Pickpockets can ruin your vacation in an instant
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Table of contents
According to the latest available statistics, by the end of August 2022, almost 7,000 victims of pickpockets had filed a report with the Amsterdam police.
However, the actual number of victims is much higher, as many people don’t even bother to file a report. Still, on average police in Amsterdam records 15 to 20 pickpocket reports a day. 1
Having your wallet and/or smartphone – or an entire bag or suitcase – stolen can ruin your vacation. You’ll need to find a way to get cash, replace your debit and credit cards, take care of the passwords and other private information on your phone, and possibly get a new passport and other identification.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.
First line of defense: Be vigilant. It can happen to you, too.
Underaged and/or Foreign Pickpockets
In recent years, Amsterdam has seen a sharp increase in underage pickpockets, who often operate in groups.
Police have arrested groups of children as young as 9 years old – many of them from Romania. Authorities believe the children are not acting on their own initiative.
Notable detail: In the Netherlands, children under the age of 12 cannot be prosecuted.
Romanian pickpockets are so over-represented in Amsterdam that police officers are flown in from Romania to help patrol the streets during recent King’s Day celebrations.
Statistics Netherlands (CBS) reports that nine out of ten pickpockets arrested in Amsterdam do not have a home address in the Netherlands.2
Money Belts and other anti-theft travel products
Almost everyone who has ever been a victim of pickpocketing thought that such a thing could never happen to him.
But it is not for nothing that countless travelers use money pouches and/or other anti-theft products.
Use one that is comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time, such as this money belt made of silk. Some cheaper products are so uncomfortable that you may be tempted not to use them the next day.
This belt features a sweat-resistant coated satin lining. You may not think you need that in a place like Amsterdam, but it does get hot and humid over here, and if you’re inclined to transpire while walking or bicycling you’ll appreciate the fact that the liner prevents your cash from being liquidated (so to speak).
Another option is an actual belt – designed to hold up your pants and to keep your money save – such as this Leather Men’s Leather Money Belt with Interchangeable Buckle
That said, even when using a money belt it is best not to carry large amounts of money on your person – especially if you expect to be out deep into the night. Trying to make your way back to the hotel – after a few drinks and perhaps a joint – you may well be an easy target for a mugger.
Note that money belts and pouches are usually meant for use as ‘long-time’ storage. You’ll want to keep a small amount of cash and a credit card on hand in, perhaps, a chained wallet.
We do not recommend the use of neck pouches — unless you get one that others like. Cheap models tend to be uncomfortable and are more easily spotted. Worse, you wouldn’t be the first person to have one ripped off your neck by a fast-footed opportunity thief.
Also check out these anti-theft bags.
Note: even if you have a bags with zippered compartments, be aware that pickpockets are very skilled at opening those zippers. If you do have zippered bags, at the very least make sure you secure the zippers with carabiners.
Insist on carrying your wallet in a back pocket? That’s asking for trouble. Buttons or zippers usually form no obstacle for thieves. However, securing your pockets with strips of sewn-in velcro usually is quite effective.
By the way, we sometimes get asked this question: Why should I use a money belt or other anti-theft device when the locals apparently do not use them?
Answer: As a tourist you cannot help but stand out. Thieves target tourists because the latter usually carry large amounts of cash.
Do you carry debit- or credit cards with embedded RFID chips? A convenient feature of such cards is that you can pay small amounts by merely swiping the card past a pay terminal.
Reportedly, some thieves make use of that same technology by swiping handheld devices along pockets and handbags in the hope of quickly withdrawing small amounts from such cards.
For that reason many people make sure to use RFID-blocking wallets.
What to do if you have been robbed
If you have become a victim of petty theft, such as pickpocketing or purse-snatching), you will need to find a police station, where you can report the crime. Just ask a local person for the nearest one.
Politie (police) says:
See also, Reporting a Crime: What Happens Next? (pdf)
Many older guidebooks suggest that you should contact ATAS — Amsterdam Tourist Assistance Service — at Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal. However, that service no longer exists.
If you can bring someone along to interpret for you, by all means do so. Quite often the myth that ‘everyone in Amsterdam speaks English’ comes to a screeching halt when confronted by a bunch of police officers who can’t (or won’t) speak it well enough to be of any use.
The process of filing a report can be quite tedious. Just keep in mind that you need a copy of the report for your insurance company.
If your identity papers were stolen, contact your embassy or consulate.
If your credit cards were stolen, follow your bank’s instructions.
Besides tiny pickpockets and blunt-force muggers there’s another phenomenon you will have to take into account. In recent years, many tourists (and a few locals) have been mugged by policemen. Fake policemen, that is.
Newspaper reports generally state that these folks – dressed up in uniforms ordered new or second-hand online – hail from such countries as Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, and the Ukraine. But as a tourist yourself, you may not know the difference between them and the real cops (especially when you take into consideration that Holland is a multi-cultural society).
These fake cops want to see your wallet — usually just after you have withdrawn money from an ATM or changed cash at a currency exchange). They tell you they are investigating a fake money scam, and that they want to make sure you have not just received counterfeit bills.
If this happens to you, rest assured that you are about to be separated from your money.
Here’s what you should do:
- Do not even show your wallet
- Yell for help. Draw lots of attention to yourself.
- Ask locals to call the police.
- After the scare: go ahead, drink a pint or two. Just as long as you don’t enter any dark alleys when you’re done.
Fake TV — Scam City Amsterdam broadcast was a Scam
If you’ve seen the Amsterdam edition of Scam City, presented by Conor Woodman and broadcast by National Geographic, you have essentially been scammed.
Scam City used paid actors to act as criminals.
Conor Woodman says that in all of his travels, Amsterdam has been “one of the darkest places I’ve visited.”
It’s a lot less dark now that he is gone.
Plus… Anti-Pickpockets Police
April 24, 2014: the anti-pickpocketing team of the Amsterdam police force has been declared “Law Enforcement Unit Of The Year” by the International Association of Financial Crimes Investigators (IAFCI).
In 2014 the anti-pickpocketing team of the Amsterdam police force was declared “Law Enforcement Unit of the Year” by the International Association of Financial Crimes Investigators (IAFCI). 3
The team, whose members take turns to reduce the risk of being detected, is often on duty downtown.
Self-proclaimed Boevenspotter (Crook Spotter) Jaime van Gastel watches and films pickpockets and shoplifters as his “hobby.” His Boevenspotter YouTube channel (88,000+ subscribers) shows how he catches crooks in the act.
By that time, he has already used his private hotline with the anti-pickpocket team — and of course he sticks around to record the arrests. To date, he has been involved in over 1500 arrests. 4
This article was first published on January 21, 2007. It is kept up-to-date by Anton Hein.
- Zakkenroller terug van weggeweest: let op je telefoon, Telegraaf, August 26, 2022. ↩
- Ruim helft verdachten pleegde delict in woongemeente, Centraal Bureau Statistiek, March 30, 2017 ↩
- Internationale prijs voor zakkenrollersteam, AT5, April 24, 2014 ↩
- Ryan Claus, Jagen op zakkenrollers met de Boevenspotter, Nieuwe Revu, June 24, 2022 ↩
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