Athens Pickpockets

Athens Metro

The difference between having a really good time and not having a really good time takes no longer than a rapid blink of an eye and sixteen good days in Greece were swept away in an instant when a pickpocket struck on the Athens metro and in that awful moment all of the hospitality and friendship that we had enjoyed on the islands disappeared in a cloud of anger, resentment and mistrust.

I have always considered Greece to be an honest and safe place and Athens has always been regarded as a city where stealing from tourists was unheard of, where people can be trusted and it isn’t necessary to take the same precautions as you would for example in Barcelona or Rome but what I know now, but didn’t at the time, is that the Trip Advisor web site places Athens in the top ten places in the World for pickpockets.  It seems that now Greece is in the EU and all sorts of undesirables are arriving in town that this is no longer the case.

It was the last day of the holiday and we had spent a good day in the Greek capital, visited the Acropolis Museum enjoyed the buzz of the Plaka and had a final meal before collecting our bags and making our way back to the airport.  This was the fourth year of taking the metro and I have never felt uncomfortable or unsafe in any of the previous three years but this time something was different.

Syntagma station was busy and felt edgy and when the train arrived we had to force our way onto unusually crowded and uncomfortable carriages.

As soon as we I got on board I knew something was wrong.  At the very last moment a group of three or four young men rushed onto the train causing mayhem and confusion and pushing and shoving and moving other legitimate passengers around.  In the melee we were separated so couldn’t watch out for each other and I knew instinctively that something was going to happen in that carriage.  In hindsight it is easy to see that we had been targeted, we had been on holiday, we were off our guard, weighed down with bags and the way that Kim was looking after her bag made it obvious that there was something inside that she would prefer not to lose.

One man stood by the door but then I sensed that he was determined to stand next to me and he pushed in and stood so close I could smell his body odour and it was most unpleasant.  I knew what he was doing but luckily for me I was wedged in a corner so I gripped my wallet in my pocket in a vice like white knuckle grip and turned away from him so that he couldn’t get a hand to my right side where my wallet and my camera were.  He knew he was rumbled, gave up and moved on pushing and shoving the other passengers as he went.

Kim was stranded in the middle of the carriage but I could see that she was clutching her handbag tight to her chest and I felt reassured that she too was being extra careful.  Suddenly I noticed that she was bothered by something and was examining her ring.  One of the thieves had placed a bit of wire around the stone and had pulled it so hard that it had bent the ring and it had hurt her finger.  She said that at the time she thought it had been caught in a zip or a strap from someone’s bag but this must be a well practised diversionary tactic because at the moment she reacted he managed somehow to open the zip of the bag and remove the first thing that he found.  All of this happened so quickly and at the next stop they were gone and so was Kim’s camera.

Thinking about it now, what surprises me is why they would target people who were so obviously on their way home, suntanned, grubby and footsore and with all money spent on the islands, surely it would be more lucrative to rob people on the way out!  This reminded me of the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when they were guarding a payroll delivery – ‘No one is going to rob us on the way down – we haven’t got any money on the way down!’

Apparently the Athens metro has become notorious for thieves so wouldn’t you think the police would do something about it, these guys are so easy to spot and it’s a certainty that haven’t got a ticket.  Instead they prefer to swagger about like peacocks around Monastiraki and the Plaka and being completely ineffective.

The Foreign Office web site now advises “Most visits to Greece are trouble-free, but you should be aware that the tourist season attracts an increase in incidents of theft of wallets, handbags etc. particularly in areas and events where crowds gather”.  I can’t imagine that this is good for tourism and I am surprised that Greece isn’t tackling this problem and cracking down hard on offenders but it seems that it isn’t a priority.

I suppose it might have been worse, the thief didn’t get her purse or our passports that were also in the bag and without those we would have had an extra night in Athens to endure but for Kim the loss of her camera with all of her holiday memories was a real Greek tragedy.  Even the camera was unimportant except for the little chip inside with over seven hundred pictures that cannot be replaced.  I know that this has hurt her badly, she rarely mentions the holiday now, can’t bring herself to look at my very similar pictures and I wonder if next year she will even feel like returning to Greece which until this incident has always been our favourite place.

