Louvre Shut Due To Violent Gang Of Pickpockets

The Louvre temporarily closed on Wednesday due to a strike protesting trouble with violent pickpockets.

The Guardian reports more than a hundred staff walked out on Wednesday in protest over “increasingly aggressive” gangs of pickpockets that harass both visitors and staff. Staff members who have tried to stop the criminals have been kicked and spat at. The strikers are demanding extra security.

The popular art museum in Paris is now open again, according to the Louvre’s website, but the problem isn’t solved. With the influx of art aficionados, there will be an understratum of the criminal element.

Pickpocketing is a serious problem in many parts of Europe. While I’ve lived in Europe for more than a decade, I’ve never been a victim. Perhaps it’s because I used to live in New York City and learned to pay attention. I’m a frequent passenger on both the Madrid Metro and the London Underground, both notorious hotspots for pickpocketing. I always keep my wallet in my front pocket with my thumb hooked into that pocket and my fingers resting on the outside of my pants touching my wallet. Sure, that signals where my wallet is, but good luck trying to get it.

Pickpockets often target families with small children because the parents are distracted. When I’m in the Metro with my wife and little boy, my wife watches the kid while I watch them, with my hand on my wallet the entire time. Nobody has ever managed to rob us.

So if you’re planning a trip to the Louvre, or to Europe, or to New York City, pack your street smarts along with your guidebook.

Do you have any other tricks to foil pickpockets? Share them in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy Benh Lieu Song]

Beware in Barcelona and look out in London: TripAdvisor names world’s worst pickpocket destinations

It’s common wisdom that one ought to keep an eye on their valuables while traveling, particularly in large cities or those where one is unfamiliar with their surroundings. But a new survey of TripAdvisor site data, dubbed the TripAdvisor Pickpocket Index, reveals the cities where one is most likely to part ways with their wallet or valuables.

All ten spots on the list were “snatched” by European cities – with Barcelona topping the list for the second year running and London entering the list for the first time.

“London was crowned the most exciting city in Europe in the recent TripAdvisor Travellers Choice Destination Awards,” said TripAdvisor’s Emma O’Boyle. “…[W]hile the vast majority of visitors have a safe and enjoyable experience the Index shows that London must be on its guard.” With over 26 million tourists visiting the capital each year it is perhaps not surprising that pickpockets view its busy tourist hubs as prime hunting grounds.

O’Boyle reiterated that all cities on the list can offer a great travel experience. “This Index simply reinforces that extra care should be taken, especially in the busier tourist areas.”

The global top ten (with 2009 place in brackets) are:

1. Barcelona, Spain (1)
2. Rome, Italy (2)
3. Paris, France (5)
4. Madrid, Spain (-)
5. Athens, Greece (9)
6. Prague, Czech Republic (3)
7. Costa Brava (Alicante Province), Spain (-)
8. Lisbon, Portugal (-)
9. Tenerife, Spain (-)
10. London, England (-)

The 2010 Pickpocket Index is based solely on TripAdvisor site data calculating the number of times travelers use the term pickpocket (and translations of) in their reviews in the last twelve months.

[Image via Flickr user]

Air France in-flight thefts solved – flight attendant arrested

Earlier this year, we wrote about an Air France plane that had been hit by a pickpocket. The thief had emptied the wallets of business class passengers, and upon arrival in Paris, local police boarded the plane, but were unable to find the criminal.

Six months after that incident, French police have arrested an Air France flight attendant suspected of being behind the thefts. In total, 142 Air France flights had been involved in theft incidents, and when police compared their reports with staff rosters, they pinpointed their suspect. Upon searching her home and a bank deposit box, they recovered jewelry, checks, credit card numbers.

When asked by Bloomberg about the incident, Air France had “no comment” on the arrest. Naturally, aviation law only covers luggage placed in the hold, so the airline does not accept liability for cabin baggage. Personally, I am amazed it took 142 reports of theft to finally get a hold of their suspect.

