Common Overseas Scams To Look Out For To Avoid Being Pickpocketed

Deborah Gan

Deborah Gan

Last updated 22 December, 2022

Don’t take safety for granted when you’re overseas. Be familiar with the common ongoing scams, so you don’t fall prey to them.

I’m sure living in Singapore has made most of us take safety for granted. As a female coming back at 2AM alone in the morning, I feel extremely safe walking under the HDB blocks. You’ll see patrons of restaurants leave their belongings, like their phones and laptops unattended, while no one has the habit of carrying their bags in front of us.

Pickpocketing is not an issue in Singapore, but this changes when you’re overseas. And while many of us are aware of it, we sometimes forget to be extra vigilant.

So if you’re planning a trip overseas soon where pickpocketing is an issue, here are some of the common pickpocket scams out there so you can be extra careful.

Afraid that you might lose your belongings overseas? Here are the best travel insurance plans that cover for stolen or missing valuables!

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#1 The “accident”

Sadly to say, but this tactic is most commonly executed by the vulnerable group like kids or pregnant women because it makes you want to help them. And more often than not, the women are probably not even really pregnant, more like pregnant with a fake belly.

Especially in Europe, these unsuspecting individuals might make you think that you caused them to trip and fall. And of course, going by your human instincts, you’ll try to help them up right? 

Once you do that, it’s game over. Their accomplice will quickly fish their hands into your bags or pockets to take your belongings. And you won’t even know it because you would have been so distracted helping up the “victim”.

#2 Phone snatchers

These guys are the most brazen, as they will snatch your phone in broad daylight, and even in crowded settings. You don’t even have to wait to walk through a dark alley to get robbed because these pickpockets are just that bold.

Especially in Europe, anyone will tell you that it’s never safe to use your phone out in the open unless you’re safe in your Airbnb or hotel room. Even as you’re walking on the streets, cyclists might just snatch your phone just like that and whizz off. 

One of the more common places to get your phone snatched is also on the metro. Passengers by the bus or train doors make great victims because if their phone gets snatched and the door closes, you can’t give chase, and there goes your new S$1,400 iPhone 14.

This is why you should always plan your routes before you leave and avoid navigating on the go. Try to familiarise yourself with the route you’re taking and know the general direction to where you’re heading if it’s just a short walk away. This is so you don’t have “tourist” written all over you when you’re looking lost and have your Google Maps on.

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#3 The sandwich method

This sandwich method is commonly used in airports, shopping malls and other places with escalators. Thieves will usually work together to get the job done by standing in front and behind you to really “sandwich” you.

The person in front will be there to block you, while the person behind you will pick your pocket or backpack while you’re trapped. This is why you should always have a crossbody bag and place it in front of you where you have a full view of it. 

You can also firmly ask the people blocking you to make way and let you through so you don’t get stalled and provide the golden opportunity for them to strike.

#4 The lost tourist 

Helping a stranger who has lost his or her way isn’t going to do you any harm right? Wrong. The most unsuspecting people may just turn out to be the root cause of your biggest nightmare overseas. As tempting as it is to help a fellow traveller out, you might want to reconsider.

These “tourists” usually work in a group. A group of them may come up to you and ask for directions, and the most common tactic is to whip out their ginormous map to distract you. While trying your best to help them navigate the way, another person from the group would already be halfway fishing through your bags and even unstrapping your watch right off your wrists without you even noticing!

So the next time someone comes up to you, it might just be a better option to feign ignorance and walk off. If they were real tourists who genuinely needed help, they could always get help elsewhere.

Don’t want to bear the costs of your stolen belongings while you’re overseas? Check out these travel insurance plans that offer high coverage!

#5 The petitioners

As you would have already noticed a pattern now, “well-trained” pickpocketers are also expert distractors, coming up with any reason to distract you for just a second. And that doesn’t exclude women holding onto clipboards requesting your signature to change the world.

Whether it's to help rehome stray animals, fight the cause against global warming or stand against human trafficking, these petitioners honestly don’t care about any of these causes at all. They’re just waiting for that hands-free moment when their accomplice can rummage through your belongings and scamper off with whatever they deem valuable.

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#6 Imposters at the metro

If you’re taking the metro in Europe, you should pay more attention to the staff there that are trying to help you with your ticket purchase or even sell you a better deal altogether.

While you may think you lucked out on a more value-for-money deal, you may later find out that the ticket that you’ve purchased is illegitimate, expired, or just plain counterfeit.

And if you’re even more unlucky, other scammers who are also pretending to be metro officials may ask you to pay a fine for holding onto fake tickets. Some of them may even request for your passport and then force you into paying a ransom to get it back.

#7 “Hold my baby”

This might be one of the worst ones out there because it involves a real baby. A mother may request for you to help them carry their infant while pretending to struggle with their belongings. And once you are holding the baby, that’s it for your belongings.

The “mother” or the accomplice will start blatantly rummaging through your belongings and pockets, while you witness the whole act. But since your hands are full, there’s nothing you can do. And the scammers take advantage of the fact that there’s no way you would drop a real infant, so they seize this opportunity to take whatever you have and grab the baby back before making a run.

The moral of the story? Be more sceptical while overseas and avoid helping anyone regardless of how genuine they seem.

Afraid that you might lose your belongings overseas? Here are the best travel insurance plans that cover for stolen or missing valuables!

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A mahjong addict with an undying love for dogs, Deborah is always on the hunt for cheap deals because she is always broke. That is why she is attempting to be more financially savvy to be.. less broke


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