8 mins

7 essential tips to avoid being the victim of crime when travelling

Investigative journalist Conor Woodman spent four years exploring the criminal underbelly of cities from Mumbai to Jerusalem. Here are his essential tips for steering clear of crime while travelling

Conor Woodman (Lou Norton)

1: Look out for counterfeit scams

Taxi driver checking bank note (Dreamstime)

Typically, the best places for counterfeit gangs to get rid of counterfeit currency are tourist hotspots because tourists don’t recognise fake notes as one of the locals would. 

Taxis are really common for this. You hand them a note, then they claim it's a counterfeit. You hand them a second note and they give you a counterfeit as change, so they’ve stung you twice. 

If you're paying a taxi driver with notes, jot down the last few digits on the serial number beforehand so you know which one is yours.


2: Be careful when buying souvenirs

Souvenirs in a gift shop (Dreamstime)

Tourists like to buy expensive artefacts, especially when they visit places of religious significance. Often they splash out on high value souvenirs. 

You need to be careful because there are lots of fakes on the market. It’s a matter of using your common sense. One person tried to sell me a 2000-year-old statue of Jesus. If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. 

If you want to spend a significant amount of money, ask for a second opinion before you buy.


3: Don’t leave your phone on the table

A phone on the table at a restaurant (Dreamstime)

A lot of thieves are targeting phones, rather than wallets, at the moment. Leaving your phone on the table is like a rag to a bull. 

A common trick is to use a distraction technique, like a map. If you're sitting at a restaurant with your phone on the table and someone approaches you with a map looking for directions, take your phone off the table and put it back in your pocket before you respond. Otherwise, you might find that when the map disappears, they were using it to secretly squirrel away your phone. 

This type of crime is very common in major European capitals.


4: Check the price of drinks before you buy

A group of people drinking (Dreamstime)

Clip joints are common, often targeting groups of lads on city breaks. They shepherd you into a bar after the main ones have closed. You order a round of drinks and sometimes a girl joins you at the table. You might buy her a drink as well. Then the bill comes and it’s extortionate. 

I went undercover to look at a couple of these places and got frogmarched out to the cashpoint by a massive bouncer. When you’re at a late night bar, make sure you look at the prices on the menu before buying anything.


5: Don't leave your handbag out  

A person stealing from a handbag (Dreamstime)

It seems obvious, but there’s a tendency for people to leave their common sense at home when they go on holiday. 

For example, it’s not a good idea to hang your open handbag off the back of a chair when you’re sitting outside at a restaurant. That's just an invitation for people to come and dip in. 

Thievery can be anywhere, so you need to keep your wits about you at all times.


6: Don’t leave your wallet in your back pocket

Thief stealing a wallet from a back pocket (Dreamstime)

The front pocket of your jeans or shorts is the best place to put your wallet. You’d be amazed at how many people stick a wallet in their back pocket, especially with the way people wear their trousers these days, quite loose and baggy. That kind of thing is a pickpocket’s dream, so don't make it easy for them.


7: Pull both backpack zips to one side

A thief stealing fro
m a backpack (Dreamstime)

If you’re carrying a backpack most of them have two zips. A lot of people will leave the zips up in the middle. It’s best to pull both zips all the way over to one side because that makes it much more difficult for a pickpocket to get in.


Conor Woodman is an investigative journalist, author and presenter of the Scam City TV series. His new non-fiction book, SHARKS: Investigating the Criminal Heart of the Global City (September Publishing), takes readers down the lawless backstreets of cities around the world, where he uncovers the people and the scams that keep the global black economy moving.

Main image: Conor Woodman (Lou Norton)

Related Articles