Pickpockets, Beggars, Crime and Scams, London
So you've packed everything, ticked it all off on a meticulous list and you are ready for an adventure in London. Did you remember to pack some common sense?
London is a very safe place but like any other large city it's not immune to theft and criminal activity. Violent crime against tourists is extremely rare but pick-pocketing can problem.
Be wary in crowded congested places and don't "wear" a backpack. Take it off and carry it in front of you where you can see it.
Don't leave anything unattended. One of my coach passengers was recently traumatised when she left an iPad on a table just to find it wasn't there any more when she got back from the ladies room.
If you forget to pack your toothbrush it's not a problem, you can buy a new one here. If you forget that you are in a big city and forget to bring common sense then a small criminal element of society will take advantage of tourist's naivety.
Just returned from a weekend in London. Although we felt reasonable safe most of the time - in the areas crowded with people please keep an eye on your belongings! We were watching a street performance by the London Eye when my husband saw how a bloke in front of us took a phone from the lady's handbag... he stopped him in the same second and told him you 'just took the phone from this lady's bag' but while my husband knocked on the lady's shoulder and informed her - the bloke passed the phone to another man who disappeared quickly... the lady didn't pay much attention when my husband told her as she seemed quite unsure what my husband was trying to tell her... (maybe a language barrier) Obviously the man didn't have that phone on him any-more as he passed it to someone else so he was showing us his own mobile and pretended this was his only phone and he didn't take anything... I was worried about us and didnt want to get into any trouble and we would not probably solve anything as the phone was already gone with his mate and the lady carried on watching the performance so then we walked away and carried on sights seeing but we felt unhappy about what we saw for the rest of the day! Especially for the fact that there was nothing we could do to solve this... Please be careful and keep an eye on your bags, dont leave it open and keep it in front of you! All this can happen within a few seconds :( :(
London is a huge, busy city that is always full of people. Play it safe and don’t walk around in large crowds talking on your mobile phone. While you are not paying attention you become a target for street criminals. Phones are expensive and druggies can get high on the theft of a phone. Most UK mobile phones can be shut off permanently if reported stolen, but it doesn’t work for visitors. Some people have been badly injured by drug crazed thieves taking these and other valuables. So find yourself a nice secluded spot and make that call.
Some good places to make calls are in lobbies (any hotel, banks, museums). Also making calls while wlaking in London can be deadly. 100 pedestrians a year are killed in London each year, but that's another tip. Please take care and leave the phone off so you can safely enjoy what London has to offer.
I learnt a new gypsy approach in London. I was walking in the City by the Gherkin, when a man beside me bent down and took up something. He showed it to me and asked me if I had dropped it. It seemed to be a massive gold man´s wedding band. I told him it wasn´t mine and meant to keep going, but he told me that he wanted me to have it. I told him no, but he pushed it into my hand.
He then asked me if I could give him money to buy cigarettes. He didn´t speak English at all, but was talking in an Eastern European language, so I understood what he was saying, and asked where he was from. He told me Romania. I gave him GBP 2. He was outraged, told me what he was going to do with GBP 2, he was going to buy cigarettes and he needed at least GBP 20! I gave him back the ring and told him to return to me the 2 I gave to him. He then said 10, I told him to shove it and walked away. Then he said in German "funf" - I walked away. But checked my wallet just to make sure that I had not been robbed of more money than I gave to him.
So beware of this trick.
It happened in the City in front of the Gherkin.
There's a lot of crime in London. It's a big city with a lot of poverty on the edges. But in the places where tourist congregate in the centre, and in the wealthy suburbs like Kensington, you'd think you were in one of the safest cities in Europe. Even in Soho, once the seedy red light district, there is a relaxed ambiance. Most of London's crime is concentrated into certain areas, places most tourists won't see unless they get a cheap hotel miles from the centre.
Don't let the relaxed feeling lull you into a false sense of security. Plenty of people come to the centre to prey on unsuspecting tourists, so don't let yourself fall victim. There are millions of tourists, so with a little common sense you can make yourself a less attractive target and avoid attention. The usual warning apply: Don't flash cash, keep your wallet in a safe location, and make sure your bags aren't easily snatched or opened.
