Pickpockets, Beggars, Crime and Scams, London
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.
If you've ever read Dickens or seen the musical 'Oliver!' then you will know that pickpocketing has been part of London life for a very long time.
Having said that, London does not have a pickpocketing problem on the scale of other major tourist destinations such as Barcelona, for example.
If it is going to happen anywhere, then it will happen on Oxford street. Despite CCTV cameras covering the place the crowds, the warren of streets off to the sides and the tangle of street furniture allow gangs of pickpocketers to operate with comparative freedom.
Keep your money well buried.
Alternatively use an old wallet and leave that in your pocket, with you money buried elsewhere. Then fill it with bits of paper, preferably with a rude message. If you are then pickpocketed, you can take great pleasure in imagining the look on their faces when the wallet is searched !
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.
I cannot stress this enough after seeing it happen to people too many times
keep hold of your valuables
don't leave them in a bag you are carrying over your shoulder it's very easy for them to be stolen.
Don't keep all your cards and money in one wallet
unless you really need to don't take your passport out with you.
Don't use your phone outside of tube stations.
carry your train/bus ticket in seperately from everything else so that you can at least still get back to where you're staying.
If you do end up getting something stolen report it straight away as soon as you notice it's missing
call one of the directory lines who'll help you locate the nearest police station to you and give you their number.
One of the fastest growing crimes in London is phone snatching. This occurs when you are speaking on your phone, or have it in your hand. The thief will come up to their victim, usually from behind, snatch the phone, and run away before you know whats happened. This often occurs in busy places, such as train stations and high streets, so don't be fooled by the sense of security that a busy place can give. Stay vigilant when using your phone, try not to use it in busy places and if you do have to, try to keep it out of sight.
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.
Just like anywhere else you should be careful and mind your belongings at all times. If you're carrying a purse turn it so it's opening is facing towards you and not outwards towards other people, or with your wallet make sure it is firmly in your pocket, but keep some money seperate. Be especially careful in crowded places - like on the tube. No doubt you'll be fine, but it's better to be safe than sorry.
I've always felt very safe walking around London. However, when you get into crowded, touristy areas such as Picadilly Circus, Leicester Square, etc. hang on to your bags! I was almost robbed near Picadilly. I felt a slight tug on my bag and turned around to face a man who quickly ran off. Best to just keep aware of your surroundings!
One thing that rattled me a bit was being asked for money by beggers in the street. Sometimes they would just walk up and ask. Others would be huddled on the footpath under blankets and goodness knows what with a sign pleading their case.
It was hard for me as a lone female to just open my bag up and take out my purse in front of them. I wasn't comfortable doing this and I felt even more uncomfortable say no.
London apartments direct (www.Londonapartmentsdirect.com) is a fraudulant site designed to get people to pay extortionate amounts of money for a hotel or appartment that never gets booked. nor will you get the money back or ever hear from the guy again.
The best way to avoid sites like this is to make sure you pay by card so at least you can claim the money back and you also have a record of the transaction, be very weary of any site that asks for cash cheque or travellers cheques before you arrive. If in doubt ask a few vt members in the london forum
Have a look at these links for more details of other Vt members that have had problems with them.
My advice to you is not to book with them, however if you already have, or have had trouble, make sure you let the authorities know and at the very least post your problem either on the London forum here or on other forums so that others won't fall into the same trap.
I know the title of this tip may seem a bit odd, but I will explain leter. firstly, I must stress that this tip will probably not apply to 99% of visitors to London, but I am submitting it for the 1% it may be of use to. Secondly, the tip refers to some very specific areas of London, and those are not normally associated with tourism. It does happen to be a particular problem in the area of the East End I live in, in fact the accompanying photograph was taken from my home.
If you see men (it will never be women) chewing what appears to be long twigs, and these men have an Eastern African appearance, you are probably looking at the consumption of Qat / Khat (there are various spellings). I mention the appearance of the participants, and it is certainly not a racist comment, merely that this substance is used exclusively by people from that part of the world, certainly in my experience.
Qat is effectively a naturally occurring amphetimine substance obtained by chewing on these twigs. The men will chew these things, often for a couple of days on end, and the effects are much similar to other amphetimine based drugs. They tend to get very voluble and can be aggressive. There are Qat establishments where the participants go and sit, somewhat similar in concept if not style, to an Amsterdam coffee shop. there is one literally yards from my home and it causes no end of trouble. It is interesting that the substance is banned in many countries but is still legal in the UK. I have personally witnessed literally a lorry load of it being offloaded to a premises locally.
If you do spot people taking Qat in the street, which is not that usual, employ the normal street tactics you would for other circumstances i.e. cross the road if possible, avoid eye contact, do not initiate conversation, and you should be OK. Whilst Qat does make men aggressive, and they certainly fight amongst themselves, I have not heard of "outsiders" being attacked, although I have been harrassed several times by people looking for money / cigarettes etc.
Like all these things, do not let it play on your mind, it is unlikely you will ever stumble across it but, as I say, I submit this tip as it may just be of use.
Beware of pickpockets! When standing at a bus stop, I had a close encounter with a pickpocket. I felt him brush up against me and while the bus stop was crowded, it wasn't so crowded that people needed to be in contact with each other!
This particular would be thief was working with a couple of other people. There was an Italian sausage cart next to the building by the bus stop that had three middle eastern people at it. One of them was the aforementioned thief. At one point, he took over the sausage cart and another of his co-horts attempted to rob someone who was just getting on the bus. After a near miss with the intended victims fist, the obviously inept pickpocket was chased down an alley and didn't come back for about 10 minutes..... where he calmly took over the duties of cooking and selling sausages while his partner began circulating in the crowd again.
So just make sure you pay attention to what is going on around you!
This is a tip for every tourist when traveling through crowded areas - tend to your stuff!
The most popular spots are also the most popular for pickpockets. They make easy prey out of people who are dazzled by all that is happening around them. Keep your wallet or purse protected and remember that someone bumping into you may just be distracting you.
London is a wonderful city ... but it does have a number of downsides.
Muggers : Avoid tourist-y centres such as Leicester Square, my friend got her handbag snatched and she was punched in the face ... at about 4 in the afternoon!
Toilets: Some fast food places and tube stations you have to pay 25p ... Marylebone Station has a clean, FREE toilet.
Beggars: Unfortunately the homeless are a prominent sight almost everywhere in London. It is up to you whether you want to give them money or not ... Although people moan about 'darn gyppos' all the time, I felt a genuine sympathy for the displace Slavic gypsies and gave them money, they often do a dance or sing too! (call me a sucker or a bleeding heart or whatever!)
Guns: I only saw a gun once ... at Brixton tube station (also saw a woman snorting coke off a seat!)
Food: Leicester Square really plays up to sucker tourists - they have 99p slices of greasy, probably bacteria infested pizza. If need a cheap eat buy some fruit from the market! Or if you prefer something hot check out the Hare Krishnas (no you don't have to join!) in Soho (Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple, 10 Soho Street, London W1V 5DA) where you can get a curry etc very cheap!
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.