For complete outdoor safety you need to know that pickpockets, though usually nonviolent, will rob you without you realizing it - until it's far too late.
Crowded public transit areas often have “Beware of Pickpockets" signs. You'll instinctively check for your wallet – thereby showing nearby pickpockets exactly where to go. They're endlessly clever.
Pickpockets usually work in highly-rehearsed teams and may become friendly with their prey to distract them while a partner “lifts” the loot with lightning-fast hands. Pockets with zippers or buttons make “lifting’ more difficult, but a razor, held between their middle and index fingers, slits open the bottom of the pocket and the wallet falls into their hands. Keep a hand on your wallet when someone presses into you.
Pickpocket crews prefer airports, train and subway stations, shopping malls, or any crowded area. They target women with loose purses, lost or shy people, and parents distracted by their kids. They hunt at stores and ATMs, watch where the wallets go, follow the target, then strike.
A common strategy is for the first partner to bump into or otherwise distract the victim while a second partner steals the wallet then instantly sneaks it to a third partner who casually walks away unnoticed. If the first or second partner are challenged by a suspicious victim, they won't have the loot on them. It all happens in a few seconds
Pickpockets will steal from young or old, the meek or the gruff, or even someone in a wheelchair. Women pickpockets will bare their breasts and drop their pants to distract their victims and bystanders if they’re accused. They are indeed highly-practiced artists at their livelihood. Their finesse of stealth and precise choreography are a perverse artistry.
Keep your money and ID inside your pants, in a pouch hanging from your belt.
Pickpockets favor pedestrian bottlenecks (street intersections, turnstiles, elevators, escalators, or any doorway such as in a building, airport, bus, or train), or any crowded situation where people aren’t surprised to be touched or jostled. Thieves might use anything – a newspaper, jacket, map, or a baby – to hide their thieving hands. Other distractions include a person falling down, dropping something, or appearing to be ill. In the blink of an eye, your wallet is gone and you may not even know until later.
Long ago, thievery was punishable by death. Ironically, public hangings were prime hunting grounds for other pickpockets looking for victims.
Anyone, from a child, a grandmother, or a beautiful woman, to a distinguished gentleman or an “invalid” in a wheelchair, touching you in any way, is a telltale sign of a pickpocket. They also distract you with anything from conversation to a nearby commotion while a partner picks your pocket. Also beware of small groups of vagrant children – they can swarm and fleece you in seconds.
Oftentimes a pickpocket holds a suit bag, briefcase, newspaper, or child as a screen to block your view of their hands underneath the screen reaching for your valuables.
Your best protection from these masterful sneak thieves is to keep a tight grip on your wallet (in your pocket) while you're most vulnerable and to always maintain strong physical contact with your bags. Keep your valuables in hard-to-reach spots or get stash clothing (such as money belts).
The best place for your wallet is to keep it inside your pants, in a thin leather pouch hanging from a chain or thin cable attached to your belt.
Just in case you get robbed anyway, have photocopies of the contents of your wallet and passport, then keep them in a secure place so you can more easily cancel your credit cards and get new ones.
Learn more about pickpockets in “Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams While Traveling” by Bob Arno.