I console myself with the thought that hopefully the thief wasn’t a Greek and he was disappointed to only get a camera when he probably hoped he had stolen a purse.  I hope he develops a horrible incurable disease and has a short, painful and miserable life (preferably behind bars) and when he finally dies and gets to Hell (as surely he will) I hope he has to spend eternity in a cold damp corner with his head in a bucket of dog shit!

http://www.bootsnall.com/articles/09-06/athens-in-your-pockets.html

Kim with camera

5th November 2012 Ekathimerini:

“A total of 42 people have been arrested on suspicion of being members of a gang of pickpockets who targeted passengers on the Athens metros and electric railway.

Police said that the suspects, of various nationalities but mostly Romanian and Albanian, were arrested on Tuesday. They allegedly targeted elderly passengers and women at stations, usually between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.

The suspects are accused of carrying out over the last six months 208 thefts of wallets and valuables, which they sold in Monastiraki and Thisseio.”

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23 responses to “Athens Pickpockets

  1. Athens was a tricky place for scams and pickpockets thirty-five years ago, and I expect it’s been going on since before the Parthenon was built.

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  2. Hello there, i’mn really sorry to hear your story of being pickpocketed on the Athens Metro.Last year, i too had my wallet stolen after being distracted by a British couple who wanted directions.They were not involved but in hindsight i can see how it happened.The sickening thing was that i have independently travelled Greece on numerous occasions over the past twenty years and i guess i had got a little too relaxed and complacent.My camera card was the worst loss as i had spent much time taking images as photography is a longstanding hobby.I agree with you that more effort needs to be made by the Greek Police.They were very courteous and helpful at Syntagma Police station but it is obvious that the Greek Tourist Board plays down this problem – they always have!
    So, you’re not on your own and i am now much more careful with money, cards etc.
    Regards, Mark G

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    • I mistakenly thought Greece was a place of lofty ideals and high moral values, sadly I was wrong and I will never trust Athens again. I will always take care not to to be violated again in this way by Greek bandits!

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  3. After my boyfriend’s whole bag got stolen last Thursday at the end of our trip, I thought I’d google “pick-pockets in Athens” and your story is quite similar to ours, in particularly with the camera part with 2000 pics…His whole bag was stolen with passport, wallet, DSLR camera with 3 lenses, etc. …since it was also the end of our trip of touring the three islands (Mykonos, Santorini and Rhodes), all our precious pictures are gone…as you said, they are irreplacable and priceless.
    The day after, on our way in the metro to take the bus to the airport, I also nearly got pickpocketed. Thank god my boyfriend stopped the woman who was slowly opening the zipper of my bag. Otherwise both of us would have been left with nothing.
    It just left us with such a distaste of the people. The entire trip we enjoyed the places but Greeks were really poor behaved with ill-mannered behaviour. In Athens when this happened, no one was helpful including the police. The police were totally appeared unconcerned and were extremely inefficient. At the end, the only “useful” thing they provided was the theft report that my boyfriend needed for getting a travel document at the German embassy. There was a German couple there who had a similar story to yours. The joke is those worked at the station said we could not view the cameras set up at the Piearus train station!!! We needed a speical permission from Omonia station. What a joke! This woman was saying what is the point of looking at the camera because our bag is gone! Well then MONITOR the cameras for god’s sake. I bet the dishonest Greeks just put those cameras there for show. Another sickening part is the pushing of responsibilities. I spotted a police on my desperate way when this first happened and was trying to get him to help. After 10 mins, he told me he was only a traffic police and I needed to go to a police station! The only nice person was a soldier who called the cops to take us. These 4 cops stepped out of the car and looked unconcerned and just asked us some questions. After 10 mins, they said they were only here to drive us to the police station! This is the biggest joke ever.
    We think the thieves worked in a pair to steal his bag. I was in line getting metro tickets and this woman behind me was abnormally close – I could hear her breathing. After all the queue irritations from Greeks in the whole trip, I was just like ” what is your problem?”. Then that distracted my boyfriend so he approached me to make sure I was fine. He was only 3 steps away from his bag and it was gone. Of course we blamed ourselves for leaving the bag unattended for a few seconds and there are so many “should have’s and could have’s…” It’s such a pity that all the beautiful pictures of our trip are gone…
    My last tirp to Athens 2 years ago I already found Greeks unhelpful with general tourist needs but this time was horrible. I will never go to Athens ever again.

