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By Bob Enzel

Thieves in Europe are apparently eagerly awaiting the daily arrival of tourists. After all, it's a non-ending cash flow for them.
I have a friend who travels constantly and is wise to the wiles of thieves. He carries a cheap wallet filled with paper when riding public transportation. The thieves must have been very disappointed on two occasions.

Most of us are not so clever when it comes to protecting our travel assets. The following examples are actual thefts to frequent-traveler-friends where only the names have been changed.

Geneva, Switzerland, a place one would normally trust, was the scene of a recent brazen theft during a ski holiday.
Sean and Debbie arrived in the early morning at the downtown Geneva train station. It was 7:15 a.m., not quite light outside. Their luggage cart on the sidewalk contained a yellow backpack stuffed between two large bags, along with two pairs of skis that rested across the top of the cart.

Debbie was on the inside of the cart when Sean walked about 20 feet to speak to a taxi driver. She had her hand on the skis, but was looking toward Sean. The backpack was gone when Sean returned moments later.

Someone pulled the backpack out from between the two bags and disappeared into the morning activity of people going to work during this brief time window. The thief acquired a backpack filled with expensive personal items, including credit cards and prescription medicine.

The train station police office did not open until 9 a.m, which meant more time wasted locating the main police station in downtown Geneva. They were informed that while a staff of 20 undercover police officers worked the city, there were still 14 - 20 bags a day stolen from hotels, airport, and the train station.

Paul was aware that Prague, Czechoslovakia, was known for its pickpockets, yet he became an easy target. He retrieved $300 dollars at an ATM machine and put the money in his pants pocket while his wife, Mabel, stood next to him. They then boarded a crowded streetcar and Paul's pocket was picked before they alighted. The thief was watching the ATM machine and he was ready for action.

Sandra was in Praque, too. She had her wallet deftly removed from her purse while shopping at a bookstore. Her husband, nearby, was preoccupied looking at books. There was money lost, but a credit card was the big problem, because Sandra wasn't certain which VISA company owned the card and much time was spent on the phone calling credit card companies.
Frank was traveling with his family in Madrid, Spain. His pocket was picked in the crowded terminal while waiting to board a city tour bus. He knew his wallet was missing as soon as he sat down. He immediately left the bus and reported the loss to the tour company which was kind enough to refund the money.

Apparently, this has happened often enough to warrant the police department to provide Frank with a laminated card that listed phone numbers for every credit card company. Frank, fortunately, had most of his funds in his money belt.
It's not just a problem at snow sports portals, of course. Even the Riviera is not immune to theft.

Bill and Elaine were in a rental car about to enter their hotel garage in Nice, France, on the beautiful Riviera. Bill stopped to insert the card to enter the garage and someone reached in, grabbed Elaine's purse off her lap and sped away on a motor scooter.

Elaine lost money and other personal items, but more troublesome was the loss of her passport. The officer in charge of passport losses at the American Embassy told them that he replaced an average of 50 passports a week. He also informed them he personally wears a money belt when moving around the area.

The actual loss is enough to mar a vacation. But the time wasted in contacting credit card companies, acquiring a replacement passport, securing prescription medicine, and replacing lost money will ruin a vacation and affect others that follow.

The following are recommendations from experts that a vacation traveler can do to protect property when abroad:
1. Notify your bank and credit card company as to your country destination and length of stay before you leave on the trip.
2. Photocopy all the critical items in your wallet or purse, front and back, and carry it in a separate location.
3. Passports are constantly being lost or stolen. Make a copy of the main page and also carry it separately.
4. Carry a refillable prescription if prescription medicine is a daily must.
5. Use a money belt or some other means of concealment.
6. Don't be distracted from watching your luggage by a diversionary tactic. Pay attention.
7. Don't leave bags unattended and continuously watch them.
8. Utilize the hotel safe.
9. Be aware of your valuables in crowded situations.
10. Be circumspect when using an ATM machine.
11. Don't think that a theft can't or won't happen to you. It can and might.

Single travelers need to be on guard, of course, but couples should be doubly so.

There are thieves who look for an easy target wherever your winter or summer holiday travels take you. Arrive home without being a victim and all your travel memories will be happy ones.




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