We recently had a scary moment in Berlin’s Großer Tiergarten. We were taking pictures in a somewhat secluded area of the garden when a man came up asking for donations for a deaf charity. He had a clipboard with a formal looking sign up sheet and everything. We politely declined the request and turned to walk away.
Okay, so at this point you may be thinking “what heartless jerks refusing to donate to a deaf charity!! Only savages would decline donating to such a cause!”
Normally, I’d probably be thinking something similar, but just a couples days prior to the event, we’d taken a walking tour during which our guide told us about a popular scam where people pretend to collect money for the deaf and mute.
The scam goes something like this
“Oh hey would you like to donate to a deaf charity?”
“Oh, maybe! Tell me more about this charity?”
someone bumps into you while you’re distracted
“Oh, sorry sir!”
Boom, you’ve been pickpocketed.
It’s actually a popular scam across Europe that you can read about here.
So back to our encounter. The deaf charity donation request was our first tip-off. The next red flag moment came after we politely declined. The man became increasingly more persistent and aggressive with his tone and proceeded to walk after us. But what was most terrifying about the encounter was that as we turned back to assess the situation, we realized that three other men with clipboards had started rushing towards us and were all yelling at us in German.
We started walking away faster and eventually started running as they quickened their pace. Luckily after a few moments of us running and them yelling, they finally relented and walked off down another empty path.
We were extremely lucky that we had been given a heads up about the scam. Especially because that day we had our laptops, cell phones, camera, and GoPro on us, plus a little spending money and a credit card. Had we realized what was happening a moment later or had the men continued to chase us, it could have been extremely devastating to say the least.
Parents, concerned friends, and seasoned travelers alike will all tell you to stay safe when you start traveling. And at first, the newness of travel will automatically keep you on higher alert. But after a while, you get pretty used to life on the road and tend to let your guard down.
We don’t say this to make you paranoid or scared to go out and explore a new city, we just want you to travel smart. Especially when it's obvious you're a tourist - aka you're not speaking their language, you’re carrying a camera and/or backpack, you have google maps pulled up, etc...
So, how do you avoid situations like this?
Well, sadly there’s no fool-proof solution. But there are a lot of things you can do to reduce your odds!
Take a moment to scan your surroundings, especially in touristy areas.
If you’re using a camera, use a wrist or neck strap so it’s always connected to you. (Bonus point: this will also save you from accidentally dropping your camera! Win-win!)
As tempting as it can be, don’t ever put your phone, wallet or any other valuables in your back pockets or the mesh side pockets of your backpack. Just don’t do it!!
Invest in a purse that has multiple barriers to entry with clasps, drawstrings, zippers and/or buckles. And always wear your purse across your chest and to the front. Think you’ll look silly? Well guess again, because it’s actually cool and practical!
Always do a quick google search before you go to a new city to familiarize yourself with common scams in the area. Travel blogs and tourism sites are great resources to help you figure out things to watch out for on your travels.
Be wary of beggars. I know that sounds heartless, but pickpockets and thieves are smart and have been known to use children, the elderly and pretty women to lure you in. Instead of giving your money in person, go online later and donate to the charity. If you’re feeling super compelled to help a person out, give them some food or a care package while keeping your money safely hidden away.
Try to avoid using physical maps to navigate around a new city. Not only does this scream tourist, but it also leaves you extremely vulnerable. Instead, try to get a handle on your route ahead of time or step into a coffee shop to get your bearings.
Get travelers insurance! Okay, so this isn’t a way to prevent pickpocketing, but it is a way to ease your mind should something happen.
Pick pocketing is just one of the things you've got to protect yourself from while traveling. But hopefully our story helps you to be more alert and skeptical of strangers while traveling.
Have you had a close encounter like ours? What's the most valuable travel lesson you've ever learned? Let us know in the comments section below or shout out to us on Twitter!
Thanks for reading.