HomeTravelMotorhome Travel - Scams and Street Crime

Motorhome Travel – Scams and Street Crime

Many of us will visit Europe in our motorhomes. Waiting for us and hoping to part us from our valuables will be some of the world’s most creative scammers. But before I tell you about these crooks and low-life, a caveat.

Don’t get paranoid

When reading stories about crime abroad, it’s easy to feel scared or put off. Don’t worry, these emotions are completely normal.

The truth is, very often we are more likely to be a victim of crime at home than abroad. We feel safer on our own streets. However a foreign person reading about every crime committed in your home town might feel very apprehensive about visiting.

After witnessing a violent home break-in on a television program like Crimewatch, most of us will be motivated to double-check the security of our homes before going to bed.

The program makes us think about it.

But should we not prioritise our home security every night? We should, and reading (or watching) about crime, serves as a valuable reminder, increasing our awareness and vigilance.

The idea is not to scare us to death but alert us to potential risks.

Perspective

We must apply a bit of perspective when reading about crime. In reality, when traveling in Europe, you are 1000 times more likely to be a victim of kindness than a victim of crime.

The chances of anything untoward happening is incredibly low. Often far lower than the streets you feel safe in at home.

Even better, by being just slightly aware, you can significantly decrease these already tiny odds.

Maintain a relaxed level of alertness.

It’s not about being paranoid and ruining your trip, but maintaining a relaxed level of alertness.

When on holiday, many people become victims of crime because they are totally switched off, in holiday mode.

You can condition yourself to be relaxed and alert.

Being proactive about personal security is crucial. By taking a moment to anticipate potential scenarios and plan your actions accordingly; you significantly reduce the risk of falling prey to a distraction crime.

It’s easy to be caught out on holiday. For years I taught others about personal security, but I am not immune to letting my guard down.

However, if someone approaches me on the street, to say, ask for directions, regardless of their age or appearance, it immediately triggers my adrenalin and I have a heightened awareness.

Asking me for the time, is like asking me if I want a fight! I’m immediately looking around me and expecting the worst to happen. This is because I have thought about it hundreds of times beforehand. I am aware of the ways people might try to distract me and I’ve run through scenarios in my mind many, many times.

In quiet moments, think about distraction crime, think about being approached in the street, This is the most common type of crime. Don’t get hung up about it, but just think about it now and again. This will help to ensure that you are not easily distracted.

When it happens, you’ll react properly rather than be suckered-in for the moment or two that it takes to steal from you.

A pretty girl stops and asks you to fill in a survey, become immediately aware, look past her pretty smile and think about where your valuables are!

Someone asked you for directions, immediately expect the worst. The chances are the worst will never happen, but if you are half expecting it, then you are much less likely to become a victim.

Increase your personal safety with just a tiny bit of awareness. While the odds of you becoming a victim are low, a relaxed vigilance will greatly reduce your chances of being caught up in anything.

Common Street Scams

Here are a few street scams, some you will have heard about, some you may not. Think about them, play them over in your mind a few times and hopefully you’ll recognise them should they ever play out in front of you (or behind).

On The Road

Your van is on Fire or Something is wrong with your wheel

An often reported incident is where someone overtakes you and points toward the rear of your motorhome indicating a fire or a puncture, anything to get you to stop.

If you stop, you will be burgled while distracted, or robbed with violence!

Do not stop, just keep driving and be grateful that you listened to Jim when he told you that when touring, NEVER let your diesel tank go below half full.

Of course, something might be wrong, someone might well be being kind and letting you know that something is wrong. You’ll make a decision about whether to stop based upon the circumstances, but just be aware it may well be a scam.

Look at the first few stops in this movie put together by the Guarda Civil. Each time a good samaritan stops to tell the victims there is something wrong. The only thing wrong is that the victims are so unaware. They never read an article like this one!
A Birds eye view of exactly what happens.

