Some tips to avoid becoming a victim in Athens, Greece

My wife and I needed to make a short business trip to Athens to purchase some imports and establish new business relationships with more shop owners (It really is work…really). This would mean spending most of our time in Monastiraki, a large shopping area in the Plaka at the base of the Acropolis.

Before going further, let me jump back to our last trip to Athens in May. I was in the elevator at our hotel and ran into an American couple. I casually asked how they were doing and she replied “Terrible! We just spent most of the day at the police station after we were pick-pocketed in Monastiraki.” They went on to tell me that her camera was stolen out of her backpack…while she was wearing it walking down the street. His wallet and passport were lifted out of the leg pocket of his cargo pants. The pick-pockets do this by working in groups, surrounding the victims and, seemingly innocently, jostling them as they pass by, so they don’t feel they’re being ripped-off.

That was some good information that I took to heart. I had heard about the crime problem in the area, but had never met someone firsthand that had experienced this. Let me take this opportunity to say that the problem is, for the most part, not the Greek people themselves. Since she opened her borders after joining the European Union in 1981, Greece has experienced a large influx of people from surrounding countries. Most of these people are good people, too. But some people, just like in every other country I have been in or read about, choose to or are forced into an unsavory lifestyle. I’m not trying to sound racist or bigoted, but life is life and things are what they are. I’m climbing down from my soapbox now…back to the actual article.

Crowded street in the Plaka, Athens

Crowded street in the Plaka, Athens

We had gone to Monastiraki and taken care of business for the last three days. We were staying with a friend of Helen’s in Piraeus, the port city just south of Athens. We would catch an electric trolley from a stop just down the street, to the Metro station a few blocks away. From there we would board an electric train that took us right to the Monastiraki Station. All for just one euro each!

On our final trip back from Monastiraki we boarded the electric train. It had become dark already and we were anxious to get back to the apartment. Loaded with bags of stuff, we boarded the last car, which was fairly empty. At least there was still room to stand and hold onto a pole. Just before the doors closed, a group of people got on and crowded around me. They all hung onto the same pole. I felt a light sensation on the side of my leg…in my cargo pants pocket! I slapped my hand down, knocking the hand from my pocket, shouted “Ohi, ohi, ohi” (Greek for “No, no, no”) and stared at the person trying to ruin my day. It was a young female in her teens or early twenties. She had dark eyes and long dark hair, pretty, wearing black. Standing next to her was her partner, a taller male, dressed in a similar way. At the next station they immediately got off of the train. Totally BUSTED!

My wife was standing on the other side of the car and didn’t know exactly what had happened. She just heard me yell and then saw me staring at these two people. I told her what had happened. She said that the stare I was giving them would have scared her to death. I didn’t realize I could look so opposing. A young Greek guy standing nearby asked me, in English, if I still had everything. I did and told him yes.

That was a very eye-opening experience for me. Even after knowing the possible dangers, I was still made an almost-victim. So, with this recent encounter in mind, here are a few tips (not in any specific order) I can offer to avoid this same situation.

  1. Avoid large crowds. If you see a crowded street, don’t go through it or, if you think you must go through, look for openings in the crowd. Be aware of people bumping into you.
  2. If you wear cargo pants/shorts, like I do, and carry your wallet in there, sew in some additional Velcro strips on the flap and pocket so it closes along the length of the flap.
  3. When carrying a purse or camera, wear the strap across your chest with the purse/camera in front you. Use a purse that completely closes so that someone can’t simply reach in and grab something.
  4. If you are going to take public transportation, try to find an area in the vehicle that isn’t too crowded so you can keep a “comfort zone” around you. Be aware of large groups of people getting on at the last minute and standing around you.
  5. Try not to stand out or look to be an easy target. Familiarize yourself with the place you’re going to visit. Learn some of the language. Get on-line and read about where you’re going to visit (in articles like this one). Just try and you look like you belong there.
  6. Be aware of your surroundings. Look out for changing situations around you and don’t just be oblivious to what is happening. Going to a new country is always an enriching experience that should be taken in. Just don’t let it take you in.
  7. If you feel you must carry a backpack, all I can say is really heed the advice about crowds. Remember the lady who had her camera taken out of her pack while she was walking.
  8. Listen for scooters or motorcycles riding up behind you. They can come up quickly and snag your purse or bag and be gone in an instant.
  9. Consider carrying your personal items in a pouch in front of you that attaches around your waist. Just make sure the buckle is in front of you as well.
  10. Plan ahead. Make two copies of your passport, ID, and all credit cards you are going to be taking with you. Put them in separate envelopes and keep them in different pieces of baggage. That way, you are fairly assured you will at least have some records left. Make sure you keep these in a safe place once you are at your destination and properly dispose of them once you return home.

I hope this advice helps and that you will never be put in this type of position. Greece is a wonderful country and should be one of the places to visit on your lifetime wishlist.

photo supplied by Darren Kirtley of www.kgimagery.com

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Older comments on Some tips to avoid becoming a victim in Athens, Greece

Mary Howarth
19 January 2010

There is a lot of truth in this list of suggestions. I tend to slip my purse toward my back, until I felt a tug on it in a crowd on a subway in Budapest. The zipper sticks – which was good for me and bad for the man behind me. I hate wearing the strap across my chest, but I do so when in crowds or in an area known for pick pockets.

Wanderers
20 January 2010

While I appreciate all the good advice, the author has missed the best way to thwart a thief, don’t carry a wallet. I have not carried a wallet overseas for many years; i just scatter money, credit cards and passport amoung the nine pockets in my Travel Smith cargo pants. I was hit once, actually three times by the same stupid band of thieves,in St. Petersburg, all they got was a stiff elboe chuck it the chest. Why make it easy for thieves to find your valuables, spread the weath around.

Experienced traveler