Losing my shit in Athens: A pickpocketing tale
I should count myself lucky to have completed so many travels already without any dramas. But on the second and last days in Athens I had not one, but three pickpocketing-related incidents. It tarnished my experience of the city and caused quite a panic. I made it out okay in the end. Here’s my story.
Over the last two years, I’ve travelled to plenty of countries, without incident – until a few weeks ago in Athens. In the space of 24 hours I had three pickpocketing situations.
On the walk to the Acropolis: two guys, one pretending to be a tourist with a map. On the walk I get the feeling someone is trailing me closely and then I turn around and a person’s arm was reaching into my bag (which I didn’t remember being open). They pretend they were looking at something and then walk off. I count myself lucky.
Syntagma Square: I see the same two jerks in the square later that afternoon and notice one following a couple. I get curious and follow him for a bit and then see straight in front me (and the police) him reaching into the woman’s handbag and grabbing her phone. I run over screaming with arms flailing (startling her accidentally) and he gives the phone back before taking off again. She’s thankful and I’m glad I could have helped.
On the train to the airport: they got me 🙁 . It’s an 8am train, there’s only one route, the train is packed and I’m struggling with my luggage. A couple with a wheelie bag (pretending they were going to the airport too; they were also operating with a third person) jam me near the doors. I’m stuck, one lady is saying things to me in Greek, the couple won’t move, pretty sure someone was holding my strap and in all the chaos my wallet gets lifted from my short pocket. They get off at the next station and only then it does it all click. With no reception for another 40min due to Athens metro I can’t even get onto cancelling my cards. No one in the train seems particularly bothered by it all and one woman (I think) is implying I should have been more careful. Gah!
What I should have done: got off the train at the next stop and starting mobilising the plan – to get all the cards cancelled. Trains are frequent so it’s not like I was going to be that delayed. On the plus side – I had something organised should something like this ever happened. I had photos of all the cards in my wallet, so I knew exactly what went went lost and the order of priority.
What I actually did: scream, cry and faint a little whilst hoping for some sympathy. I picked myself up eventually and get onto the work.
What’s in the wallet
The money cards: My Monzo card had no funds on it, so I didn’t need to freeze. For whatever reason, this is the ONLY card they tried to use. They attempted a purchase of €450 which obviously declined. Ha!
The Monzo App (ugh, which I didn’t have installed in the new phone yet) lets you freeze the card at the touch of a button. A call to the helpdesk got a replacement sent over via Express courier (2-3 days) and this was amazing! I was fortunate to be traveling with my friend Joey who could pay for things in the meanwhile, but I’d be rather screwed without cash or card. One suggestion was to find my bank (HSBC) and get some emergency funds that way. Not sure what to do if it that wasn’t in the country I was in.
HSBC and Halifax – you can cancel these cards online (or via their apps). I gave them both a call afterwards to double confirm and cry a little more. Halifax’s replacement card policy is TERRIBLE. They can only send to the address on the account, for me that’s the one in the UK. They can’t send to temporary addresses so there was no chance of getting it in Singapore (unless I first changed the address and then ordered a replacement blah blah), so I’ve stopped using them since then.
The four other cards were the: BRP, EIHC, driver’s license and student card. The BRP is one of the slowest things to get replaced, so it could have been disastrous. Since I wasn’t heading back to the UK it wasn’t going to be an issue. Phew! The other three are all insignificant and can be replaced, at a cost.
I’m sure the majority of people here are great and I still enjoyed my time in Athens and Greece. Zipped pockets/ safety pins could have saved me (or wallet placed elsewhere) so I’ll know to be more vigilant in the future. Since this point, I haven’t travelled with a wallet and it’s been a pleasant change. My money belt feels more secure and I feel like less of a target.
It’s comforting knowing the banks are so ready should something like this happen to someone, all the cancellations were easy and fast. A special shoutout to Monzo for their friendly and responsive service and actually being able to get a replacement in a matter of days. I’m definitely using them for the remainder of the trip.
This story is just a light warning for anyone heading that way, since the number of incidents in such a short space of time was shocking.