Safety in Europe

Pickpocket scams are common in Europe and they often times work in teams by distracting you. DSC_0240They may bump into you so you don’t notice or start talking.  They may even have children working with them.  Wallets, passports, cameras, iPods and jewelry, even bags are common things stolen.  Tourists are often times targets.  Remember nothing is for free.  If someone tries to give you something and says it is free, it could be a distraction for thieves or they may demand you give them a “tip” and start yelling that you stole from them.

Crowded places like subways, trains, buses and tourist attractions are common places of theft. I know of people who have been victims and I have seen it happen in the subway.  The thief may even brush against you or bump into you so you don’t realize what is happening.  Wear a neck wallet and put it under your shirt or wear your wallet in your front pocket, never your back pocket. If you wear it in your pocket consider wearing a money belt.

Watch your bag or purse.  When you sit down to eat make sure it is touching it at all times.  Don’t set it down on the ground or on the chair next to you.  If you look away for one minute it could be gone that fast.  Always make sure your bags are zipped up, although pick pockets are known unzip bags. You may want to consider locking your zippers or putting twisty ties on them helping to deter the thieves. Sometimes they will use knives to slash open your bag.  So if you are in a subway have the bag next to a wall rather than having your back turned to a crowd.  They make bags that are slash proof for this reason, however I don’t think it is as common of a problem.  Just make sure you are always alert.  If you are in a hostel or a long train ride lock your bag up to something secure so it doesn’t disappear from someone grabbing it and running off right in front of you.

Wrap your wallet with a rubber band because it is harder to get it out of your pocket and may deter a pickpocketer.

Muggers: Some people like to travel with a fake wallet full of fake cards that you would receive in the mail for credit card offers.  This way your name isn’t attached to an expired credit card.  And even the expired credit cards have the same number just different date which can be easy to guess since it is usually the same month just different year.  This may come handy if you are mugged and we have used it before.  I also like to wear a fake wedding ring.  I don’t like to bring my real one on vacation because I am usually in the water and don’t want to lose it.  But if I were to get mugged I would hand over the $25 ring instead of my wallet or camera.  Don’t make yourself a target.  Don’t wear expensive jewelry, don’t show off expensive cameras when not using them, walk with confidence, stay in well-lit areas at night, and be aware of your surrounding especially at ATMs.

Credit Card Scams: I always like to make copies of my credit cards, front and back, and my passport in case my real ones are stolen I would be able to cancel them fairly quick and have less trouble getting a new passport.  It is a good idea to leave the copies with someone back at home as well.

Credit Card Skimming is an extremely easy crime to commit and is done frequently.  All it takes is for a waiter to scan your card into a reader to get all the information.  The readers are cheap and easily accessible to buy online. If your credit card has a WiFi signal on it I suggest you go to your bank and get a new card immediately.  The WiFi signals are even easier to get your information because the thief only needs to walk past you with the reader.  They don’t need the card, and they can get your number when it is in your wallet without even looking at it.  The WiFi readers are easy and cheap to buy online as well.

Credit card theft can happen anywhere, not just in Europe.  It happened to me in Utah where I live.  The charge wasn’t huge and I could have easily overlooked it when I got my credit card statement.  I happen to be an accountant, so I record all of our receipts and I double check those with my statement.  I called the credit card company to dispute it.  They looked into it and sent me a letter back saying that it was signed for.  When I looked at who signed it, it was a somewhere close by with someone we don’t know but they did have our name, address, card number and security number on the card.  Sometimes thieves will start by buying something little and if you don’t notice may increase the frequency or amount they are spending.  We canceled our card and the next day received new ones.  It was fast and easy to replace.  If it had been a debit card they had stolen, it would have taken a lot longer, if possible, to get the money back. However when traveling I do think you need to take your debit card in case you need to get money out of an ATM, however try to use your credit card instead for multiple reasons, they are easy to dispute if needed, if skimmed it is easier to get your money back, and you can earn rewards on your credit card.

Pay Phone Scams: When you are in a foreign country your cell phone may not work or you may not want to change your plan for a week abroad.  Never use your credit card in a pay phone or give an operator your credit card for a phone call.  When we were in Cozumel and we called home with a payphone that was on the dock before you get onto the ship.  I thought they were going to give us the price at the end of the call but it only said thank you and hung up.  When I got the bill it was over $400 for a call that lasted maybe 3 minutes.  I called American Express and they disputed the charge down to $20 for me and that is all I had to pay, however if you have a different credit card company or depending on the situation, you may be liable for the amount they charge you.  These companies are not illegal and have every right to charge you for a phone call.  Ever since this happened, we just Skype or Face Time instead because it is free as long as you have an internet connection.