I don't like to pick out areas, because they change rapidly and a lot is based on personal perspective. I've never experienced crime in London, but there are a few places I've had uncomfortable experiences: Clapham, Stoke Newington and Brixton. The latter has changed drastically over the years, though, and is now very gentrified. There are a few other places that have bad reputations that may or may not be deserved, like Tower Hamlets, Peckham, parts of Southwark and many areas of East London.
If ever you get approached by a guy in a vehicle (for me it was an Audi A6) who speaks with an Italian accent and claims to be an Italian Fashion Designer - Avoid him at all costs.
He will try to sell you jackets he claims to be leftovers/samples and that they cost thousands of dollars and he needs to get rid of them because he is going take a plane and he doesn't want to pay 'big money' on taxes. He claimed that he doesn't want to use his Euros to pay for his car rental. All he needs is some money (usually about 400plus pounds) to pay for that rental and he will give you 3 jackets. They should be of leather and suede materials and they are FAKE!!!
Along that line, if its a man with a strong Italian accent trying to sell you jackets from his vehicle, avoid him or call the police - its a scam!
When travelling around London beware of pickpockets. There are currently 20,000 reported pickpocketing offences on the transport network but the British Transport Police, Transport for London and Metropolitan Police are working together to reduce this. They have currently made an 11.7% reduction on the past three years.
For more helpful advice on how to spot pickpockets and protect yourselves please visit
One last thing, please always check with the Lost Property Office in Baker Street (0845 330 9882) if you are unsure as to whether you have lost something or it has been stolen.
London is at #10 in list of destinations where tourists most likely to be pick pocketed. It is still ranked safer than Athens, Barcelona, Prague and Lisbon... I can say from experience - And Florence....
Though shopping streets (Oxford Street etc) have a reputation for pickpockets it is very unlikely that a tourist would become a victim of crime.
We became a victim our self in the London Aquarium: in a dark area (where only the aquariums were illuminated) my DK sunglasses disappeared from the very front of my shirt. Pickpockets are very good and some are very crafty too.
Someone may ask you for directions or may engage you in pointless conversation and a colleague may be already in your bag or pocket...
Pickpocket can 'dropped' some documents on the floor, till you help him to pick it up he or his (her) colleague could manage to get your wallet from the back pocket....
Keep your valuables close to you on the front of your body or in bags that sit across your chest or under your arm.
Do not carry large amounts of cash, your passport or plane tickets, it is discouraged.
Remember, you can never be too careful.
Please beware of those selling tickets outside the theatres for shows (especially ones that are sold out!). For example in 2008 I was waiting outside for a friend outside Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and the musical, 'Oliver', had just opened. I overheard a Tout selling tickets to a couple for up 300 GBP each (It's an average of 60-70 GBP for a top price ticket). I discreetly warned them to visit the box office to see if there were any returns or cancellations for that sold out show. The touts can offer prices that are multiple to the face value of the ticket and it has been known that some tickets sold have been invalid.
If anyone plans to see 'The Phantom of the Opera', please be careful with whom you purchase tickets from. It has been reported that people paid for 'Royal Circle' seats (worth 60-70gbp) but ended up sitting in the 'Balcony' seats (worth 25-30 gbp!). So always double check the theatre seating plan when booking for that show and and also for others.
However, it's strongly recommended to purchase tickets at the theatre's box office or at one of their nominated agencies such as:
Society of London Theatre
I always go to the Society of London Theatre Half Price tickets booth to book day tickets for shows as they are considerably cheaper than going to the theatres' box offices. I always feel secure booking with them especially the organisation promotes safe and secure theatregoing.
This warning could apply to anywhere in the world, I seem to see this particular con virtually everywhere we go and can't believe that there are still people who fall for this centuries old con. We happened to see this in broad daylight near Covent Garden on one of our visits and in June 2011 Westminster Bridge had at least five people set up doing this.
The basic equipment is three shells and a round object such as a pea, the con man has his ringer (always shifty looking fellows) pick the winning shell with the pea under it a couple of times, oohs and aahs come from the crowd and then the con man starts taking bets from unsuspecting tourists and taking their money in this sleight of hand.
A third conman is usually posted as a lookout, the game is always ready to travel upon the appearance of local law enforcement.
