Jul192017

Pickpocket stole my wallet on Prague Airport Bus

Yesterday, we arrived in Prague Airport from Amsterdam. Having been in Prague in January, I was sort of familiar with the terminal layout and how to catch the bus into the city. The fare is 32 CZK or about $1.40 USD for the 119 bus that goes to the Metro, from where we could take the subway to Karlovy Namestie, near the Park Inn Prague.

I had 600 CZK in 200 notes in my wallet and about 50 CZK in coins in my pocket. Of three ticket machines at the airport bus stop, two ticket machines only took coins, while a long line of travelers were in front of the credit card ticket machine. The line inside the terminal at Tourist Information was even longer.

I waited in line and watched a couple of airport buses to the city come and go. Once my turn came, I quickly made my ticket purchase selections at the machine. I inserted my credit card and when asked to key in my PIN, my actual thought at the time was the keypad display has no protective shield and its positioning on the machine makes it highly visible to the crowd of onlookers.

Bus tickets in hand, I walked over to Kelley standing nearby with our luggage as the bus we needed arrived. Kelley and I were two of the first people to board the bus with our bags and we moved into a large open space in the middle of the bus with our luggage. About 20 or more other people followed us on the bus, many with huge pieces of luggage. We were getting crowded and bumped.

I thought it odd how so many people were crowding around us when most seats on the bus were still empty. But I see all kinds of odd traveler behavior when I am on my journeys. Access to the ticket stamping machine on the bus was blocked by all the people boarding and shuffling around the bus.

The bus took off and I reached down to feel my front pocket. My wallet was missing. I looked around at the people seated on the bus. No one looked obviously suspect.

The odd thing is there were several people with large pieces of luggage when we boarded, but I did not see much of that luggage still in the large space we were standing. Most people were seated.

Anyway my wallet was definitely gone. Along with my ATM cards, Diners Club card and about $400 in currency.

My passport and iPhone were safe in a zippered pocket in my shorts. 

Zipper pockets untrendy?

I went to the Gilroy Outlets shopping mall in California two weeks ago before we came to Europe. I scoured the sports clothing stores like Columbia, North Face and Eddie Bauer for shorts with zippered pockets. There were none to be found. Seems like someone climbing a mountain or kayaking might want to have pockets with zippers. I sure like pockets with zippers on my shorts when traveling.

At Prague Airport I was wearing my favorite pair of North Face shorts with one zippered pocket. Normally I keep my wallet in my zippered pocket, but upon buying the tickets and seeing the airport bus arrive, I placed my wallet in my front left pocket instead of working it into my right pocket with the zipper…and iPhone…and passport.

There was less than 2 minutes between the time I placed my wallet in my left pocket, boarded the bus and went to move my wallet to my right zipper pocket, only to realize my wallet was gone. 

I was mad that the night before I was 10 EUR short of cash I needed to buy food at Albert Heijn in Amsterdam. They don’t accept MasterCard or Visa at Albert Heijn.

So, I withdrew 300 EUR from the ATM in Amsterdam. I only spent 10 EUR. The other 290 EUR was supposed to be for three days of drinking, dining and shopping in Slovakia at the end of our 3-week trip.

Prague Police Station

Prague Police Station

After exiting Prague Metro B Line at Karlovo Namestie, we were walking to the Park Inn Prague and noticed a police station.

The older man working the desk spoke very limited English. He asked us to wait. A few minutes later another younger officer came to interview me. His English was also limited. I explained the situation at Prague Airport. He asked me to list the items in my wallet, my name and address.

Ten minutes later he came back with a report, stamped and signed.

The police report is in Czech.

Park Inn Prague assistance

The receptionists at Park Inn Prague were very helpful. They called the airport to check if my wallet was returned. It had not been returned.

Lost or Stolen?

I was more upset by the thought that I might have dropped my wallet when I was placing it in my pocket. Kelley saw me drop my passport in Amsterdam Airport a few hours earlier as I walked away and she gave me a lecture about travel carelessness.

Actually, I was kind of relieved when I learned from Diners Club that my card had been used for cash advance withdrawals from Prague banks. Say what?

My PIN was used for bank cash withdrawals, confirming my suspicion that the key pad at the bus ticket machine at Prague Airport is quite exposed to onlookers and needs a security shield.

I have seen enough TV shows to know that two people with good cameras or eyesight could have positioned themselves on opposite sides of the keypad to see numbers being punched, while keying the PIN with one hand, even if trying to shield the keypad with my other hand.

Anyway, the thieves managed around $1,500 worth of bank withdrawals before card access was cut off.

What would I do differently?

I am not going to become overly paranoid about pickpockets.