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  4. Pingback: Greece 2009 – Athens, from Elgin to pickpockets, a city of thieves « Have Bag, Will Travel

  5. Arriving in Athens for the first time last March, I had my wallet lifted on the metro as we got up to exit at Syntagma Station . It was the block the way – bump into the unwary tourist routine, two or three people involved, never felt a thing. My wife and I were walking down the platform to the exit when a thirtyish man came up to us from behind and handed me my wallet, then dispappeared into the crowd. I thought this was very strange since my wallet was in my pocket, or so I thought. I thanked him and opened the wallet up, thinking I must have dropped it somehow and discovered that the three brand new 100Euro notes that I had foolishly put there were gone, but everything else was intact, credit card, driver’s licence, atm card, even a Canadian $20 bill, which the culprits obviously didn’t know was worth more than an American 20 at the time. It didn’t wreck our trip losing the money, I just spent a lot less than I otherwise would have.If you are coming into Athens you might want to take a cab from the airport to your hotel – it could cost a lot less than having your wallet stolen. In the city use a money belt at all times and don’t wear jewellery or a watch anymore expensive than a cheap Timex or Casio. Another tip is to put a couple of wide elastic bands around your wallet if you carry it in a pocket, with your spending money in it- makes it harder to remove surrepticiously.

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    • Sorry to hear about your bad experience. What surprises me most of all is that the police authorities seem to do very little to tackle what is evidently an epidemic on the Athens Metro. Thanks for the good advice! Andrew

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  6. all those thiefs are romanians ,bulgarians and albanians…the best way to avoid pickpockets is to have a moneybelt under your clothes……….rome ,barcelona,paris and most european cities,face the same problem of pickpockets

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  7. My husband and I cam to Athens this morning, we took metro from airport to Monastiraki station. On the way out of the train I was pushed as a young man was trying to take my hand bag, my husband is lighter for over E 300 from his side pocket. Police didn’t bother to take our names but they were sorry…I guess.

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  8. Yes, it is a very dangerous place. I am tall and somehow, with God’s help, managed to keep balance otherwise I would have finished on the floor on the train. This is our second day in Athens and all I can say is that I am so stressed and can’t fully enjoy. Everyone looks suspicious even though our money and medication is in hotel’s safe but I still wear the handbag I got from my daughter and son in law and I want to go home carrying it on my shoulder. We are going to Mykonos on Saturday and I really hope we will be able to relax. Can’t wait to get back home, honestly!

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  9. I will tell you about my horrible experience in Greece. We are from Romania and three years ago, me and my husband decided to spend our honeymoon in Athens ( I had big expectations about Greece, but in the end I was very dissapointed). At the airport in Athens, on our way back home, we took our sight from our luggage, for 2 minutes, and when we turned back, my purse and my husband’s backpack were missing. We had everything there, except our documents and our only key car. We were only sorry for the many photos on the dslr camera. We haven’t got any single photo from our honeymoon. Of course the police didn’t do anything, I m sure that was because we are Romanians and Romanians are all put in the same “bucket”( thieves, gypsies, etc, but we aren’ t all the same). I don’t even want to hear of Athens in my life, it was an awful experience. I had nightmares like 2 weeks. In conclusion, like a piece of advice, watch your luggage wherever you are! Thieves are everywhere!!

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  10. Yesterday morning as we left Athens for the airport we both were robbed of our purse and wallet. This left us stranded with no cash or credit cards, no help from the police or the embassy. We had our passports so were able to fly home but we are stuck in Stansted with no money or cards to go anywhere and had a day without food or drink! I don’t know how long it will take to sort out the lost cards, driving licence and other important documents, nor what damage they can do to us by identity theft. It’s been a hard lesson and we were being extremely careful. They just surround you and push, shove and even grope to make you take your hand off your bag. Altogether a terrible experience and we both feel sick and don’t know where it will end!

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    • I am sorry to hear that. This is exactly what happened to us. Kim and I were separated and she was surrounded and robbed. I was lucky because I was pushed into a corner where I could protect myself. The police were hopeless.One before, in Barcelona, I was robbed and the thief took my wallet and somehow managed to go on a spending spree even without a PIN no. Luckily I got all of my money back from the banks.

