About a month ago some young people we know were traveling with an aunt in Italy and suffered a serious pickpocket event. The aunt was carrying a handbag while they were out sightseeing and later discovered that her wallet was stolen. Inside was cash, credit cards and train tickets. Fortunately she had left her passport back at the hotel.
We have friends that have been living in Costa Rica for a number of years and one evening while walking down a San Jose street two young men on a motorbike grabbed her handbag. Unfortunately she hung on for a while and was dragged some distance down the block before losing the bag.
Three years ago while staying in Rome at a hotel that included breakfast there was an incident with a guests handbag. She had left it hooked over the back of her chair and went to get some food and when she returned to her table the bag was missing. I should note that this was a nice hotel and there were a number of guests in the breakfast room at the time.
While men are not immune to this sort of crime, it does seem that women and their handbags are frequent targets of pickpockets and purse-snatchers. A woman carrying a handbag in public is actually statistically a frequent target. Knowing this should be an opportunity to change your habits to reduce this risk.
Five tips to carrying a handbag in public:
1. Do not carry all your cash and credit cards all the time in your handbag. Get in the habit of carrying only what you will need at that time so if you do lose your bag the loss is manageable.
2. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid large crowds of people. If where you are makes you feel uncomfortable, leave the area as quickly as possible.
3. When carrying a handbag is areas that have any suggestion of risk take special care in holding your bag.
a. Do not leave the bag open where someone could easily reach inside.
b. Carry it on a short strap with your arm thru the handle and over your shoulder.
c. With the bag over your shoulder, keep it tucked against your body with your arm pinning it tightly in place.
d. Always assume that there is someone near by waiting to grab your bag. Don’t leave it on a chair or table even if you are going to be just a few feet away.
e. If you are on public transportation keep your bag in you grip. Do not set it on the seat next to you.
f. If driving a car do not leave your bag just sitting on the seat next to you. If the passenger window is down it would only take a second for someone to reach inside and grab it. Even if the window is closed there are thugs that are capable of smashing a window and quickly grabbing a prize.
4. Consider creating a fake wallet that can be used as a decoy in a snatch and grab or a mugging. Take an old wallet, put in just a few dollars and a couple of expired credit cards so that the thug will think he is getting what he wants while you flee.
5. Try to blend in with your environment and don’t flash cash or a stack of credit cards in public. If you make yourself look like a prime target you are inviting an attempt.
I will admit that no matter how hard I try and blend in it always amazes me when people walk up and ask if I’m an American. All the same, to stay safe and in possession of your property you need to be pro-active and have situational awareness.