7 steps you should take when you’ve been robbed abroad
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When travelling abroad, regardless of the country, theft is always a risk.
It doesn’t have to be a strong-arm robbery. Travellers regularly fall victim to subtle pickpocketing, pilfering from hotel rooms and getting luggage stolen from rental cars, buses and trains.
Even one of the world’s most savvy travel veterans, guidebook author Rick Steves, has been pickpocketed in Paris, losing his driver’s license, credit cards and cash. He said in a podcast that his experience “just goes to show that sooner or later if you’re not on guard … you’ll likely be a victim.”
Pickpocketers tend to operate in highly touristed spots in Europe, with a recent money.co.uk report listing the top five pickpocketing hot spots as Las Ramblas in Barcelona, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Trevi Fountain in Rome and Charles Bridge in Prague.
In 2018 Barcelona set a record with 12 robberies per hour in the streets, earning it the nickname “the bag-snatching capital of Spain.” This summer, Barcelona and Paris have both deployed substantial police details to the streets to help reduce the number of thefts.
In Asia, unfortunately, theft by motorbike is quite common, particularly in Bali, Cambodia and Vietnam. TPG contributor Katie Lockhart was robbed last year while riding on the back of a motorbike in Bali.
“I’m not sure what surprised me more, having my Google Pixel snatched out of my hand at 30 mph or how it affected me once the shock wore off,” she said.
“After a few seconds of stunned silence, I screamed and yelled for my partner, who was driving the motorbike, to chase after the thieves. In the scary pursuit, we lost them after only a few turns. The experience left me feeling violated and surprisingly shaken.”
There’s no way to completely prevent theft. However, there are a handful of actions travellers can and should take immediately after they’ve been robbed and in the days following the event.
Here are the steps to follow if you’ve been the victim of theft while travelling.
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Don’t pursue the thief
Basically, don’t do what Lockhart did. Your phone, even if it’s the latest model, is not worth the risk of getting into a dangerous or potentially violent situation.
Chasing after the perpetrator by bike, foot or car puts you and those around you in harm’s way. This is especially true when you don’t know if the thief has weapons, whether they’re under the influence or in extremely desperate circumstances. You may not even be pursuing the right person, as thieves tend to work in teams. Your item may have already been handed off to an accomplice.
If you have Apple AirTags, the Find My iPhone app or the Android equivalents, you can head to the nearest police station (where you should file a report) and ask if local law enforcement might be willing to accompany you to try and retrieve your stolen phone or luggage. Remember, staying safe is always the No. 1 priority.
Regroup in a safe place
If you are robbed, find a safe place to calm down, get your bearings and ask for help if necessary. If you feel you are in ongoing danger, shout for help or call the local emergency number on your own phone or a borrowed one.
Dial 112 (not 999) from any country in the European Union (and many other countries outside of North America where you’d dial 911) and you’ll be connected to emergency services. It’s a good precautionary practice to confirm a country’s emergency number prior to your visit.
Theft of your personal items either by force or stealth is a violating and scary experience. When it happens, you may appear visibly shaken.
The best thing to do in that situation is to walk into a hotel lobby, store or another well-lit area with some people nearby. You’ll limit the chance of falling victim to another potential crime by someone targeting the vulnerable.
Address the immediate impact of the theft
Particularly for credit cards and cellphones, identify and prioritise the potential immediate impacts of the theft.
If your phone is unlocked and open when taken, sign on to another device and change any and all passwords for phone-accessed apps as quickly as possible. It’s important to do this on the device of someone you trust (versus doing this at an internet cafe) and sign out of all accounts once the passwords have been changed.
If your credit card or wallet gets stolen, spring into action and call each provider’s international number so they can cancel it before any purchases are made. If your phone was also stolen, you won’t immediately receive fraud alerts from the companies, so you’ll have to be proactive in notifying them.
International customer service numbers for major credit card issuers
Note that some international customer service numbers differ by country, and collect calls may be challenging if the operator doesn’t speak English. It’s a good idea to note your destination’s numbers prior to your visit (or to store them where you have online access).
