All I had done was jaywalk – a simple harmless act of crossing the road in a place not allocated by the state for crossing – and a man in police uniform is shouting at me that I am going to spend a long time in jail if I don’t pay him £100. Next thing I know, I’m on the corner of an unknown street with my best friend crying and not knowing how or why we had just lost all we had to a man who, to the best of our knowledge, was a legitimate police officer.
Fortunately, as crime goes this was not the worst that could have happened. I could have been left at the side of the road with nothing at all, or worse I could have had my life threatened. Regardless of the impact of this crime, financially, this event shocked me and set me to thinking – what could I have really done? Is there a link between what happened to me and the type of travelling I was doing? Is there a particular genre of crime that me and my fellow travellers should protect against depending on where we are?
I came to the idea that the prevailing type of money-driven crime a traveller will be confronted with is likely to be linked with the economic state of the area that they’re in. So, imagine crime on a scale from petty theft of a few small notes out of your pocket to a major crime such as theft of hundreds of pounds, or worse, kidnapping.
The answers I came to were speculative and not tested. I wish to explain why I as an individual came to the conclusions and use this to give some advice, that is subject to your own interpretation and judgement.
In a deprived area – an area where there is a lack of education and an absence of expensive chain stores – it stands to reasoning that the crime you are likely to encounter will be low level. The people there are not going to have the desire to acquire a large amount of money in one go; because what do they have to spend it on? And even if they intended to steal a lot from you or kidnap you and hold you to ransom; if there is a lack of education where are the potential criminals to draw knowledge from to plan an elaborate crime? Therefore, I expect the crime one is likely to encounter will be on a level of false advertising and petty theft. A stolen camera or misplacing fifty dollars you needed for a wildlife tour will upset anyone, no crime is good, but it is unlikely to stop your travels and it hopefully won’t have knock-on effects in the future. The advice I would give here is of vigilance and forethought, it’s difficult for someone to swipe your camera if it’s always around your neck or in front of you. Likewise how can someone pickpocket your cash if you attach your wallet to a chain or string? Simple measures like this will go a long way and hopefully this will also give off the picture that you are well prepared and therefore, deter opportunistic thieves.
In a more well-off area the game changes. Perhaps you are in a capital, with a stronger education system and a lot of opportunity to spend and gain money. The crime a traveller would be likely to encounter is more on the severe organised crime end of the scale, as everyone is battling to reach the top and people are more well off initially. A criminal isn’t going to need a few dollars to help their weekly shop, what they are likely to be looking for is a quick fix that puts them above everyone else in terms of wealth or position. This said I would expect a higher frequency of crime on par with identity theft, kidnapping or major theft. In an area with better education, a complex scam that manipulates a person to part with a large sum of money (like the one I encountered) is far more manageable. So, what’s my advice for a place like this? Vigilance again is definitely key; however when I’m talking about the more serious crimes it’s important to have a plan of action and do some prior research. Also, in a situation where you are scared, it is good to have a plan and remain calm. For example, if you lose a passport in a capital city do not panic and cause alarm by posting a Facebook post telling everyone how you’re stranded, start by thoroughly checking every part of your luggage. When you’re certain it is gone find your embassy and they will help you.
Sadly, crime exists everywhere and it is not always driven by money like I have assumed in my article, what’s more is I have categorised crime according to the environment you’re in; whereas in truth all types of crime will happen wherever you are and I simply think the relative proportions of types will change. When travelling we put ourselves at risk, that is the price we pay in exchange for being able to enjoy a different country. So, the best advice I can give is to prepare beforehand by researching and finding out (from friends, family or the internet) the ways you can minimise the likelihood that you will be targeted, had I done this I may still be £100 richer.
Feature image by Sammie Burstow.