Keep passports safe: Typical pickpocket scams revealed

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he FCO have launched a passport aware campaign. Photo: FCO
11:33 CEST+02:00
Every year, holidaymakers lose their passports, wallets or other valuables while visiting Italy, causing them needless distress, hassle and extra expense.

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has described pickpocketing as "endemic" in Rome in particular, and it is one of the five European cities that sees the most Brits lose their valuables to the sneaky thieves.

Pickpockets are known to operate around airports, main train stations and popular tourist hotspots. "When criminals are seen in buses and underground carriages often Italian members of the public will cry out warnings: these should be taken seriously," the FCO warns on its website.

It has also launched an awareness campaign as the peak holiday season gets underway, urging travellers to keep their passports safe.

James Freedman, the police-appointed UK Fraud Prevention Ambassador, has revealed the typical techniques used by passport thieves to target victims.

In a special video for the FCO campaign, the stealth crime expert warns holidaymakers to be on the lookout for the following four typical scams.

The imposter

An unsuspecting tourist hands over her passport after being shown a 'police badge' Screengrab: FCO/ YouTube

This scam involves the thief posing as a police officer or other authority figure, who quickly walks off with your passport in hand after requesting to see your identification. 

The Clean-Up

Helpful stranger or crafty pickpocket? Screengrab: FCO/ YouTube

If a friendly stranger points out that you have been hit by bird poo and offers to help rub you down, beware. It may be a con-artist who has planted the stain with a view to getting close and pickpocketing his victim while they are distracted.

 The Check-In cheat

Passport swiped from under tourist's nose at check in desk. Screengrab: FCO/ YouTube

Holidaymakers fresh off the plane are often targeted while they check in to their accommodation. A bustling hotel reception and distracted guests filling in forms can provide rich pickings for a thief who only has to lift the passports straight off the front desk.

'Taking Things Easy'

Filching a passport from a jacket on the back of a chair. Screengrab: FCO/ YouTube

The final common scenario shown in the video involves a tourist enjoying a caffé in a sunny piazza, paying more attention to his girlfriend than his belongings, which include his passport stored within the pocket of his jacket.

The thief casually takes a seat at a nearby table, slips his own jacket on the chair and then slips the passport from his chosen victim as he pretends to reach into his own pocket.

Watch the video:

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“With identity theft on the rise, the actual cost of losing your passport could be thousands of pounds. Criminals and con-men are always evolving the tricks they use to target tourists, but a few simple precautions will really help you to stay safe,” warns Freedman.

“Only carry what you really need and keep cash and other valuables in a secure pocket or bag. Remember that if you put bags down, they should always be in your line of sight. If you don’t need your passport and other valuables when you’re out and about, leave them at the hotel. Above all, trust your instincts and be aware of anyone invading your personal space.”

Tobias Ellwood MP,  The UK’s new FCO minister said:“While we should all enjoy our holidays, it is important that we remain vigilant about valuables – particularly passports. Becoming a victim of theft or losing your passport could ruin your trip and replacing a passport will cost money and valuable holiday time.

“By following the simple tips included in these videos you can minimize the risk of falling victim to thieves while abroad.”

The FCO advises the following:

  • Be aware of your surroundings and be wary of strangers who take an unusual amount of interest in you.
  • A damaged passport cannot be used for travel, so value it and keep it safe
  • Lock your passport in a safe if you have access to one, or if you are required to keep it with you, ensure its location is not visible
  • Make two photocopies of your passport – leave one with friends or family and take the second with you, or store an electronic copy securely. Where permitted, use your photocopy as alternative ID, for example when going out at night
  • For certain countries your passport must be valid for 6 months after the date you travel – check the entry requirements before you go
  • Ensure you fill in the emergency details / next of kin page before you go

For travel advice email the FCO's travel advice team or contact local consular staff. Follow or @ukinitaly on Twitter.

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