ATHENS – With virtually no security in the capital’s public transportation system, including the vaunted Metro subway, unchecked pickpockets rifling through travelers bags and pants with near impunity with the spring tourism season underway.
Despite a crackdown last year in which police caught of gang of thieves who were getting as much as 3,500 euros ($4310) a day, stealing cash, valuables and passports and travel documents, theft is still rife on the system, the British newspaper The Telegraph said in a warning about the problem.
The favorite target for the thieves, most of them said to Albanian criminals, is the Metro ride between Athens and the airport, with no police of security guards on the platforms or in the cars, which can be crowded, making pickings easier during the shoving.
“We feel it has got much worse. Our passports were stolen on the way to the airport. We met others in the same boat,” Susan Yateman, who travels to Athens at least twice a year told the newspaper.
“In the past, visitors have had passports and phones taken and once a friend was surrounded by men on the metro until my husband, who is six foot four, stood up and they melted away.”
Working with speed and sophistication, or using knives to cut open handbags and backpacks, the pickpockets often work in crews to hand stolen goods to each other to prevent being caught and use a number of tricks, such as falling down while walking ahead of people on the stairs and while being picked up, going through their pockets.
Yateman said she was distracted by an old lady with breathing equipment, crying and asking for money, on a crowded train when her wallet was taken from a closed bag. On arrival at the airport she met another British man who had been on the same train who also had his passport stolen.
“The next day when we went to the [British] Embassy we met more people getting emergency passports,” she said. “There is a photo shop down the road doing great business.
“We love Greece and the Greek people and don’t want to stop travellers going there [but] taxis are the best option [and] if money is short the buses are great,” she said, although taxi drivers have also been scamming travelers.
The country is in the midst of a run of consecutive record-breaking tourist season but the pickpockets have cut into the reputation of Greece and Athens being relatively safe, especially with violent incidents from anarchist groups on the upswing too.
More than 20 million people, and as much as 22 million, are expected this year but shopowners around the Acropolis Museum and the popular pedestrian walkway said they are being told stories by tourists of pickpockets and gangs of thieves running amok, including around the museum and using knives to intimidate victims.
The British Foreign Office said most visits to Greece are trouble free but warns “theft of passports, wallets and handbags are common on the metro and in crowded tourists places, particularly in central Athens”.
Rachel Howard, Telegraph Travel’s Athens expert, said she would not advise holidaymakers to avoid the metro, but to take extra care of their belongings. For anyone wanting to travel by taxi she recommended the Taxibeat app – which will be going out of business after the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA, bowing to cab drivers cries to prevent competition, is regulating the service and ride services Uber so much they can’t afford to operate.
Matt Barrett, author of Athensguide.com, told the paper that travelers should keep their hands on their wallets in their pockets or use a decoy wallet stuffed with fake money and fake credit cards and use hidden safety wallets around their ankles or down their pants.
“A professional purse snatcher is better at what he does than you are at keeping him from doing what he does,” he said.
Last year, the operation to catch pickpockets found 9,500 euros ($11,700) n 498 wallets confiscated by police, the paper said, adding that police said there have been some 4,000 cases of theft in 10 years, with takings stretching into the hundreds of thousands of euros.
The Huffington Post offered some ways to prevent being pick-pocketed.
Think like a con artist
Pickpockets execute incredibly choreographed schemes in teams bigger than you’d guess. Knowing their tactics makes it easy to outwit them: Don’t leave your stuff out on tables — one conman might come ask for money or bump your shoulder, only to let the other one swipe your phone in a split second. Always keep a hand on your stuff in subways and trains
Divert Eye Contact.
When someone locks eyes with you on the street — to ask for directions or offer a coupon — it’s reflexive to hold their gaze.
Keep Your Bag in Front of You
This is the cardinal rule of pickpocket-trumping. Cross-body bags are a perfect choice — pick one with a zipper or button closure, and swing it in front of you so you can keep a hand on it at all times in crowded places. Don’t have a cross-body bag? Wear your backpack backwards over your chest.