This is the first time I have ever lost my wallet and I never have had anything stolen in all my years and miles of travel. The biggest losses I have previously suffered were a couple of coats and umbrellas left on airplanes and in hotels.

Credit card fraud when traveling is an entirely different issue. I suffer credit card fraud about every 18 months. My credit cards have been hacked several times after making purchases in Europe over the past several years.

I generally have situational awareness when I travel.

One time before, a similar situation happened in Amsterdam on a bus when we were suddenly crowded by a bunch of young guys. I immediately pulled Kelley off the bus while keeping my hand on my wallet.

I plan to seek out some better summer shorts with zippered pockets. It is much harder (I assume) to unzip a front pocket and take a wallet.

Also, I consider this to be a warm weather problem for me. I doubt someone could take my wallet out of my jeans without me feeling it.

Lessons learned

What makes this situation less than dire is Kelley is with me and she still has her ATM card.

Still, there are some lessons I have learned and will keep in mind when traveling.

1. Keep backup ATM and/or credit cards and cash in a separate place.

One of the lucky factors in this situation is I had removed several of my ID and bank cards from my wallet and placed them in a separate bag.

Besides the cash, I lost my drivers license, medical card, two debit cards and one credit card. I still have most of my cards since they were in my flight carryon bag.

In hindsight, I should have kept one of my two debit cards separate from my wallet. I only have access to cash advances on a couple of credit cards now. Fortunately, Kelley is here with her debit card and we have Czech cash currency for 10 days in the Czech Republic.

And we divided the money up between us.

While I did not need my drivers license in my wallet, I prefer to keep my California license as ID in my wallet rather than carrying my USA passport around all day.

Losing your passport while traveling outside the USA is a real hassle and involves getting to a USA Embassy for a replacement before you can fly home to the USA.

Losing credit cards is a simple phone call.

2. Keep contact numbers for your credit cards on your phone.

I had my computer at Park Inn Prague, so I was able to look up contact numbers to report my lost cards. I can imagine being in a situation where I would have trouble getting the phone numbers to report stolen/lost credit cards.

3. Get a police report for insurance and credit card fraud protection.

Kelley encountered pickpockets on an escalator at Amsterdam Centraal Station two years ago in a similar situation. We had just arrived on the train with our luggage. Going down the escalator, I reached the bottom and wondered why Kelley was not right behind me. She said a group of young men pushed around her as she was getting on the escalator. Her purse had been pickpocketed of her eyeglasses and wallet. Nothing came out of that incident. Her credit cards were not used.

In my case, Diners Club told me I must submit the police report of the incident since my PIN number was used by the thieves. I explained the situation about the bus stop key pad I had used only a couple minutes before my wallet was stolen.

While I am bummed that this trip has cost me an extra $400, I am not too freaked out. There are many worse things that could happen when traveling.

The other pair of shorts I have been wearing today have pockets so deep that I fumble around trying to pickpocket coins and my phone out with my own hands.

Once I buy a new wallet, I think I will notice any pickpocket making a deep dive on me for valuables in these deep pocket shorts.

As for my other pair of shorts that were too easy for a pickpocket to steal from without me noticing, I think one zippered pocket is not enough to hold my wallet, phone and passport. I no longer consider them my favorite travel shorts.

July 2017

San Francisco SFO – Copenhagen, Denmark – Stockholm, Sweden – Amsterdam, Netherlands – Prague, Czechia – Bratislava, Slovakia – London, England – San Francisco SFO (22 days-6 flights-20 hotel nights-6 bus trips)

My July in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Czechia and Slovakia July 5, 2017

SAS flying over San Francisco

Copenhagen, Denmark: Skt. Petri Copenhagen Choice Hotels Ascend Collection

Amsterdam, Netherlands: Loyalty Traveler Lost and Found in Amsterdam

Amsterdam, Netherlands: Ramada Apollo Amsterdam Centre hotel review

Amsterdam, Netherlands: Amsterdam design for social living

Amsterdam, Netherlands: Amsterdam beer, bud and burger joints

Amsterdam and Prague Hotels: 2 stays earned 1 Free Friday Park Plaza Vondelpark Amsterdam and Park Inn Prague

Prague, Czechia: Pickpocket stole my wallet on Prague Airport Bus

Prague, Czechia: Park Inn Prague hotel review

Prague, Czechia: Best Western Hotel Kinsky Garden Prague truly boutique

Prague, Czechia: Hotel review Clarion Prague City reward stay

Prague, Czechia: Vyšehrad, Prague far from the madding crowd

Pilsen, Czechia: Marriott Courtyard Pilsen CZ category 1 reward stay

Pilsen, Czechia: Pilsen Czechia photoessay

Brno, Czechia: Holiday Inn Brno, CZ PointBreaks stay

Brno, Czechia: Brno by beer

Brno, Czechia: Brno Bones in Europe’s Second Largest Ossuary

Czechia: Impressions after 9 days in Czech Republic

Bratislava, Slovakia: Review Radisson Blu Bratislava Slovakia

Bratislava, Slovakia: Walk to Bratislava Castle Slovakia photo essay

Bratislava, Slovakia: Bratislava Slovakia photo essay part 2

Bratislava, Slovakia: Category 1 Park Inn Danube Bratislava Slovakia opens Oct 1, 2017

