Buenos Aires: How Not to Get Robbed (Part One)

Gringo in Buenos AiresHacking Buenos Aires6 Comments

Buenos Aires is, unfortunately, a pretty easy city to get robbed in. Shock! I know. It’s quite a revelation. The number of expat or tourist forum and blog posts dedicated to the topic is pretty staggering; you’d think that every single foreigner who ever set foot in Buenos Aires had been robbed at least once.

That’s undoubtedly not the case, but still there’s no denying that the thieves in Buenos Aires are both plentiful and good at their jobs. In 2006, then-First Daughter Barbara Bush was robbed while eating at a restaurant in San Telmo (her purse and cell phone were stolen) despite being surrounded by a detail of Secret Service agents. You just have to respect those kinds of skills!

Anyway, in this article we’ll take a look at the five most common ways for people to get robbed in Buenos Aires, and for each give you a plan so that it won’t happen to you (or so that your losses will be minimal if it does.

Pick pocketry

For as long as people have had pockets there have been pickpockets. Picking pockets is popular because it’s non-violent, doesn’t create a scene, and usually there’s plenty of time for the perpetrator to get away if they don’t pull it off.

Like magic, pick pocketing often relies on misdirection. In other words, you don’t notice that a hand is going into your pocket and your wallet is coming out because your attention is on something else.

Pickpockets, particularly less skilled ones, often operate in crowded areas such as markets and on trains and buses. In a crowded environment you won’t think it’s weird if someone jostles you – which is a misdirection technique (you don’t feel the hand in your pocket because you’re focusing on the fact that someone is trying to push past you).

Pickpockets often carry a jacket or a newspaper with then so that they can cover one arm and hide what they’re doing from other people.

Note that while it’s called pick pocketing, often the target is your handbag or the front pocket of your backpack.

Here’s how not to get pick pocketed:

-In places like markets, on trains and buses, at subte stations, and any other commercial area where there’s a crowd, be on your guard. Whenever you’re in a crowd, keep one hand on your wallet/money and the other covering the zipper of your bag. If you wear a backpack or messenger bag, bring it around to the front of your body when you’re on the bus or subte.
-Don’t carry your wallet in the back pocket of pants or jeans unless they close with a button AND you’re in the habit of doing that button up (it’s easy to forget). It’s much better to use the front pockets of pants or jeans, inner pockets of jackets, and the breast pockets on shirts. Whenever you put your wallet or cash into a pocket, think about how hard or easy it would be for someone to pick pocket you, and move it if necessary.
-For maximum security, get a wallet with a chain that attaches to a belt loop. Or, carry a dummy wallet with fake/cancelled credit cards and a minimal amount of cash in an obvious pocket, and stash your real cards and money in a more secure pocket.

The ride-by

The ride-by is a hugely popular way to rob people in Buenos Aires. It works like this: the victim is walking along on a reasonably quiet sidewalk. They’re either talking on their cell phone or swinging a handbag. Suddenly the perp rides up from behind on a bicycle or moto, snatches the goodies, and rides off. He has transport, so there’s no way the victim will catch the perp even if they react fast enough.

The thieves who use motos are known locally as ‘motochorros’ and bicycles ‘bici-chorros.’ Note that if a moto is used the ride-by is often a two-man job: one to steer and one to grab the stuff.

Here’s how you beat the ride-by:

-When walking and carrying a handbag, wear it across your body so that it’s impossible to wrench off your arm.
-Walk nearer to the building than the road-side of the sidewalk, and keep handbags and phones on the building side of your body.
-If you insist on using a cell phone that you can’t afford to lose, never take it out of your pocket in public; use a cheap hands-free kit (not a Bluetooth headset) instead.

The café snatch

The café snatch is simplicity itself: the victim is sitting down at a café (or a bar or restaurant), perhaps at an outdoor table, and the perp grabs the victim’s handbag, backpack or laptop and runs off. By the time the victim gets up and starts to give chase, the perp is long gone.

One reason that the café snatch works is that the perp has plenty of time to plan what they’re going to do from a discreet distance, and the other reason is that the victim is sitting down and distracted (eating, drinking, talking to a friend, surfing the internet, people-watching etc.).

Here’s how not to be a victim of the café snatch:

-If you have a handbag with you at a café, keep it in your lap while you’re sitting down.
-If you have a bag that’s too large for your lap, or if you have to put your handbag on the ground, put your leg through a straps so that the strap it’s resting somewhere above your knee, or use the clips that some places have under the tables.
-If you want to use your laptop at a café, sit inside (never outside) and choose a quiet corner where it would be hard for someone to snatch it and run off. Or go to Starbucks instead (they have security guards).

(Guide continued in Part Two)