ATM Scams: ATMs can be a huge target for crime.  If the ATMs “eat” your card and won’t spit it out and you can’t get it back, then cancel it and get a new one.  Sometimes it is a defect in the machine and other times it can be from tampered ATMs. The thief will insert clear tape into the mouth of the reader which will cause it to get stuck; after you leave they will get it out with tweezers.  Sometimes people will install a card reader into the ATM to read your cards and you will get your card back, but may not notice the charges until after you get home from your vacation.  If the ATM looks tampered with don’t use it.   Sometimes thieves will look over your shoulder or insert a small camera that you would never know is a camera, to get your numbers.  To avoid this, use your hand to hand the top of your credit card when inserting it into the machine.

Taxi Scams can happen all over the place, but they tend to be more prevalent in Eastern Europe compared to Western Europe.  They usually will drive the long way to get you to pay more.  Sometimes they try to add in charges if they have a reader saying there is a mandatory “airport” fee they are required to pay even though you didn’t seem them pay for it.  They may say the meter is “broken” or “forget” to turn on the meter.  If they don’t have a reader they will rip you off by telling you an absurd amount to pay.  It has happened to me more than once.  If you feel like you have been ripped off, don’t tip.  If the taxi doesn’t have a meter (some taxis don’t and it may hard to find one that does), always get price before you get into the car.  Make sure they know where to go before you get into the car to avoid them telling you they don’t know where it is and “looking” for it all over the place.  The best taxis I have had are when the hotel calls one, not ones that you just happen to find on the street.  When the hotel calls a company, they usually use the same company and so the taxi driver doesn’t want to ruin this relationship by ripping someone off, however every driver is different, so don’t just assume they are honest drivers.  This is the same for using a taxi stand.

Always research it before you get to there so you know approximately how much to pay for a taxi in that area for the distance you are going.  You can generally get a good idea of how much it would cost, and you may decide to take public transportation or a pre-arranged shuttle instead. If you can’t find anything online, contact the hotel you will be staying in to get an unbiased opinion of how much it would cost.  Then before you get into a taxi at the airport to go to that hotel ask the taxi driver the “estimated” cost even if he does have a meter.  And remember you can always bargain for better prices especially when the taxi doesn’t have a meter.

Taxis will often charge surcharges if you pay with a credit card or they will add in their own tips.  It is usually better to pay with cash, but carry small bills too in case the driver doesn’t have change for you.  If paying with cash hand them the bills slowly with each bill while counting.  If you do need change back double check they gave you the right amount. Triple check you have all your bags when leaving the taxi since you most likely will never see it again if something is left behind.  If a taxi driver recommends a certain place to go to like a restaurant then most likely they are getting commission or kickbacks for taking you there and most likely you will be charged more than you normally would.

Drink Scams: An extremely common scam all over Europe and mostly in Eastern Europe is that a pretty girl will flirt with you and get you to go to a restaurant, bar or club with her.  You buy her a few drinks and the bill comes out to be $1,000 or more.  She may go to the restroom while a bouncer will force you to pay even escort you to an ATM if necessary.  Always ask for the drink prices before hand and pay as you go.  If they won’t allow this, then leave.

Money Scams: On the street money changers are illegal and you will be over charged.  Always use official change office to change money.

Always count the change given back to you carefully because many people will try to short change you.

Fake Menus can be common at restaurants.  They will show you one menu with the better prices and after you eat the bill is higher.  If you dispute it they will show you the menu with the higher price. I believe this is happened to me a couple of times in Western Europe.  It happens mainly in larger cities or tourist attractions.  If the menu doesn’t have a price ask them what they will charge you, or better yet find a different place to eat.

An “uncover” policeman may flash a badge and ask you to look at your money because they believe you received counterfeit bills don’t let them.  They may trade your bills with smaller bills or simply take some of your money.

Computer Scams: To help protect yourself from computer scams, use complex passwords, don’t use the same one for all your password needs, and change them often.

It is always better to bring your own laptop or iPad or phone that can have internet access instead of using someone else’s computer.  I always try to bring my laptop, but have also used my iPhone for the sole purpose of the internet.  You are able to Face-time back home or just log onto the internet even if you can’t make phone calls.  Remember WiFi isn’t completely safe, so enter as little credit card and banking information as possible.

If you don’t have your own device and need to use an internet café, then be aware. Try not to enter personal information or credit cards onto that computer.  Common scams include key loggers which record everything you type including passwords into emails or Facebook as well as credit card numbers.  Many computers in internet cafes will have viruses.

There are programs out there that will safeguard you against these viruses for internet cafes and will fit onto a flash drive.  Firefox web browser portable can also be downloaded onto a flash drive.  Use the Firefox instead of the internet café’s browser; it may save you from a virus.






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