Bratislava, Slovakia: Trip Report Regiojet Bus Bratislava to Brno Airport

London, UK: Buyer Beware National Express bus London Stansted to London Heathrow

London, UK: Radisson Blu Edwardian Heathrow hotel review

Hotel Loyalty: Loyalty? Yes! Loyal? Not so much for my hotel travel

Hotel Loyalty: My two Club Carlson Free Friday Nights posted today

Airline Loyalty: Aegean Silver elite and 17,000 miles to Star Alliance Gold

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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Comments

  1. I highly highly highly recommend travel pants from BluffWorks or BetaBrand. Both have interior zippered pockets inside the regular pockets that you can put your valuables in. BetaBrand also had a zippered travel short, but it’s not in stock right now.

    It’s saved me a few times in India, China and a few high traffic areas in Europe.

  2. Wow. Just 3 days ago, I was on a tram in Prague. I too was jostled by a couple of people in front of me: a young couple. I even pushed back against them with the corner of my phone, hoping they would give me space.

    I played with my map app on my phone as the tram kept moving. And then I spotted two fingers trying to ease into a velcro front pocket.

    I went mad dog on them, jabbing them both and yelling at them in English, explaining that I knew what they were foing and that I was taking their pics.

    Im not sure they spoke Czech because they never said a word. They got of at the next stop.

    Funny thing was…the pocket they went for was empty.

  3. “needs a security shield.” thats what your other hand is for.

    fun read anyway, keeps us all aware there are always low-lifes lurking just waiting for their chance to do their dirty work,

  4. I do exactly what mike murphy suggests: no matter where I go, I use my other hand to shield the keypad from potential onlookers.

    When a crowd gathers around me, I always place at least one thumb or finger in my pocket so that my hand covers the opening. This way, I can detect whether or not a nefarious pickpocket is attempting to access my belongings. This method has not yet failed me.

    I have been on the 119 bus from the airport to the subway. I was fortunate to secure a seat; but it was standing room only by the time the bus departed.

    I was with a friend when his mobile telephone was stolen on a bus to Dublin from the airport as he was paying his fare. Eyewitnesses saw the incident; but by the time they reported it, it was too late.

    I had my own incident on a bus between Warsaw and the airport. Fortunately, nothing happened.

    I am sorry to learn of your experience, Ric. I hope that you recover your wallet as soon as possible.

  5. Sorry about your experience. I can understand how you could’ve been victimized. In May my wife and I also took the 119 airport bus that connects to the Nadrazi Veleslavin Metro station. It was a completely packed bus and I stood the entire time. We were packed like sardines and I religiously kept my hand on my front pocket where I had my wallet. Although we felt Prague was quite safe, you just never know where those on the fringes of society will ply their scummy trade.

  6. I use the Rick Steves method; the so-called “money belt” that is simply a zippered pouch, attached by a loop to your belt, that is then slipped down inside your pants. Inconvenient to access, but impossible for a thief too. Before finding this, I had lost two passports during travels in Mexico; once by the jostling method on the metro, the other time in a crowded market. My stupidity was to blame, for carrying the passport in a front pocket. My partner uses the neck pouch, because she doesn’t wear a belt.

  7. Thanks for posting this info, Ric; this is something we never see from other bloggers, who are too busy shilling credit cards and telling of their experiences in first class planes and luxurious hotels. You’re one of US, the folks who travel to see historical and/or exciting places, not the “experiential” travelers, who may only spend an overnight somewhere, just to say they’ve been there, and because they have points/miles to spend.

  8. REI Sahara convertible pants are my travel buddy!

    You don’t want to travel in certain parts of the world with them, as you look too much like those former military guys that turn “contractor”. But most places REI Sahara are the bomb. Zip off the legs when it gets too hot, zip them back when it cools or you don’t want to show leg! I bought a pair of REI Sahara shorts and surprisingly they do not exactly match the pants, the waistband was noticeably tighter, and the cargo pockets a little less depth.

    Low-level pickpockets work in teams of at least 2. The extra members are there to distract you in any way that works. They’ll make eye contact with your party, be chatty, “Hey it’s the Goodyear blimp!”, start an argument or whatever it takes to distract you from the totally unobtrusive, bored-looking traveller who will do the actual pick. I’ve have 3 attempts in Rome, Naples, and Paris and all 3 were on this pattern.

