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Outsmarting Thieves While Traveling

What can you do to make yourself less of a mark? Security professionals have a long list of dos and don’ts. We interviewed Kevin Coffey, who spent his career running the Airport Crimes Detail for the LAPD and is now a travel consultant, to get his expert insights.

Before you go:

  • Download your travel documents and various IDs (driver’s license, passport, Covid vaccination card, car, and health insurance cards) in a secure digital space, like the safetravelRX app. It’s also a good idea to store photos of your IDs, front and back, on your phone.

  • Do the same thing with credit cards; photograph both sides and store them on your phone, a secure app, and/or the Cloud.

  • Use risk assessment tools (also on the safetravelRX app) to see whether there are any safety alerts for your destination.

  • Upload phone data to the Cloud in case your phone is lost or stolen.

  • Remove all non-essential items from your wallet. There’s no need to take all your credit cards on a trip—just bring one or two. And never carry your Social Security card around with you. That belongs in a home safe or a bank safety deposit box.


  • Consider wearing a money belt, body pouch or fanny pack to store cash, passports, and other valuables.

  • If you carry a wallet, keep it in a front (never back) pocket or zipped in a bag—never in an outside compartment, even if it has a flap. Be especially cautious in crowded areas such as fairs, festivals, street markets, tourist attractions in the high season, and public transportation.

  • If you carry a handbag, choose one with both an exterior zipper and an interior zipped compartment, and keep your valuables zipped inside. Carry a purse across your body rather than just over your shoulder. To lessen the chance of a thief on a bicycle, moped or motorcycle grabbing your purse, walk on the side of the sidewalk that’s farthest from the curb.

  • Be wary when placing valuables, whether phone, camera, purse, laptop, on a train seat or restaurant table.

  • Use a tracking device— AirTags for iPhones, Samsung SmartTags for Samsung devices, or TILEs for Android phones— and put one in your suitcase, carry-on bag, purse, laptop case, camera bag, etc.. In the case of missing luggage, you’ll not only know where a bag is if the airline has misplaced it, but where it’s been delivered (your hotel, office, or home), assuming it actually was delivered. In the case of items besides checked luggage, you’ll be able to use the tracking device’s locator information on your phone when filing a police report.

When you are on your trip:

  • Never hang a handbag, laptop case or backpack on the back of a chair, whether you’re inside or outside. Put it on the floor and loop the strap around a chair or table leg, or around your ankle.

  • Don’t travel with expensive luggage or handbags.

  • Keep the bling at home. That includes expensive-looking watches and ostentatious jewelry.

  • Don’t rent a luxury or specialty vehicle. As fun as they are to drive, they are magnets for thieves.

Where to be especially careful:

  • When exiting a high-end store with shopping bags.

  • Public transportation, especially when exiting a subway. You may be jostled by impatient riders trying to get off, or you may be jostled by a skilled pickpocket, and you’d never know the difference.

  • Airplanes, especially when you’re sleeping. Travel safety expert and former police detective Kevin Coffey, a frequent consultant to corporate travel managers and meeting planners, suggests extra caution when stowing your carry-on bag. He suggests placing it in an overhead bin across from your seat, rather than above your head, so you can see if someone is touching your stuff. He also advises placing a carry-on with pockets facing down so a thief can’t easily take something from an outer compartment. And don’t leave anything valuable unattended when you go to the toilet—and that includes your jacket if your wallet is inside.

  • Airport security lines. More things go missing here than anywhere else at airports, Coffey said.

  • Train stations. Thieves take advantage of travelers overloaded with luggage, who may be walking and talking or walking and texting, or who are obviously unfamiliar with their surroundings.

  • Busy tourist areas and tourist buses.

And finally.....

Coffey also warns of a scam that has been used by professional thieves around the world. A friendly fellow traveler strikes up a conversation. Sometimes they may ask for directions, pretend they are lost or looking for something, or may even ask if you speak English, all in an attempt to get you to let your guard down. While your first inclination is to help someone, he says, sometimes distractions such as this are a ruse to get you to lose attention to your carry-on bag or purse, so an accomplice can make off with your property or pick your pocket.

Other similar versions of distractions include thieves staging a loud argument/commotion, a fake fight, or even an improvised fall – all of which can be used as deliberate ways to distract you just long enough for a thief to make mischief. Coffey suggests that any time an unknown person engages you in a conversation, keep track of your property and who may be around you. Scams like this can happen anywhere, he says, so be on your guard, especially in popular tourist areas.

To find out more about how safetravelRX can keep you safe, click here.

To read more safetravelRX blogs, click here.


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