Last year, on a metro train in Paris, two pickpockets hatched a pretty elaborate scheme that led to my wallet ending up on the floor and anxiety coursing through my veins.
If you’re like me—chronically online—then you know the “attenzione pickpocket! ” lady on TikTok. Monica Poli went viral on social media almost exactly a year after I was the target of pickpockets on a metro train in Paris.
@cittadininondistratti2 #CITTADININONDISTRATTI #PICKPOCKETS #VENICE #BORSEGGIATRICI #cittadininondistratti #VENEZIA #BORSEGGIATORI ♬ suono originale – Cittadini Non Distratti
Getting stolen from is just a terrible thing. The hassle, worry, and stress of it all is just awful. But I got my wallet back pretty quickly, which is more than most victims could say. I’ll get into it later, but I remember feeling livid, indignant, and honestly, a little bit awed. I could not believe the pickpockets pulled off something like that.
Because I know the drill! I’ve traveled before. I’ve been to France before. My parents have constantly warned me about all the possible dangers lurking on the streets of Europe. I know all about the Italian rose scams and the Parisian taxi scams, and most of the other scams in Europe targeted at unwitting tourists. What I didn’t know was how elaborate pickpockets’ schemes could get.
So there I was, on a train bound for the heart of the city, holding the pole because there were no more seats. My parents and sister were somewhere nearby. The doors open and these two young women who look like college students step in and position themselves behind and in front of me, grasping the pole.
The blonde girl in front of me has a giant tote that’s digging into my side, and the brunette behind me is holding a big jacket up against the pole. I realized later it was to block other passengers’ view of my bag.
I remember feeling irritated because why the hell was this blonde pressing backwards against me when there’s a perfectly good few feet of clear space right in front of us? She was so close to me that I thought about moving away to that clearing in the train car, but the bumpy ride made it impossible not to stumble.
Which is why I was unsurprised when the blonde, as the “distraction”, stumbled when she let go of the pole to fiddle with her bag. I—in my infinite, naive, kindness—grabbed her elbow and asked her, “Are you okay?” That’s probably when the brunette behind me unzipped my bag and took out my wallet.
@london_content Always be aware.. #pickpocketsitaly #pickpockets #milan #london_content #fypシ #fyp ♬ original sound – user2117519005342
Later, my dad told me that he sensed something was up immediately when the girls stepped in, which is why the moment we stepped out my dad told us to check our belongings. You can imagine the panic that flooded through my body when I saw my bag was unzipped and my wallet was missing—the same panic that led me to step back into the train alongside my dad who demanded my wallet back.
The girls pretended it just fell even though we and the entire train car saw the brunette toss it to the ground. We made it back outside seconds before the train doors closed, and I simply could not stop thinking about the incident for the rest of the day. You can bet I’m even more cautious of my belongings and surroundings now as it taught me valuable lessons I took to heart.
Always keep an eye and a hand on your belongings.
This is why my phone is always in my hand. I tend not to put it in my bag so I’m always aware of where it is. I still remember how it felt, cold in my jacket pocket as I gripped it tightly on that train. I was, admittedly, a little less aware of my bag openings because I was distracted by the blonde invading my personal space. When I shared my experience online, my friend from Paris advised to always have a hand on your zipper. Not just your bag, but its zipper. That way there’s no way it can be opened without you feeling it.
Trust absolutely no one.
@alextrouvailles i had naive TOURIST written on my forehead but follow me for travel tips/vlogs anyway 😍 (why did i stand there and have a convo in 3 languages like they dont rob people lol) #paris #fyp #france #parisscam #travelvlog #parisian #traveltiktok #eiffeltower #traveltips #parisaesthetic #parisitinerary #traveltips #touristtrap #travel #pinterest #summer #europeansummer #french #europe ♬ Every Summertime – NIKI
I wonder if the blonde girl laughed at me later for falling for the “catching her when she stumbles” part of the scam. Anyway, trusting no one even if someone seems all nice and well-intentioned is a pretty good tip, especially to strangers in public. Sometimes we have to sacrifice being kind for our safety and the safety of our belongings.
Be not just vigilant, but hyper-vigilant.
Where’s the attenzione pickpocket lady when you need her!♬ original sound – user2117519005342
Paris is a pretty popular spot for pickpockets–the throngs of tourists make for easy pickings. But even if you think you’re aware of your surroundings or you’re in a pretty safe space, don’t let your guard down. If you think you already know everything about keeping your things safe, think again. It’s so easy to be distracted, especially when you’re purposely being distracted.
Try not to look like an easy target.
@kateinmontreal How to avoid getting pickpocketed in Europe! #europe #pickpocket #pickpockets #traveltips #europetravel #travelsafety ♬ Attenzione pickpocket x montagem – jovynn
On TikTok, there’s a current trend of videos of people showing the necessary steps they take to protect themselves from pickpockets and thieves. They turn their rings and watches inward, or put their expensive bags and sunglasses in canvas totes. While I personally won’t do anything too out of my way like that (granted, I don’t really dress extravagantly anyway), it’s generally a smart idea to not be too flashy and blend in, especially in new, unfamiliar places. Tourists are pickpocket fodder. So those TikToks may be onto something, but don’t be too obvious! Don’t give away that you have something valuable.
Beware of unusual behavior—trust your gut.
@_gisellemouk side eye and then quick grab x @Eliza Pearce #pickpocket #paris #eurosummer2023 #fyp #bestfriend ♬ what is love – edits
Both my dad and I felt uneasy on that train ride. I may have not known why at first, but I knew something was up. If any sort of doubt or questioning crosses your mind, take it seriously. Get out of a spot or situation that makes you feel like something’s wrong. Make any necessary moves to stay safe, because it’s better to be a cautious overthinker than to risk losing something you value.
Stay safe out there, and help others out too! Be the “attenzione pickpocket” lady (minus the racist views) the world needs.
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