag down a police officer. If one can’t be found, I suggest reaching out to workers at restaurants, department stores, hotels, or ticket booths, as they can most likely direct you to the nearest police station or agency for wiring money. They could even summon the police for you.
Contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If your passport is stolen, as well as all your ID, go to the nearest embassy or consulate for help obtaining a temporary, emergency passport.
Calm down. Although the initial shock fades, the aftereffects of being robbed linger for a while. While it’s easy to push them aside, taking steps now to deal with the theft will eventually put your mind at ease. And definitely remember to enjoy the rest of your trip.
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