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August 01, 2007

More Common Street Scams Overseas

When sitting at outdoor cafes such as this one in Rome, protect
your shoulder bag from petty thieves by looping the straps under
the leg of your chair and holding the bag in your lap.
Photo: Peter Horree, Alamy Images

by Wendy Perrin

Traveling abroad this summer?  Last week we warned you about such common cons as the fake street fight, the "broken" ATMthe mustard squirt, and the tire slash.  A few more to watch out for:

*The baby toss
This one happened to a fellow Conde Nast Traveler editor in the line outside the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. A woman tries to hurriedly hand you an infant -- some actually toss you a doll -- in hopes that you will instinctively drop your bags to catch it. An accomplice then swipes your belongings.  Tip: Always keep the strap of your shoulder bag or camera around you. In restaurants and bars, loop straps under the leg of a chair and hold the bag in your lap. (A further caution about shoulder bags in Italy: Purse snatchers on motor scooters have broken tourists' arms.)

*The crowded subway car
In Eastern Europe groups of women and children have been known to waltz into a car in a distracting whirl of colorful scarves and skirts, remove your wallet from inside your pocket, and exit before the doors close -- without your suspecting a thing.  In Western Europe subway thieves have put up "Beware of Pickpockets" signs because such signs cause riders to automatically reach for their wallets, thus showing prospective crooks where they are! Tip: Wrapping rubber bands around your wallet makes it more difficult for a pickpocket to extract it. Still, a neck pouch is the best place to keep your cash.

*The phony parking-lot attendant
A colleague visiting the ruins of Pompeii found a parking spot at the nearby train station. She paid the attendant the requested fee, locked her rental . . .

Continue reading "More Common Street Scams Overseas" »

July 27, 2007

Common Street Scams Overseas

Where there are cities crowded with tourists, there are street scams. Above, Via Tornabuoni, the main shopping street in Florence, Italy.
Photo: Atlantide Phototravel, Corbis

by Wendy Perrin

Headed abroad this summer?  It's important to be aware of the tried-and-true ploys that petty thieves use . . . and how to evade them.  The other day I warned you about a common scam in Italy: the fake street fight.  One little boy pretends to beat up another. When the victim approaches you in tears, asking for money so he can get home to safety, you pull out your wallet -- and the kids snatch it and race off.  Here are three other scams to watch out for:

*The messy spill
One thief spills, squirts, or throws something on you -- in Rome, it might be trash, in Mexico beer, in Madrid mustard -- while an accomplice distracts you by helping clean it off, which causes enough of a commotion for a third thief to grab your belongings. This almost happened to me in Buenos Aires: Tim and I were in a perfectly good neighborhood, in broad daylight, when suddenly some inky, foul-smelling liquid landed on us. Two young women sympathetically showed us an outdoor faucet where we could clean it off. Suspicious, we opted to remain a mess and started to walk away -- at which point the duo offered Kleenex. They seemed just a little too eager to help, so we quickly left the area. Back at our hotel, the concierge immediately guessed which street corner we'd been standing on and confirmed that we had nearly fallen for a common con: Had we put our bags down on the street so we could clean ourselves up, an accomplice would have made off with them.

*The "broken" ATM
Your card gets stuck in a cash machine. A kind observer offers to help, and either gets close enough to see the PIN you enter or asks for it in order to "fix" the machine . . . .

Continue reading "Common Street Scams Overseas" »

December 18, 2006

Manhattan Street Scam

Corner of Broadway and 112th St., Manhattan, December 18, 2006
Photo: Rebekah Kebede

By Wendy Perrin

One of the most popular Perrin Report columns I ever wrote is the one about common street scams worldwide:  The "broken" ATM, the phony parking-lot attendant, the camera snatch, the baby toss . . . .

So last night I was in N.Y.C. having dinner with friends at Cafe Fiorello across from Lincoln Center and heard this one, which is happening in Manhattan on the far Upper West Side near Columbia University:  You're walking down the street and suddenly you trip over something and hear a crunch beneath your feet. You've just smashed a man's eyeglasses. He accuses you of ruining his glasses that cost $180 and gives you such a sob story that you feel terribly guilty and reach into your pocket to reimburse him.

What's really happened, of course, is  that he's tossed his already broken eyeglasses at your feet just in time for you to step on them.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

September 04, 2006

Theft at Airport Security Inspection

By Wendy Perrin

I received a disturbing e-mail from one of Condé Nast Traveler's Europe-based editors, who flew from Boston's Logan Airport to Paris on Saturday, September 2nd:

"An anniversary present I'd given my wife--a gold filigree antique bracelet mounted with a series of small mother-of-pearl cameos--was in the high inside pocket of her carry-on bag when it was passed through security. No one appeared to touch the bag after it came out of the machine, but the screeners were busy opening and inspecting bags on the other side. 

"We never opened the bag after it came through, and afterwards it was with us all the time until we opened it at home.  The bracelet, which had been in a small envelope, was gone. Our suspicion is that one of the security screeners slipped the envelope into her pocket while inspecting the bag. Nice thought: Hire a thief to catch a terrorist."

The bracelet was of great sentimental value.  Can anything be done?"

My European colleague can write a complaint letter to the Transportation Security Administration but, since he has no evidence that a screener stole the bracelet, I can't imagine he will ever see any remuneration.

When I've written about airport metal-detector scams, my advice has been: If you are traveling with a companion, one of you should go through the metal detector first so that by the time the other puts the valuables through the X-ray machine, someone is there to keep an eye on them.  In this era of heightened security inspections, however, such a precaution clearly may not be enough to prevent pilferage. Alas, my new advice will have to be: Leave valuable jewelry at home.