Another variation on this is three card monte, anytime you see a man with shells or cards on a paper box, feel free to watch from a safe distance but never ever plunk your money down, it's a sucker bet and you are sure to lose.
Long story short the night of the Royal Wedding my friend and I were having drinks at a pub and my purse was stolen off the back of my chair. When I told the pub staff they seemed remarkably unsurprised. So much so that it made my friend and I wonder if perhaps they have something going with somebody in the area. I actually noticed afterward that virtually every pub in the city has a nice big warning for people to watch their bags. Obviously this is a serious problem in the city so be SURE to keep your bag right in front of you at all times. I usually do but I was totally distracted by the Royal Wedding that morning and, truth be told, a big group of firefighters right outside our pub window.
I too had an experience in the south bank in London around the week of the 26th of July. I went into a small but crowded store and took money out of my bum bag to pay for some batteries when a guy bumped into me. Then before I knew what was going on this woman in a head scarf had her hand where my bum bag was. But the shop keepers started yelling "Hey hey hey!" And I pushed her away. She ran and I chased her, yelling "That woman is a pick pocket!" but no one bothered to stop her. I caught up with her and she showed me her bag, she didn't take anything (I don't think) my only regret is not placing her under citizens arrest. It turns out she didn't steal anything. But when I think about this incident I think about what she could have actually stole, I had a lot of money. If I ever go back to London I think I will just wear a shirt and put the money in different areas on my clothes. Maybe I'll tape it to my underwear just in case. But it just goes to show it can happen anywhere and at anytime. So if anyone bumps into you anywhere, keep a firm grip of your money!
I had booked a hotel through Expedia, and I had received two confirmation emails stating that the booking is approved and final. The name of the hotel is Ivy House Hotel (IHH), and its address is 18 Hugh Street London, England SW1V 1RP, United Kingdom. It is one of the cheapest hotels in central London, but I would suggest you not to choose it.
When I arrived IHH at midnight, the guy working at the reception told me that the booking was cancelled and my room had been given to someone else. He claimed that it is because my card wasn’t approved. Of course I couldn't accept it – it’s the middle of the night, and they should’ve at least informed me if it’s canceled. What was I supposed to do with all those luggage? Then he pretended to be checking something on his computer and told me, “Oh, Expedia has sent you a cancellation email yesterday. They had also called you today, maybe you've turned your phone off.” My card was working fine, my phone was turned on the whole time, and Expedia did not contact me at all. He also said, “We couldn’t contact you because Expedia didn’t give any of your details to us, you know that?” Funny, Expedia gave you my name and credit card details and everything, but not my contacts? Instantly I realised it could be a scam.
I heard from other hotels and travelers that IHH is doing the same to many other customers to try to cheat their money. Basically, they'd give their rooms to any walk-in customer even if the hotel is fully booked for the night (i.e., no vacancy.) If I did not arrive, they'd go on and charge my card, that is, charging double for one room.
But there's more. When we realise that our bookings are 'canceled', we'd probably be very anxious (especially when it's the middle of the night,) and because the guy working at IHH is so 'kind', he'd 'help' us find another hotel. He actually showed me a hotel that costs £500/night, but magically he 'helped' me to get a huge discount and made it £75. I was even more certain that it is a scam, so I rejected his offer and left. Later on, I found the hotel he showed me and it was £45/night walk-in. The second hotel told me that Ivy House send customers like me to them all the time, and, of course, they'd only pay them £45 (if it's a single room) and keep the £30 for themselves.
I’ve confirmed with Expedia that IHH should have my details, that they did not contact Expedia about the cancellation, and that Expedia had neither sent me a cancellation email nor called me on the phone. Therefore, I can at least conclude that they were definitely lying. Other reviews on Expedia also reveal that the photos IHH put on their Expedia page and their website are a misdirection of the actual crappy rooms they offer. Their rooms are tiny as a box, and dirty as hell (at least I can confirm that the lobby is extremely messy and dirty and look nothing like the photo.) The bottom line is, seriously, do not go to IHH. There are equally cheap hotels that are closer to Victoria station and would not try to cheat your money.
