Thieves come in all shapes and sizes, from 5 year old kids to the elderly in wheelchairs. They have two major techniques, one is distraction and the other is the precise cut of a razor blade. This is why Colombians carry their backpacks in front of them i.e. chestpacks. Too many bags, straps, and fanny packs have been sliced without detection. The same is true for pocketbooks with a shoulder strap. You are just a quick slash away from losing it.
Distraction can be as simple as a bump or someone spilling a drink on you before noticing your watch and wallet are gone. Another favorite ploy is for a group of elementary school age children to approach asking for money. They poke, bump, smile and giggle. You may think how cute; such wonderful children before you realize they are picking you clean. They then run off in all directions leaving you embarrassed, confused, and swearing never to have children.
Another type of distraction is to intimidate, or see what you’re made of. Typically you will be walking and someone approaches, yelling like you killed their puppy. This tactic is to stop, intimidate, and embarrass you into giving them money to shut them up. This may also be another distraction to allow a partner to pick pocket you. The solution is to keep walking, waving them off like they’re idiots, while being tough and confident. They may follow and persist a short while, but hardly ever for more than a block.
Always conceal. Once in Cartagena, Colombia I found myself carrying $8500.00. It is a long but legal story. I can tell you, I didn’t carry that much money looking like a tourist. I had on local clothes, carried the wad in my deep front pocket with one hand on it and carried my third world weapon in my hand in the other pocket. I will discuss weaponry in a minute. With this much cash, I blended in with the crowd on the sidewalk and outpaced them slightly. By outpacing the crowd it is obvious if someone is trying to keep up with you and if they do catch up, stop, duck in a shop or put your back against the wall until they pass; then take other evasive action.
Walk in the middle of the sidewalk to avoid motorcycle bag grabbers on the street side and alley thieves on the other.
If you must carry a wallet, keep it deep in your front pocket. My method of carrying money is, I usually have (2) US20’s in one pocket (If robbed, this is all I would present to thieves, telling them that this is all I have.) I keep my credit card in the other front pocket, and (5) US20’s in my shoe. Some people prefer tight fitting money belts or a pouch type necklace worn under the clothing. Either is fine.
In the third world, the average pay is less than a dollar per hour. When a thief sees a huge Nikon camera, bulging back pockets, and a backpack, you might as well be carrying a big red, “I’m stupid. Rob me” sign. Think urban camouflage. Blend in, act like the locals, and travel light.
No jewelry or watches should be worn. For women who must wear jewelry, it is better to buy cheap local stuff. Some local things are very nice and it helps you look like a native.
Tools for self-defense are all around you. For starters, your fingers can be used for gouging eyes and for striking upwards on the nose. Probably the best weapon is a 6 inch long, 5/16 bolt that you can obtain anywhere. It is easily concealed in your pocket and it’s legal. This makes a nasty little puncture in the skull and will definitely put an eye out. If nothing else it will give you time to run. In most cases it is wise to run and avoid the police if at all possible. They have a nasty way of complicating things and will most always side with the locals. Welcome to the third world baby.
Note: The proper stance in a bolt offensive for a right handed person is: Legs spread apart with left foot forward. Your left open hand should be in front of your throat about 10 inches to protect your throat and carotid arteries. Your right hand will hold the bolt in your clinched fist thumb over the bolt head with the threaded end protruding out of the pinky side. You strike by pivoting the right foot forward, raking the threaded bolt end across the eye region, passing the head and stabbing at the temple region as you bring your hand back to repeat the blows. This is the proper knife stance also i.e. the blade end protruding out the pinky side.
Other easily obtainable, throw away items are long nail files, brushes or combs with handles, kitchen cutlery, pens, small metal flashlights (torches), and even a tightly rolled newspaper (poke someone in the face or solar plexus with this and you will get their attention.) Many US and European sporting goods and marine stores sell small, pocket sized air horns designed for one loud blast. These are very good for getting positive attention and disorientating a thief in public. There are many other items.