After Any Stops, Walk Around before setting off

When you stop anywhere on your journey, but especially on motorway rest areas you should always have a quick walk around the van before you leave the relative safety of a populated space and drive away.

Have a look at your outside lockers are they secure. One Funster in France noticed in his mirrors that he was losing stuff from a locker as he entered the motorway slip-road! He hadn’t noticed a thief had opened his locker while he was in the service area.

Check Trailers and Bike Racks

Whenever you stop there is a risk that someone might attempt to steal from you. You might not notice their attempt, but they may have made things insecure. A quick check before you leave is essential.

A common scam is to puncture a tyre, or place something under a tyre that will puncture it as you pull away. Before you notice anything you are on the slip road or motorway, and those kind people who stop to help, are going to rob you. Always check after stops.

It Happened to us

We used to tow a small low box trailer with four cycles fixed upright on the top. After a rest stop on the Spanish border I returned to the van to find that the two straps, securing the bike carrier to the trailer roof, had been cut. They must have been disturbed, because everything looked OK the bikes were there, but a closer look revealed the cut straps. If I hadn’t seen this the bikes well have come off the trailer at the first bend or pot hole!

Always walk-around and see that everything is in good order before you resume your journey

Fake Cops

Fake cops were an issue ten years ago, but this type of crime is becoming quite rare, but it does happen. Essentially, crooks pretending to be police might try to flag you down while moving or may approach you in rest areas. Under the pretence of searching for drugs, they will steal anything of value.

You should stop for uniformed police in well marked and lit cars, as you can be pretty certain they are genuine police. However, If police officers in an unmarked car try to get you to stop on a motorway, do not stop. Get on the phone to the police, tell them where you are and what is happening. In situations like this, you will always be grateful that you listened to Jim when he repeatedly told you when touring to NEVER let your diesel tank go below half full.

People who have this happen to them report that the fake cops soon disappear when they realise you will not stop. And you are calling real cops.

Know the emergency numbers

Numbers for calling the police vary, many countries have a dedicated number direct to the police. Find out if this is the case for your destination and make a note of it. Stick it on your dashboard or at least store it on your phone. The EU has harmonised to 112 for all emergencies and this should get you through to a multilingual operator who will help. Even EU countries like France still have dedicated numbers which might get a quicker response. Do some research before you go.

Motorhome Travel scams, know your Emergency numbers

Pickpockets

When it comes to managing and safeguarding your money while on the go, NEVER FORGET THE PICKPOCKET. These people are clever and unfortunatley they are everywhere, professional as well as opportunists

Adopting a set of prudent practices can significantly enhance your security. Whether you’re handling cash, using cards, or simply navigating through crowded spaces, the following guidelines are designed to minimise the risks and of you becoming a victim.

Handling Cash and Cards

  • Carry only the cash you need.
  • Conceal your cash from view.
  • Store your card and PIN separately.

Money Safety Outdoors

  • Keep money, cards, and valuables in secure, inner pockets.
  • Avoid placing items in easily accessible outer pockets.
  • Position bags securely, with fastenings toward you.
  • In crowds, wear backpacks in front.
  • Keep bags in constant contact.
  • Don’t leave valuables in unattended jackets.
  • Stay alert to distractions that could be attempts to steal.

ATM Safety

  • Stay focused at ATMs, avoiding distractions.
  • Shield the keypad and ensure privacy when entering your PIN.
  • Monitor the ATM for tampering and watch for suspicious activity, contacting the police if something seems wrong.

On the street. Can you tell me? Can You Show Me?

If someone approaches you with a map asking directions or a clipboard asking you to complete a survey, be very wary. This is a classic ruse. Either they will pickpocket you with the map or clipboard hiding their hands, or you will be distracted enough for an accomplice to do it.

This distraction tactic was used against Funster’s Robin and Sharon recently at a French motorway rest stop.

Someone approached them with a map, thrust the map through the open cab window and asked for directions in French, while stabbing the map with a finger. While one hand was gesticulating his other hand was in the cab stealing the motorhomer’s handbag.

