A brief, but alarming notice on The Global Times warned against thieves on the subway. The pickpockets target young women listening to music and usually operate on platforms or escalators on Line 1. The brief caught my attention because I fit the target victims’ description to a tee, but anyone is at risk. Now that the holidays are in full swing, it may be time to take a refresher course on Anti-Thievery 101.
The following advice is drawn from an article called “How Pickpockets Work” by edutainment website HowStuffWorks and my very own Chinese-born mom (a fastidious traveler who reads way too many sensationalistic news stories for her own good):
- Don’t assume. Not all thieves are cunning Dickensian creatures with ragged clothing and sharp tongues. Some dress like successful businesspeople or carry a baby to dispel suspicion; others even imitate tourists, their preferred “marks,” or targets.
- Don’t look like a target. Thieves look for people who appear lost, confused, or distracted. Most pickpockets want to avoid confrontation, so they tend to pass over people who are sure of themselves and aware of their surroundings.
- Make it as inconvenient as possible for thieves to rob you. That means not putting your wallet in your back pocket or the outer pocket of your purse. If you have a backpack, turn it around and wear it in front of you in crowded situations. If you carry a purse, hold it under your arm and cover it with your hand.
- Learn to recognize dicey situations. Though pickpockets seem to come up with more and more inventive ways of robbing unsuspecting commuters, there are some common setups you can learn to spot. Some thieves work in teams to distract the mark. One person may “accidentally” drop something, while another steals from the good Samaritan who stops to help. Two members of a team might stage a fight, while the third robs fascinated onlookers. On the bus, try not to stand near people with a long coat draped over one arm; thieves have been known to take advantage of sharp turns to press into their intended victims, using the coat as a cover.
- Keep a list of everything in your wallet. If you do get robbed, at least it’ll help you figure out what you need to replace. By the same token, only put what’s necessary in your wallet. That Costco membership card? Probably won’t do you much good in Beijing anyway.
- Spread out your belongings. That means putting money, credit cards, and identification in a few different places; you’ll be less likely to lose it all at the same time. A thief once slit open the bottom of my aunt’s purse and made off with her wallet, but she had enough money stashed away in her inner jacket pocket to catch a cab home.
On a related topic, China Whisper just published a list of 17 secret codes used by break-in artists in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. These symbols are usually drawn in an inconspicuous place, like trees or outer walls, to relay features about a specific household. For example, a horizontal zigzag means there’s a guard dog and a cluster of coins means it’s a rich household. Though the marks were discovered in Chengdu, they’re a chilling reminder of just how much we may be taking our family’s safety for granted.
Do you have any tips on safeguarding against thieves? Let us know in the forum.