    Street pickpocket solo is harder to pull off, and you are less likely to encounter one.

  9. Oh, and a useful tip.

    Beyond just a zipped pocket, put the wallet in SIDEWAYS with the opening edge down. You don’t do that because it’s a pain to get out right? Exactly!

  10. I feel your pain. One of the most infuriating things to endure is some low-life thief stealing from you. I always considered myself one of those savvy, experienced travelers who know how to avoid these low-life pickpocketers, until it finally happened to me. Boarding a train in Athens I was crushed by the crowd and didn’t feel a thing or notice my wallet was gone from my front pocket until I sat down in my seat. Worst feeling ever. I’m going with either zippered pockets or one of those hidden pouches on a belt you can wear inside your pants from here on out. And as soon as I find myself in a crowd pressing against me, I’m holding on tight to everything.

  11. You can also take photos of your credit cards, so you can read the phone numbers if you lose them. Ditto for a passport. If you want, you could even pit them on dropbox.

    I once lost (?) my wallet in paris although most money and cards were in a money belt. Did lose my drivers license, insurance card but not much more. Not sure if I dropped it or what.

  12. Always leave photocopies of any cards/passport/id with dear one who is not travelling at home and in hotel room (or tucked inside something in checked luggage and carryon) I mix it up with characters from foreign language s that someone getting hol dof papper wont be able to make any sense.

    I do carry wallet but it usually contains couple of fake USD notes, expired visa gift card or those pre-qual (dummy names) gift card, Put it in back pocket to make it easy for pickpocket to go for it. If you want you can even add a cartton or small piece making fun of local people/culture (bit provacative). Unfortunately, after travel to 60+ countries, it has not been taken yet.

    Actual stuff is in thin neck pouch under the shirt whic is covered by very nike windbreaker which is so thin abd has so many punch hold style opening that it is useless for any weather protection but its zipper provide yet another layer over shirt. Even in 90 degree weather it is not uncomfortable.

  13. @Mike and Brian – I wish I had a photo of the ticket machine. The key pad is on a flat service about shoulder level for me as I recall. It would take two hands to conceal the keypad from both sides.

    One time in a bar I was alarmed to see they were holding patrons’ credit cards running bar tabs in a clearly visible space. Over the course of an hour I was able to photograph cards placed behind the bar. I was able to read the full card numbers and over time photograph the security code on back of some cards that were randomly left facing up or down as bartenders processed drink orders.

    Since then, I never give a bar my credit card to hold while I drink.

  14. Ric

    sounds like the atm machine was designed with thieves in mind

    good for them, bad for you

  15. You can actually use SM to inform Chase the cards are stolen – much more effective this way than trying to call them. The international collect call numbers only work on land line connection from my experience.
    Of all the years traveling in Europe, we suffered once in Rome Termini and once at a McDonald by the station of Padova, Italy in different years.

    My husband discovered his wallet was gone while we were on the train to Milan. Tracing back where we had been and what we had done, the only logical conclusion was at McDonald when 3 fat ladies tried to jam into the window seats we vacated at the moment we tried to leave. My husband had kept his medicines in the wallet – he took it out from a much secured space in his camera bag, took the medicine, but then was lazy to return the wallet back to where he took it out. Instead, he put it in the front zipper pocket of the camera bag. BIG MISTKE!
    Anyway by the time we arrived Radisson Milan it was like 2 hours later. We reported the loss to the banks via SMs. Nothing happened during the 2 hour interval. The thieves only were after cash and there was only $20 USD in his wallet.
    Husband has been a target on buses in Rome, the metro in Athens, and even right outside InterContinental Le Grand in Paris. Nothing was stolen on those attempts. He even caught the young woman’s hand in his pocket on the bus in Rome. But the time he was careless, then he lost his wallet.
    The police report would help to waive the fee to replace the driver license here in Florida. We did not bother to file police report but we should have as the fee to replace the DL was $45.

  16. Sorry to hear about your loss and thanks for the tips!
    I follow some of the same rules. When on a bus/train, I usually have my passport and some cards in a moneybelt and my phone/wallet in one front pants pocket with one hand on it.
    I also have copies of ID/passport in my Dropbox and a few cards in an encrypted password app.
    I know many travel bloggers poo-poo pre-paid cards, but they are great for peace of mind: They carry the same insurance and guarantees as credit cards, but there is a limit to how much anybody can steal from you. So, I don’t have to waste my time on the phone with the bank! I recommend AmEx Bluebird or Simple Visa for US travelers! Low fees, low fraud risk!

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