I’m all for helping people, especially the elderly, but next time I’m traveling around Europe, I’ll be on the lookout for a scam before I lend a hand. According to Rick Steves, there are a variety of distraction scams out there. I have heard of some of them but not all so this is a good, quick refresher. RELATED: Two Scams Currently Making the Rounds That Everyone Should Know About


Rick writes: “Oops! You’re jostled in a crowd as someone spills ketchup or fake pigeon poop on your shirt. The thief offers profuse apologies while dabbing it up — and pawing your pockets. There are variations: Someone drops something, you kindly pick it up, and you lose your wallet. Or, even worse, someone throws a baby into your arms as your pockets are picked. Assume beggars are pickpockets. Treat any commotion (a scuffle breaking out, a beggar in your face) as fake — designed to distract unknowing victims. If an elderly woman falls down an escalator, stand back and guard your valuables, then…carefully…move in to help.

RELATED: Rick Steves Says Wearing This Will Lower Your Risk of Being Pickpocketed

GoBankingRates.com once wrote in detail how the falling old lady scams works but they have since took down the post. But here’s what they wrote on how it works: “A woman, typically an elderly woman, will make a huge commotion by falling down. Accomplices will then quickly move throughout the crowd, pickpocketing and grabbing purses. It’s important to remain as attentive and cautious as possible to avoid scams like this. If you see any suspicious activity and suspect a tumbling woman scam, step aside and keep an eye on your valuables.”

I don’t agree with the part about stepping aside in that situation. But if I see something like this, I won’t drop my luggage and will make sure my wallet is in my front pocket and that my wife doesn’t let her guard down with her purse.

It’s sad that there are some truly bad people out there who are happy to take advantage of those being kind.

More Scams to Watch Out For
Don’t Fall For the Falling Lady Scam
Is Your Hotel Scamming You?
Don’t Fall For It: Scammers Are Pretending to be Customs and Border Protection Agents  
Cybersecurity and Fraud Expert Shares Tips on How Not to Get Scammed When Traveling
How To Avoid Vacation Rental Scams
Don’t Fall For These QR Code Scams  
7 Tips For Avoiding Black Friday Scams Online
These Are the Latest European Travel Scams to Know Before You Go

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6 Comments On "Don't Fall For the Falling Lady Scam"
  1. Bob Y|

    I was the victim of a variant of the scam in Barcelona a few years back. I have to admit I was looking like the stereotypical tourist and probably got the scammers attention as an easy mark. I had a map and a tourist guide brochure sticking out my back pocket announcing, “Here I am folks. Easy money!”
    Coming out of the subway I am riding up an escalator. Naturally, there are typically a good number of people on the escalator right after a train arrives. This is really an excellent spot for a pickpocket to work. You are in a confined space and if you are the “mark” the pickpocket knows exactly what path you will take. There is no choice once you step on the escalator. As we approach the top of the escalator the guy in front of me drops his chapstick. As we get to the step-off point his chapstick is rolling against the little fingers that the escalator steps pass through as the steps turn back underground. The guy steps off the escalator and then tries to pick up the chapstick. He is blocking the exit from the escalator. I have to do the escalator version of treading water by taking a step backwards to avoid plowing into this guy. Everyone gets all jammed up since the escalator exit is now blocked. A lot of bumping and jostling takes place. Finally he picks up his chapstick and walks away. I’m about four strides off the escalator when a man running a newstand started gesturing to me in a frantic way. He is raising his hand and then pinching his fingers together. It took me a few seconds to understand what he meant. “YOU’VE BEEN PICKPOCKETED!”

    Reach back, damn, no wallet (another rookie mistake, back pocket is not the right place to carry your wallet). The guy that was in front of me not 5 seconds ago? Vanished.

    It was a valuable lesson and while I lost $500 cash (I had just won a poker tournament on the cruise ship), it was all someone else’s money. I also want to mention that everyone of the locals in Barcelona that I asked for assistance in taking care of this was extraordinarily helpful and kind (with the exception of the elderly woman with whom I experienced a language failure – she hit me with her purse! I still don’t know what I said incorrectly that caused this international incident) The numerous phone calls, the advice on what to do next, how to report the theft, and an escort to the local police were all jeerfully provided.

  2. Bob|

    I have a laminated copy of my Driver License that passes for real in Europe along with small copy of passport info page. When going out In a city I only carry these copies of ID along with small bit of cash and one credit card. The wallet is very small. If picked I can call the credit card company quickly. I still have my original license, backup credit card and passport in safe in hotel/cruise ship cabin. No one has ever questioned my DL copy if they need to see it for ID. Go out exploring with the thought you will lose all of this and it changes your approach.

  3. Shawn|

    That is a brilliant idea Bob. Thanks for the useful tip on laminating my ID and carrying a copy of my passport. Will do this the next time I travel. :)

  4. imppress|

    It could be fun to turn on your cell phone camera and start filming the crowd for evidence of the accomplices.
    You can assume it’s in the opposite direction of the “falling lady”.

    Imagine the thieves looking up to see your iPhone lens pointed right at them.

  5. Wally|

    I always keep my wallet in my front pocket and twist the pocket so that the wallet can’t be removed unless you untwist the pocket. I learned this years ago from an article like this to keep yourself from being pick-pocketed.

  6. Josephine|

    I sorry for what happened to you, but if someone tries the escalator block in Sydney they just get shoved out of the way.

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