I considered myself to be fairly well-traveled. Most of my travels have been largely uneventful.   And that’s the way I like it.  However, I’d be remiss to not write about travel experiences that might be a little less …pleasant.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of traveling to London a number of times.  My brother even lived in West London for a period of time, so I got pretty decent at navigating around London.  I didn’t remember London Underground being a place where pick-pocketing is common.   And perhaps that was our first mistake.  We let our guards down when we visited last Fall to attend the Lavor Cup.

We got pickpocketed

More specifically, my mom did.  We were traveling from London Bridge station to Canary Wharf Station.  On the Jubilee line.  Eastbound.  Just 3 quick stops in all.

  • Bermondsey.
  • Canada Water.
  • Canary Wharf.

A 7 minutes journey.  And that’s all it took …to be pick-pocketed.

How It Unfolded

It didn’t dawn on me at the time, but I actually witnessed the entire setup.  We were traveling as a group so we watched out for each other, but the petty theft happened so quickly that it was too late by the time I realized what had happened.

I didn’t recall the the station being crowded, but I just remembered there was a rush of people trying to make their way to the train. I was checking in on my mom who trying to get to a pole to hold onto, but she got jammed into the crowd.  It “felt” like rush hour, but I realized it was by design in hindsight.  The group was crowding around their “target”.   I believe it was at a group of 4-5 people.  At the time, I thought we must have hit a busy stretch.  I was actually slightly relieved that my Mom won’t fall since she was packed in.

My brother pulled my mom closer to a space he created as soon as there was some space movement.  Next stop – the “group” exited.  It cleared out just as quickly as it got “packed”.  My mom didn’t even realize she had been pick-pocketed until we got off the train.  Her purse had been unzipped.  Her wallet was gone — cut from the the strap that’s tied to the purse.

The Aftermath

We reached an staff member for help and his advice was to report the incident to the British Transport Police (BTP).  He was sympathetic to our plight, but he wasn’t surprised. In fact, he let me know that that the pick-pocketing cases on the underground has been on the rise since the return from pandemic. He noted that at least it was just a wallet.  It could be worse.

We knew he was right.  That didn’t make it less upsetting, though.

It wasn’t a lot of money.  My mom didn’t carry much cash with her.   Her driver’s license and medical cards were in it. After we got back to the hotel, the wonderful staff at the Hilton at Canary Wharf helped us to file an initial report.  We then made a few more calls.  We were lucky that my Mom didn’t carry her passport with her.  Our flight back to the states was the following morning.

How to be avoid being a target?

The problem with being pick-pocketed isn’t just what was stolen.  It’s the:

  • Unsettling feeling of being targeted.
  • The worries of identity theft.
  • The loss of time taken from the trip to deal with the incident.

Yes, pickpocket is generally considered a “petty” theft.  It’s easy to say “don’t let it ruin your trip”, but it does.  It can make the trip a little less “relaxing”.   In fact, we saw the impact quite readily.

Our original plan was to take the tube on newer Elizabeth line to get back to the Heathrow airport very early the next morning.  My mom felt anxious and unsettled having been targeted and pick-pocketed, and didn’t feel comfortable riding the train again.  We scraped the original plan and we decided to cab it instead.

If you’ve been the victim subject of a pick-pocketing crime, know that you are NOT at fault.  Some of these pick-pocketers are stealthy and very experienced.

While the incident was not the key memory from the trip, it left an indelible taint to the an otherwise uneventful trip.  It’s unfortunate it has to be this way, but the general advice rings true:   Be aware of your surroundings and keep your valuables in front of you.

Your goal is to make it harder to become an easy target.