I've lived in London for years, know it well and have always been overly suspicious regarding the risks of pickpockets, especially in crowded areas. However, I'm ashamed to say, I recently became a victim of 'dipping' - someone, somehow, in a split second, managed to open up my handbag, only take my credit cards out (left everything else), and do my bag up again. I'm told that their method is to bump into you. I think this example goes to show, that no matter how well you might know an area, absolutely anyone is at risk of thieves. I think I can just about recall (very, very, very vaguely) being bumped into & having a hard time getting past an older lady, in a head scarf. There were loads of tourists about (e.g. including arab women in headscarves etc) - plus I hadn't seen a lot of gypsies around central London lately, so it just didn't occur to me at the time. This incident happened on Saturday 29th July 2011, around the South Bank area, near Jubilee Gardens (between the London Eye & Hungerford bridge. Was a sunny day, so a friend and I decided to meet up in the area, hadn't been down there for a while. We stopped to watch some street entertainers, huge crowd - very stupidly moved my hands away from in front of my handbag, to start clapping - honestly, don't bother!!). I reckon they must be in the crowd, looking out for anyone that gets their money out, to put in the street entertainers hats, after a performance. Luckily, my friend had mobile internet on her phone, so I was able to get the bank phone numbers & cancel the cards pretty quickly. I feel really sorry for any poor tourists who have been victims in the area, as, despite the huge crowds, there was absolutely no police presence to be seen (pathetic). I think the previous advice posted, to always carry with you the telephone numbers of your bank/credit card providers is a good idea, so that you can block the cards, as soon as you realised you've been 'dipped'.
first experienced a pickpocket a few years back while in Paris. I read many of these reviews and thought my wallet was safe in my front pocket, like so many reviews say. My guard was down for a second in a busy metro station and it was gone. Fortunately, I didn't have too much in it and immediately cancelled my two credit cards. I kept "a hand" on my wallet thinking that was making it more safe. It was what probably called attention to me as a prime target.
Anyway, you don't have to get too paranoid about it and just take some common sense measures and you should be fine. Definitely spread money around you and either use a money belt or neck wallet. I like the men's shirts that have buttoned front pockets on them. And they seem to be in fashion now as well. Additionally, bring along a few safety pins. Pin down the zippers on your backpack, bag, etc. Sure they can undo a pin, so try putting one facing one way and the other the opposite way. A simple, inexpensive and easy way to deter pickpockets. Only a minor hassle for you to undo the pins but better than the alternative. The whole idea is to make it harder for them to get your stuff and have them go find another easier target.
Confronted by gypsy women and/or children but don't want to shove them out fo the way if they violate your space? And you're not the type to yell and act crazy to scare them off? For less than $10, get a pocket air horn from off the Internet and keep it with you if you have room on your person or in your bag/purse. With one push of a button, it'll emit a 115dB sound that can be heard up to a mile away. Maybe a little overkill but oh well. Comparitively, anything over 140db's can cause ear damage so hold it at full arms extension. Probably not a good idea to do it while on a train or bus, however. Watch the gypsies/kids scatter like ants. Of course you'll draw attention from everyone else (including possible police)around, but who cares as you'll claim you were being robbed and had to do something to deter the crime.
Camera-wise: I never bring a camera worth more than $200. You can get a point and shoot camera for less than that. It will take stunning pictures. Unless you are a professional photo-journalist, leave your expensive stuff at home. Same principle as with jewelry, clothes, etc...Invest in an extra SD card (very inexpensive) or two. Swap them out often. That way if your camera is stolen, you still have some of the pics on the SD card you left back in your room. Same principle as keeping money, credit cards in more than one place as well as multiple copies of your documants. Or, if you have some downtime back at your hotel room, copy the pics you took to a laptop if you brought one or download them to the Internet. So if your camera goes, you'll still have some/most of the pics/vids. You probably backup files on your home computer, so why not here?
I am a fan of the decoy wallet. A thief knows they usually have one shot at you and they have to act fast. They'll go for the decoy. No matter how good they are at lifting a wallet, even though you might have it well secured, no one has x-ray vision and can see what is in your wallet. Well, unless you're not smart and whip it out and show everyone carelessly in a crowded place. Let 'em make off with the decoy. Stuff it with all kinds of junk. If you are ever in Las Vegas, don't turn down those x-rated cards they try to give you on the Strip. Collect a few and stuff 'em in your decoy. Surprise!