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  11. Sorry to hear that Andrew! We knew about the pick-pocketing but never ever thought they would get both of us at the same time. We were being careful but you simply can’t defend yourself against them, they are too forceful and very organised with their tried and tested tricks. When we arrived in Stansted to pick up our prepaid hire car they wouldn’t let us take it without the driving license or credit card. So we lost the booking fee, we lost the hotel we’d booked en-route home as we couldn’t get there, and were stranded in the airport. Eventually a family member got us into a hotel paying with their credit card, but only an expensive one was available. The next day we went into the nearest town and managed to withdraw money from our banks and had to get an expensive train ride home. So the costs just keep stacking up of all of the incidental costs as well as the money that was stolen. The only advice I can give to people is not to get into a packed train, don’t push past anyone who appears to be barring your way out (use another door if possible) and spread cards and money around your person and bags as securely as possible. Being stranded in Athens without any cash or cards is a horrible nightmare!

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  12. we are japanese couple and we just got back from santorini enroute athens. we were able to spend 2 days in athens and got robbed on our first day. my boyfriend kept my diamond ring worth 300k yen or 3k usd in his empty black wallet. when we went out to explore acropolis and plaka he brought the wallet and slid it inside his sling bag which was zipped (me not knowing). inside the bag are other stuff his main leather wallet which has cc, atms, license and yens and euros, rayban shades, international drivers licenses etc. we actually cant figure out where we were robbed. but upon seeing the photos and events we remember when we get out of the train in syntgma there were rush and crowd that made me and my bf separated i get out first he was left in the middle of the crowd when i looked back a girl picked a shades and recognized it was ours and got from her and said thank you. and we never realized something already happened.
    at first i told him why did he hanged the shades in front of his shirt it will def fall. but when we checked the photos i remember just when we got out of the hotel i saw the shades hanging in front of his polo shirt so i told him put it inside your bag and he even closed the zipper. thats when we realized that maybe when he was being robbed the thief was also aiming for the shades and slipped out of the robber’s hand or maybe when he was aiming for the wallet the shades came out of the bag. okey i know we are at first at fault here bec why on earth are we carrying a diamond ring. long story from that side but will not tackle that here. but its surprisingly how the thief’s hand reach to the bottom of the bag bec the black wallet was thin and small while my bf’s main wallet was the typical men’s wallet and it was a bit bulky. we were very terrified. we just discovered we lost the ring when we came back to the hotel in the middle of the night.good thing we both have travel insurance, the next day we asked the hotel for the police station address. they gave us a map and address of the nearest police station and when we walked to the station we were directed to different police station which they call tourist police station. the station was not packed with tourist just us and another couple. i am pissed off with the policeman who entertained us he was so unprofessional smoking in front of us and sipping his iced coffee. bec my bf came in the station first, he told me that, the greek police man told my bf “are you japanese fuck me”. i want to shout to his face a(&)(‘&(le . when the report he made had a wrong date, i told him this is wrong and told me its okey. i told him im sorry but you cannot lie in japan. visit us one day and you`ll see the difference. i controlled my temper bec of the fear of not getting out of the beautiful but unlovable athens. but one of the police who is placed in the front desk wears a uniform had a good english and professional. but others (maybe they are somewhat heads) are very unprofessional, big head and plain unhelpful. he was even so pissed bec of our report. i want to punch his face.

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  13. Some horrid stories there. This is about Athens, my brother had his phone and wallet stolen in Lisbon a separate days, my mum had her handbag stolen in Prague…….

    My wallet was pinched on an Athens bus by an African gang. Like you Andrew I had my hand vice like on my wallet in my front pocket as I hung on to a strap hanging from a rail on the bus designed to keep you stable as the trolley bus lurched around bends with my other hand. I was aware of the bunch of furtive looking guys. The sting came as we jolted to a halt at the next stop. I momentarily released my wallet grip to grab a pole to avoid going flying. A second or two later I put my hand back in my pocket but the wallet was gone. A group of Africans got off jostling people out of the way, obviously with my wallet and who knows what else with them. I got off at the next stop and rushed back hoping to at least find a wallet containing useless to thieves membership cards. No chance! The police just shrugged their shoulders when we reported the theft.

    I was livid at first. Their skill in lifting my wallet was amazing. Lesson learned – never get on crowded buses.

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    • There are some bad people about that’s for sure. I was robbed in Barcelona and that was another pickpocket who was a master of his trade. I was really angry and upset about it but after I got all of my money back through insurance I had to grudgingly admire his skill.

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