I had my pocket picked in a few months ago, in front of the main church in Antigua and it wasn’t the first time. Last year, in Granada, Nicaragua, I’d been warned about ‘˜them’ and I ignored good advice and I lost two debit cards, a driver’s license, a beat up wallet, and $80 in cash in my front pocket.
I was the enchilada in Granada — It was a fiesta week-end and I had followed my friends through a large crowd adjoining the band stand and was immediately jostled but I kept my attention on my ‘˜go’ cup rather than my back(and front) pockets. I knew when I emerged from the crowd that I’d been ‘˜had’.
I called my bank first thing and explained that I’d been stripped, robbed and left for dead meat in the gutter. She asked if I had my pin numbers written on the cards — right — as if — The rascals managed to crank some $600 worth of weird/bogus transactions at two gas stations around Granada. I did the police report when I was in the US the next time and the Unauthorized Use Form for the bank and I was reimbursed — eventually. And I replaced the credit cards and the driver’s license, a month or so later.
If only I had listened. If only I hadn’t walked down the street a few months later to watch the festivities at the church, take pictures and then get caught up in a mash of people trying to follow the procession. Oops —
Lesson#1: Avoid mosh pits and crowds that are pushing, shoving and shuffling along. Body contact, even by the most beautiful woman or gender of your choice, should be carefully monitored. They want what’s in your wallet, purse or fanny-pack. They’re usually well-trained professionals who follow the crowds and places that travelers and tourists go to. It’s not personal,it’s business, to quote Don Corleone.
Lesson#2: Don’t take your cards to town and why would you want a driver’s license with you in a foreign country? Take enough cash for the evening and leave the rest of it in the safe or your locked suitcase: make a copy of page one of your passport.
Lesson#3 Monitor your bank account often when traveling. Public access and free wi-fi service is widely available throughout much of Central America. Always print the receipt when you leave the ATM and keep these in a safe place. You never know.
You’ll be accessing ATMs which are differently programmed than you are used to, and the currencies and exchange rate can be confusing. If you access your accounts through the ‘˜Net using a public wi-fi point, you may be exposed to electronic snooping. Cyber cafes and Internet shops are usually safe. If you take a laptop, remember that if you’re jacked in to the hotel’s wi-fi net you still need to be concerned. And don’t wear a fanny pack except to carry your lipstick.