- American Express: Ask the operator to use the access code for the country you’re in plus 336-393-1111. Alternatively use this list of International Numbers
- Barclays: International toll free number +800 800 88885 (or standard international number +44 (0)1624 684444)
- Visa: Call collect at 1-303-967-1096 or use this PDF with country-specific numbers.
Replacing a stolen or lost passport
Like your possessions and credit cards, it’s important to register passport theft with local law enforcement, as this will make the loss “official.” It’s also a requirement for the replacement process.
Unlike your phone and credit cards, you’ll have to secure a new passport before you’re allowed to return home, so make registering the loss a priority.
Note that after you register a lost or stolen passport, you may be flagged by security and passport control for supplemental screening when passing through airports.
Make a list of everything you lost
Getting robbed can make you feel helpless. However, taking specific action steps like creating a written inventory and listing the value of items stolen can help you regain control of the situation. This is also a critical step for insurance reimbursement, as well as spurring action from local police.
The list can provide confirmation that you’ve changed all your passwords, as well as help you keep track of what apps you’ll need to download on a new phone and which credit card companies need to be notified.
Contact your insurance provider
It’s crucial to alert your travel insurance company or any other insurance provider you have. The insurance representative can walk you through everything you need to do to file a claim and be reimbursed for your lost possessions.
Usually, this entails securing a police report within 24 hours of the incident, filling out their paperwork and providing a receipt of purchase for the stolen item or items.
A select number of credit cards offer purchase protection, which might kick in if your items were lost or stolen (terms and conditions, of course, always apply). TPG has compiled a list of the best cards for purchase protection.
TPG has also covered travel insurance and credit card insurance coverage on some related topics:
- How to find and choose the right travel insurance policy
- Understanding your credit card’s complimentary travel insurance
- The ultimate guide to travel insurance
- 7 things to check when buying travel insurance, according to an expert
Take a trusted local with you to the police station
Particularly if you’re travelling in a country where there is a language barrier, or where police have a reputation for being unhelpful or indifferent to tourists, it can be a great help to bring a trusted local contact with you to the police station.
After Lockhart was robbed, a sympathetic housekeeper from the villa where she was staying joined her at the police station in Bali.
This helped immensely — the police officer didn’t speak much English and subsequently demanded a bribe of £16 to create an official police report. The housekeeper reassured Lockhart that this was the normal process.
“Without her there,” shared Lockhart, “they could have demanded more money and the process would have taken much longer.”
Keep on travelLing
It’s like that old saying, “You have to get back on the horse that threw you.” The same goes for travelling. It’s OK to feel scared, sad or worried after a traumatic incident. However, that shouldn’t stop you from travelling out of fear that it will happen again.
It’s important to balance safety and precautions with the enjoyment of travelling abroad.
“I’ll admit, in the days after my theft, I found myself feeling fragile in situations I normally wouldn’t and often on the verge of tears,” Katie Lockhart said of her experience.
“I’ve been to 45 countries and travelled around Asia nonstop for over 10 months. That was the first-timer anything like that has ever happened to me. It might not be my last, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up the opportunity to slurp laksa in Penang or explore islands in the Philippines.”
Reduce the chances of theft or robbery while travelling abroad by being aware of your surroundings, alert to high-risk areas and taking steps to secure your possessions in zipped pockets, money belts or in locked storage while you travel.
Even the most cautious traveller can become a victim of theft, though. If this happens, prioritise the safety of yourself and your travelling companions above the recovery of your possessions.
Then take quick action to address sensitive stolen information like credit card numbers, passwords and phone access. You should officially report the theft to local law enforcement, not just to help you recover the items, but for insurance reimbursement documentation.
Finally, don’t let the threat of crime deter you from travelling or enjoying the experience once you’re abroad.
Additional reporting by Katie Genter.
Featured photo by Peter Dazeley/Getty Images.
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