As happens everywhere in the world, tourists are prime targets for scammers and pickpockets and it pays to keep your wits about you whenever you are out and about. Security should be of the highest priority when travelling, not only in Europe but wherever you choose to travel.
When I'm travelling, my husband always carries our valuables (passports, credit cards, bank cards and cash) in a moneybelt around his waist and hidden under his shirt. We prefer a flat moneybelt, not the old 'bum bag' style. Touch wood, we've never had anything stolen but I've heard plenty of horror stories including people having the straps of their backpacks cut whilst they are wearing them.
On my first trip to Europe 25 years ago, I did a Contiki tour and I can still remember the tour guide telling us to wear our backpacks on our front so that we could see them at all times. "You might look stupid," she said, "but it just might mean you keep your valuables." It's advice I still heed to this day.
I've also learnt never to consult maps in places where there are lots of people - this is a dead giveaway that you're a tourist and in most cases, a soft target. Metro trains in most cities have a map on the wall inside the carriage - use this map instead as it's less obvious than poring over a printed version.
Tricksters are always coming up with new ways to try and fool tourists and if you know about them before you travel, you're one step ahead of the crooks. I recently read a post by Rosemary from Aussie in France about an encounter she and her husband had on a train in Paris.
Would-be-thieves distracted Rosemary by dropping some coins on the floor. One indicated a coin had rolled under the seat and whilst he bent down to retrieve it, his friend reached for her husband's backpack and was about to take off with it - they had timed the incident perfectly with the arrival of the train at the station. Luckily, Rosemary's husband realised in time and managed to grab the sleeve of the guy who had hold of his backpack. The backpack was dropped and the thieves fled the train. A close call!
Also in Paris (and probably many other cities), a common scam is for a 'golden' ring (the kind you wear on your finger) to be dropped on the footpath in front of you by another person. The person then bends to pick it up and offers it to you. Whilst you converse with the person telling them it's not your ring, their accomplice robs you. Or, the person claiming to have found 'your' ring, will try to sell it to you at a 'special price'!
Years ago, when visiting Athens, I was shocked by the number of beggars with missing limbs. A local tour guide warned our group to ignore them and not give them any money. I was even more shocked when he told us that parents often maim their children so that passing pedestrians will have more sympathy for them and therefore give them more money! Horrible!
If you need to withdraw money from an ATM (hole-in-the-wall bank teller) when you're on holidays (and who doesn't!), be super vigilant. When my husband and I were withdrawing money on one occasion, we had a close encouter.
We were standing side by side right in front of the teller making our transaction. About half way through our transaction (just as we were about to enter the amount of cash we wanted to withdraw), we felt ourselves being pushed and I looked down to see a boy of about 12 years old between us. I automatically shouted at him loudly and he fled - but not before he'd pushed a button on the teller machine.
Our €200 withdrawal was now €500. Thankfully, we realised what was happening and scared him off but it left us feeling slightly uneasy. No doubt he was hoping to arrive between us just as the cash was coming out of the machine - on this occasion he was a little too early.
Whilst on the subject of ATMs, I recently came across this video which shows how scammers can extract your PIN whilst you're withdrawing money from a cash machine. I've also heard of the same method being used on automatic fuel pumps (the ones where you have to put your credit card in before you can access fuel) in Europe. From now on, I'll be double checking before I insert my card into any machine.
One scam that we noticed for the first time this year occured when parking our car. On two occasions, in France and Italy, a self-appointed 'parking attendant' was telling patrons where to park in public car parks. After showing drivers where to park, the 'attendant' then stuck his hand out for his 'parking fee'. Apparently this is becoming more and more common.
Our friends in Italy, who were with us at the time of the Italian incident, told us that the police regularly move these people on, only for them to return again the same day. "Don't give them money," they warned us, "it's free to park here."
Don't let these scams put you off travelling, just be aware that there are people out there who would love to share your holiday dollars or to relieve you of your Smartphone. These (and other) scams are as likely to happen to you in Paris or Rome as they are in Melbourne or Sydney, so wherever you travel, be vigilant, especially when amongst crowds or on public transport.
Have you fallen victim to a scam when travelling?