Just like we mentioned in January, always keep your personal items close to you, never let your wallet out of sight, and keep expensive electronics locked in your hand luggage. Sadly there is not much most you can do against in-flight theft, especially if it involves an inside job like this.

[Photo credit: DAVID BOILY/AFP/Getty Images]

Dos and Don’ts in the developing world

We’ve been talking a lot here on Gadling about travel safety. Travelers should be aware of potential dangers no matter where they are, but what do you do when you’re obviously the richest person within sight? Here are some tips about what to do and what not to do when your monthly salary is higher than the average annual wage of the country you’re visiting.

Don’t let fear ruin your vacation
First off, most developing countries are as safe or even safer than the U.S. or Western Europe. In two decades of traveling in 26 countries, including places such as Iran, India, and Egypt, the only time someone tried to mug me was in a shopping mall in Danbury, Connecticut! That said, you do need to keep your wits about you.

Do wear a money belt
Yes, they’re dorky looking, but a money belt will foil most pickpockets if you keep it under your clothing. Even though criminals know tourists wear money belts, they’d rather go after easier prey. Developing countries tend to have harsh penalties for crime and scary prisons, so criminals don’t want to take unnecessary risks. Keep the day’s cash in your pocket so you don’t have to pull out your money belt in the marketplace. Stuff something bulky in the opposite pocket so the pickpockets go for your inviting bulge. Toilet paper is a good option, and may come in handy in case of a sudden onset of Montezuma’s revenge.

Do be aware of local scams
Scam artists employ different tactics in different countries. Often they take the form of a young man with good English approaching you wanting to invite you someplace, where you’ll be shaken down. Or they might give you a friendly tour of their neighborhood and then demand payment, getting increasingly threatening if you refuse. Your best source for the latest scams is an up-to-date guidebook and locals working in the tourism industry, such as hotel managers. They’ve heard plenty of stories.

Don’t flash your valuables
Why tempt fate? Leave the iPod Touch and the gold watch at home.

Don’t pretend to be poor
There’s nothing sillier than seeing some American backpackers trying to convince someone in Peru or Ethiopia that they’re really not that rich. Nonsense. You may be a struggling student back home, but you’re still living a life most Third Worlders can only dream of. You were able to afford an international flight, after all. Trying to pretend you’re just as poor as the locals is unconvincing and more than a little patronizing.

Do back up your photos
The most common item to be stolen is a camera. It’s easily snatchable and has a high resale value. Don’t run the rick of losing your travel memories. An inexpensive 4 GB thumb drive (also called a flash drive) can hold hundreds of photos. Transfer your pictures regularly at an Internet cafe and keep the thumb drive in a different location than your camera.

Do stay open to personal interaction
The best part of any journey is the people you meet. The majority of people of all nations are honest, so don’t worry too much. Most folks who approach you are simply curious or want to practice their English. Trust your gut and have a great time. Bon Voyage!

[Photo credit: Almudena Alonso-Herrero]

Pickpocket empties business class passenger wallets

Theft from airplane luggage is not new – but when I read about a pickpocket that emptied the wallets of five business class passengers, I realized that these thieves may have found themselves a new place to work.

The thief earned around 4,000 euros ($5,800) from just five wallets in the business class cabin. When the passengers alerted the cabin crew, police in Paris were called and were waiting for the plane. The Air France plane had left Tokyo, so given its length, most of the passengers were probably sleeping when the thief hit.

The lesson here is simple – if you fall asleep on a plane, be sure that nobody can get at your belongings. Sadly, it isn’t as simple as it sounds. I’ve read reports of people having their laptop computer stolen, or other valuable items removed from their bags. In some cases, thieves may even be able to remove items from the bag placed under your seat.

A great site with tips on how to be safe on the road, along with stories of theft, muggers and pickpockets is Thiefhunters In Paradise. If you worry about your belongings, this really is a great resource to learn how criminals operate.