Rubber-band the good stuff, and stash it in a (tight) front pocket.
Unless you’re wearing a money belt, the front pocket of your pants is the safest place on your body for wallets, cash wads and (if they’re really necessary) passports. Make sure it’s a tight pocket and put a thick rubber band around the item so it won’t be so easy to draw out
Use hidden money belts
They’re infinitely more effective than any hack. Travel legend Rick Steves has endured a mugging, lost cameras, six car break-ins and even a hot-wired vehicle, but not once has anyone taken anything out of his money belt
Fan out your valuables
In the off chance that you do fall prey to pickpockets, turn the tables when they realize they’ve only come away with a $5 bill. Split your money between your two front pockets and the chest pocket of your shirt, for example, so they’ll make off with less.
Only carry what you’re ready to lose
You’ll outsmart pickpockets if you don’t let them get the best of your belongings so don’t carry more cash than you are prepared to lose
Get some pickpocket-proof pants
These little babies have triple-secure pockets to foil any thief. AND they’re made from wrinkle-free nylon.
Common Pickpocket Tactics (And How to Avoid Them)
The site Walletbe said there’s ways to identify and get around pickpocket tactics:
The Helpful Stranger
You are approached by a stranger who wipes lint off your shirt. Half an hour later, you realize your wallet is gone. This “helpful” stranger distracts you with their friendliness so you don’t even notice a second person slip your wallet out of your pocket. If you notice someone you don’t know behaving too familiar with you, you should immediately be suspicious of them
The Helpless Stranger
Alternatively, a pickpocket may act helpless in order to prey on your Good Samaritan instincts. They will ask you for help, maybe by asking for directions or perhaps falling in front of you. While you come to the aid of this person, another pickpocket is robbing you blind
Delaying At Turnstiles
You are exiting the subway at a turnstile and the person in front of you makes a sudden stop so you run into them. The person behind you also bumps into you as a natural consequence. The person in front apologizes and tries again successfully, then rushes away. Later, you realize your wallet is missing. The person in front was distracting you while the person behind you grabbed your wallet
Believe it or not, children are very commonly pickpockets, often wrangled by a criminal adult. You may find that you are suddenly surrounded by kids who are begging for money. They disperse as suddenly as they surrounded you, and you notice that your wallet has gone missing
Bumping Into You
In the event of a pickpocket working by themselves, this is their most common tactic. They simply bump into you and slyly grab your wallet in the process
If you are suddenly surrounded by a whole crowd of people bumping into you on the subway, leave as soon as you can. These people are about to pickpocket you, bumping into you every which way so you aren’t sure who is actually grabbing your wallet. They will leave at the next stop, and you will find yourself without any of your cash or credit cards
PICKPOCKET PREVENTION TIPS
There are measures you can take to protect yourself
Keep aware of your surroundings. If you notice any of these tactics being used against you, don’t be afraid to tell them you know what they are doing. Don’t let the need to be polite make you susceptible to crime; thieves rely on your niceness to strike. If you are approached by a stranger who seems too friendly, or you are encircled by a group of kids, don’t hesitate to move away and say, “No!” in an assertive manner
Tourists are easy targets for pickpockets. This is because they generally carry a lot of valuables and are too busy taking in the new sights to notice. If you want to avoid being targeted by pickpockets, don’t look like a tourist. Avoid wearing expensive clothing or jewelry and dress in a nondescript manner. Try not to look like you are lost. Before you leave a destination, plan out your route, and walk in an assertive manner
Money Belts and RFID-Blocking Wallets
One of the best ways you can prevent pickpocketing is ensuring that your money is not accessible in the first place. Pickpockets don’t need to actually reach into your pocket to steal from you; some clever thieves have started using RFID technology to steal your credit card information without you even realizing