In their words

Just thought I would share a tale of our recent escapades in France and Spain - this is a negative one I'm afraid.

After having taken Lucy Wire my trusty N&B 6700 Flair South to escape the imminent poor weather at the end of February we found ourselves tootling quite happily along the southern roads of France and in to Spain.

We were mostly keeping off the Autoroutes (Peage) and most obvious toll roads and after a couple of days in Benidorm (different story/thread) had decided for a little mountain peace and quiet - off to Almocita (recommended).

We were on the A7 just heading towards Almeria and decided to pull over at one of the larger fuel stops, park up and grab a spot of lunch. Had everything with us so didn't even need to open the door and put the steps down. Finished lunch and then............
A car parked behind us, in our blind spot but visible on reversing camera, a guy got out of passenger side, reasonably well dressed and approached our right hand side (we are a lefty) where my wife sits. He had a map in hand. Knocked on window, which my wife opened to speak to him. (Hindsight: mistake)

Now bear in mind we are in an N&B Flair A-Class the windows open horizontally and not vertically and the way the van is built the windows are quite low!!

Guy thrusts in full scale unfolded map and blathers on in broken English (Hindsight: He should have been talking Spanish or to Spanish people for directions?) - my wife isn't good with maps so passed the map over to me. 

It was quite clear that where he wanted to go was noted on the map, but also on the motorway signposts - so I couldn't understand what help he needed. After I pointed this out he grabbed the map and headed back to his car.

Under cover of the unfolded map he had reached in and stolen Sharon's handbag.
Not a cheap one I may add and also containing all her worldly possessions. Sharon had assumed that the bag being on the floor and not on display was relatively safe......... (Hindsight: after checking what could be accessed through the open window we were surprised just how vulnerable we were!)

We didn't realise the theft for a while though as Sharon didn't need anything from her bag until the next day in Almocita - when we discovered it had gone. Usual credit cards, cash, glasses, memory cards for camera, in fact Sharon is still discovering things that were in the bag...

And again, a similar incident here. From GiGi

Hi Everybody,

Just thought we would let you all know we have been Robbed today and feel like complete idiots!!! We left Nerja this morning to drive to Camping Villasol in Benidorm for a few days . 

The weather was beautiful and the drive through Almeria was lovely . We stopped to get Petrol near Marazzon at service area 553 on the E15 autovia Mediterraneao at Totana . 

I was still writing the fuel details in our log , when a car pulled in very quickly in front of our vehicle and the driver and his lady passenger who appeared very upset and in a panic came to my window, passenger side I was still in my seat, and they started asking which way to Cartagena and saying “Sat Nav” Sat Nav” he had a large sized very screwed up map of Spain in his hands I opened my sliding window a little and he pushed further back whilst pushing the map into the cab towards me . I then pushed map out again and they jumped in the car and drove off at speed. I didn’t even realise he had taken my handbag !!! 

It contained the usual things ladies carry, lipsticks , mask, tissues, Pills , eyedrops and my lovely purse. It contained my bank card , 2 credit cards and €45 euros, All cancelled . I had my handbag in exactly the place most women keep their handbag at their feet !! 

My husband was out of his seat putting the kettle on and the habitation door was locked , We weren’t in any danger but it was very upsetting.
Watch out for these bandits and don’t get caught

Don’t let anyone pin or tie anything to you

If a smiling young lady tries to tie a bracelet on your or your partner’s arm, or a shell or flower necklace around your neck, a polite but firm NO THANK YOU and keep walking is required. NEVER STOP TO ENGAGE THEM. If you stop and wear the item, even for 2 seconds, they will want paying!

Their smile will go and the aggression will start, they will get loud, curse and they may have friends that join in. As soon as you are approached, don’t worry about being polite. Use your firmest NO THANK YOU and KEEP WALKING.

