“Criminals are born, not made. Delinquency is a physiological abnormality.” So said Cesare Lombroso, Italian professor of forensic medicine and psychology, in 1875. After meticulous measurements as a sort of computerless biometrics, he described “the delinquent” as a “precise anthropological type” who could be recognized by his physical attributes. If only! From our descriptions and photos, you’ll see that rogues range from infants to the elderly, from the shifty-eyed to the doe-eyed. But for their inappropriate behavior and possibly a telltale “prop,” they’re all but impossible to pick out of a crowd.
Their modus operandi vary tremendously, too, and have become the basis for my own classification of street thieves. Those in the largest category, the opportunists, require a fool for a “mark.” That may sound a bit harsh, but opportunists are looking for an invitation to steal. Give them a bit of a challenge and you needn’t be their victim. They’re quick to distinguish the vigilant from the vulnerable.
Thieves in my next category, the strategists, are also easy to thwart. They create their own opportunities, and make participants of their victims. You, the savvy traveler, will simply refuse to participate.
Con artists make up my third category. To these, the victim willingly gives money for supposed value. But the victim here is driven by greed. He’s looking for a windfall, a deal too good to be true, inexplicable treasure fallen from heaven. For this victim, greed trumps reason and leads to loss.
I do not mention muggers. These are terrorist thieves who use violence or the threat of violence. Some are armed, or pretend to be armed, equally frightening to the victim. They’re crude, smash-and-grab desperadoes whose advantages are speed and isolation. We can only advise trying to avoid them by staying out of dark, isolated, and dangerous areas. Ask locals about no-go zones. We also recommend keeping easy “give-up” cash in your pocket, and submitting to their demands, whatever they are. Never resist a mugger.
For examples and methods, see Pickpockets, Con Artists, Scammers, and Travel.
Excerpt from Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams