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Updated: September 9, 2011 17:26 IST

Pickpockets in Paris? You got to be kidding!

Geeta Padmanabhan
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The Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel Tower.

Two words of advice for those planning a trip to Europe: watch out

After the customary stops at Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe and the walk down the stylish Champs-Elysees, my Indian co-tourists had made up their minds. Paris was the place to live in. They would return, for stay or business. Then most went shopping, some went to the Louvre. At dinner, all talk of Paris being paradise on earth had been swallowed. Self-berating stories of “How did I fall for it?” dominated the menu. The men had had their pockets picked. A woman's purse had been ripped and contents stolen. “A bitter taste in the mouth,” they growled.

Making travel plans? Great, enjoy the sights, but keep an eye on your valuables. You can't remember places for muggy reasons. “I'll never forget Barcelona for this one incident,” said web designer Priya K, who lived in Amsterdam and travelled frequently in Europe. “As we (five) were climbing the escalator outside a Barcelona metro, this guy ahead dropped his sunglasses and keys. J and my ex in our group bent to pick them up and in a few seconds someone sidled up from behind and fingered off the wallets from their backpacks. When we realised we'd been tricked, we had reached the top of the climb and the gang began to run. We gave them chase. I got pushed against the ticket counter and dropped down hurt. J's wife was also pushed. Our three guys ran frantically, but the pick-pockets hit them on the face and sped away.”

“Before J called the bank to stop transactions on his cards, 2500 euros had been swiped off his account. My ex's losses were minimal because just that morning, I had emptied his purse and put things away.” Ahem, not everyone can count on such a considerate wife.

So beware. European countries dominate the list of those with pick-pocket traps, but widely-travelled guys hotly contest this. You're forced to wear thread jewellery while on a safari in Africa. When asked for his experience, an NRI countered, “Hey, you got to be most careful travelling in India!” Where there are tourists, there will be unsavoury elements out to exploit them. And this could be a basic 'lift-and-run' operation or a more complicated scam.

Watch your back and pack says, Priya. “It's best to leave your passport in the hotel locker (hopefully, your hotel has good security). Carry only the basic stuff and limited currency in your handbag. Have a back-up mechanism for credit-card loss. Hold on to your stuff in crowded places. The usual game is to engage you in conversation and strip you of your belongings in a fleeting second. Don't bend for the key-dropping trick. OMG, they're so good at it! Avoid walking alone in silent streets. Areas like Bewervijk (pronounced Beffer veak) in Holland are not frequented even by locals after 6 pm. Be extra careful at airports.”

Precisely. Have your security antenna up and your valuables strapped down whether you're admiring the Pantheon at Rome, Parthenon in Greece, gawking at the Mona Lisa, crossing the bridge on Vltava River to the Prague Castle, standing stunned by Michelangelo's work at Piazza della Signoria, Florence, walking down Las Ramblas, Barcelona, Spain, riding the metro/bus/tram in cities or bargaining at flea markets anywhere. People have been robbed in upscale areas in London.

Don't want to be relieved of your cash and the courage to travel? These tips might help.

- Scan the bio pages of your passport, email them to your gmail account.

- Carrying a money belt is like painting a target on yourself. Instead, carry a dummy wallet with monopoly notes.

- Look “poor” — no gold jewellery, expensive-looking watches iPods, cameras.

- If you can, pay in exact change.

- Standing on a street corner reading a map isn't a great idea. Memorise your route or stop at someplace less conspicuous.

- Split up valuables — cash safely in an inside pocket, credit cards in a different pocket, etc.

- Don't answer requests for time or direction. If a stranger approaches with a hanky after a “bird dropping”, run.

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