A similar scam involves a smiling man giving a flower to one of a couple. If your partner takes the flower, he’ll ask you to pay. All of these scams can be avoided with a firm No Thank you WHILE YOU KEEP WALKING.

The Found Ring.

Bending down right in front of you a woman will pick up a shiny gold ring, she’ll fake surprise and ask if you dropped it. She’ll look at it and exclaim look it is real gold. Then comes the sucker punch, she’ll ask if you want it and she’ll name a price. The ring is worthless. SMILE give a firm NO THANK YOU and walk away.

Us Brits are just too polite. Learn to say NO.

Most of us are hard-wired to be polite on the street but they can use this against us. If someone approaches you with a map or asks directions, do not engage, say firmly, No Thank You and keep walking. Saying this in English is OK, but it can show you up as a tourist. No Thanks is far more effective in the native language.

Say No like a native

Learn how to say no like a local, practise saying it out loud and confidently, if you have a partner you can both do it on the drive to your destination, each time trying to sound more firm but courteous than your partner. Hopefully you’ll sound a little more convincing than Mickey Blue Eyes!

Various apps and sites will correctly pronounce phrases for you. Nein Danke, No Gracias, Non Merci, etc. Learn how to say it and practice it over and over in your firmest voice. This will not only reduce your risk of becoming a victim, you can use it with touts and beggars, etc.

Street Games

Finding the lady or the Pea

Just don’t get involved, as tempting as it is to watch, WALK ON BY. You might think you’ll be OK to just watch some other sucker get fleeced. But you could become a victim yourself.

As fun as it looks. Walk on by.

These games often end in raised voices and sometimes violence and this is the perfect distraction for you to have valuables stolen. No matter how much fun the “pea game” or “find the lady” looks; remember the people running these games are often nasty low-life. Walk right by and find your fun somewhere else.

Pigeon Poo

Or anything else, that someone points out is all over your jacket. These people have someone squirt some disgusting gunk on to you from above or behind. If this happens to you, just keep walking. That person trying to help you wants to steal your possessions.

Why would you let anyone help you take your jacket off? Why would you allow someone to help you clean up? You are not a child! They will insist, but you shouldn’t allow it. This is a common ruse, you are disgusted by the mess and distracted. If someone attempts to assist you and help you take your jacket off, guaranteed they’ll pick the pocket or steal the jacket.

No Touching

To pickpocket you, someone has to touch you. Never let anyone touch you. Even if they’re trying to help, Firmly respond with NO THANK YOU and walk away.

The Big Bump

In crowded city situations no matter how switched on you are, if someone collides with you for a moment you will be distracted, it won’t be a gentle nudge, it will be a collision.

Before you even realise what has happened, someone else will have bolted with your bag or other belongings after pick-pocketing you. So when out with the public, carry as few valuables with you as possible.

If all else fails and you are a victim.

If against all the odds you become a victim of crime, don’t lose everything and have your trip ruined.

You should limit any losses by splitting your valuables three ways. Share cards and cash between you and your partner with the other third stashed in the van. If travelling alone, still have three stashes, say one in a bag/rucksack, another in a separate wallet or purse in a pocket and then the last third hidden in the van.

So many people have everything of value stuffed in a partners handbag and then lose everything in one fell swoop. Holiday over, massive hassle begins.

Just being aware that these things might happen on the road or on the pavement makes you almost immune. Don’t be paranoid, just stay generally aware. Practice your NO GRACIAS… Keep driving or keep walking and leave the danger behind.

While you remain aware, keep a sense of perspective. Europe is one of the world’s safest and friendliest continents with far more kindness than crime.

TL;DR. Too long, Didn’t Read.

  • A relaxed awareness reduces the risk of becoming a victim
  • If someone approaches or talks to you, be aware, are you being distracted?
  • Never watch street games, walk past them.
  • Learn to say no thank you in the languages of the countries you are visiting.
  • Never have all your cash and cards in one bag or wallet.
  • Don’t be too paranoid. You are far more likely to be a victim of kindness.

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