“Hey Mom, remember that guy who tried to sell us that ring in Paris? Why was he trying to do that?”
It’s been a few weeks since we arrived home from Europe, but my children still remember some of the would-be scams we encountered on the road. Some were outright ridiculous, and some required some serious scrutinization on my part.
I consider myself incredibly lucky that I was brought up by a retired police officer who taught me a lot about personal safety, self-defence and protecting my hard-earned money. Having travelled coast to coast and around the globe, I carry those lessons with me and, thankfully, I’ve been able to identify potential issues and deal with them before there has been any loss of documents, cash or personal safety.
Here are just a few of the scams I’ve encountered when travelling with my children.
The Busy Line Scam
One of the saddest instances that I’ve encountered is the one that involves an elderly lady and children stalking you in a line up for a popular tourist attraction. The reason I call this one sad is because of the kind elderly lady and happy children. Who would suspect them of being capable of robbing you?
When my children and I were in Paris, we stood in line with hundreds of other tourists outside security for the Eiffel Tower. The line up just to get past security was taking well over an hour, so my kids were taking turns playing a game on an iPhone. Not more than 5 or 6 feet away from me was an elderly lady in very colourful, but ragged clothing, a kerchief on her head and a cane, standing in the shade, watching my children and I. Having witnessed a very similar situation in the past, I decided to watch the elderly woman closely. As we moved up in the line, she moved up, her eyes continually coming back to rest on my children. In a matter of minutes, there were 3 children gathered around her, all watching us. Sensing that we were going to be surrounded by them, and my kids were in danger of losing their device, I stood in front of my kids, blocking them from sight and removed the iPhone from their hands. I told them what was happening, pointing to the elderly woman and the children with her, and watched as they moved away.
This experience isn’t exclusive to Europe. I knew about this type of situation because of a similar experience a friend had in Toronto when his wallet was removed from his jacket pocket.
The Ring Scam
As my kids and I were strolling the banks of a river, a gentleman walked up on my left side and appeared to “find” a wedding ring on the ground. He picked it up and showed it to me, asking me if I thought it was real gold. I had already heard about this potential scam in a YouTube video about traveling through Paris and knew the con artist would likely either reach directly into my purse to grab whatever he could when I opened it, or would try to sell me a brass ring at a better price (that turns green a couple of days later) under the illusion that it’s real gold. I politely said no thank you. He tried to insist that he would “give” me the ring for good luck if I could give him 10 Euros. I refused to open my purse in front of him and wished him a good day. About a half hour later, we saw him trying the same trick with other tourists.
The Non-Registered Charity Scam
While we were in line for another tourist attraction, we encountered teenage girls wearing light blue shirts walking beside the line with clipboards in their hands. On the clipboard was a petition, and they were asking people to sign their names in support of world peace. When you signed the petition, you were also asked to donate any sum of money you could. The lesson here is to only give cash to a registered charity, not people preying on tourists waiting in line for a popular attraction.
The Distraction Scam
The final situation I’ve seen, and implore anyone to be on the lookout for, is when a few children walk up to you and touch your clothing. While they may look innocent, they’re most likely skilled pickpockets who are getting their hands into your pockets and taking whatever isn’t sewn onto you. They can lift your mobile phones and money faster than you realize.
To keep your wallet, cash and passports safe while travelling, there are a few tips and tricks I like to use.
1. Use a slim money belt under your clothing. When I travel with my kids, I conceal a money belt on my daughter with a small sum of cash. Folding cash in a Ziploc bag in your running shoe is another alternative.
2. Wear pants with pockets that have zippers and buttons. This way cash can’t slide out when you sit down and it’s harder for someone to quickly reach in if they have to tug at a button or zipper first.
3. Invest in a purse and/or backpack with slash-proof straps to avoid the cut and run. Sometimes it’s best to carry your backpack on your front or find a traveller’s backpack with inside zippered pockets for your documents and cash and zippered compartments that lock. It’s less likely for would-be thieves to tug at your backpack or try to slide their hands in the compartments when there’s more effort involved to get into it.
Lastly, always trust your gut reactions. If you don’t feel right about being somewhere or someone makes you feel uncomfortable, leave.
A little bit of common sense can be your best friend on the road.