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Street Criminals in Turkey and How to Defeat Them

Ken Grubb

A street criminal picks the pocket of an unsuspecting victim.Street Criminals Blend In

Don't expect to be able to spot one. Thieves may dress like businessmen or women, or even tourists.


Pick pockets often work together, one creating a distraction while the other takes your belongings. Even children can be involved. One team member may work as a spotter, directing another to an inattentive target or unattended item of value. After a theft, the thief may pass the stolen item to another, so if confronted, or even searched, he or she won't have the stolen item on them.


Anywhere people are close together is a good place for a pickpocket or bag-snatcher to get close to you, unnoticed. You should be especially alert at tourist attractions and sporting or entertainment events, while riding buses, trams or other public transportation, and also when going through entranceways which cause people to bunch together.

Crowded bars and night clubs are also a popular place for thieves, since they can easily blend in and grab unattended jackets, purses, or anything else of value and slip out unnoticed.


A distraction may be anything from asking you a question, to bumping in to you, to spilling a drink or squirting a liquid on you. They can be created by a lone thief or a team. Some pickpocket teams even stage fights or dramatic chase scenes to draw a crowd and distract lots of people at the same time while another moves in from behind to pick pockets or snatch bags.

The Swarm

The swarm involves a group of people which suddenly accost you. It's sudden and usually dramatic, such as pleas for medical attention, money, or even directions. If you have a small child, they may show attention to your child to the point where you have to intervene, causing you to momentarily divert your attention from your bag.

The Lady in Distress

This technique is used for people driving at night. A well-dressed woman waives down your car. When you stop and open the door, several men jump from the bushes and take whatever is in it, and on you.

Women in Chadors

Female thieves in Chadors (the long, black shroud which covers women from head to toe) work in places like the interior of the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet, Istanbul, grabbing bags while the owner is gazing up at the architecture. Then they hide the bag under the chador while and make their getaway. Women who do this are professional thieves in disguise, not pious Muslims.

Pick Pocketing and Bag Slashing

Rather than picking pockets, some thieves use a razor to slash your pocket, or the outer pockets of day packs. Even if it's your trousers pocket, you probably won't feel it being slashed or your wallet being removed.


Don't think you're smarter than they are. Professional thieves spend years learning and practicing what they do, as well as how people behave and how to spot a potential victim. Don't expect to be able to feel it when a pickpocket strikes--you probably won't.

Be a Hard Target. Pickpockets and bag snatchers are after the easiest targets. The more difficult you make it for them, the more chance they will pass on you and target someone easier. If you need to relax, read something, or make a mobile phone call, do so in place where you are protected by your surroundings.

Don't have valuables on you in the first place. Put anything you don't need in your hotel room safe, or in the safe at hotel reception. Don't wear expensive jewelry or carry large sums of money around.

Make your valuables difficult to access. At minimum, move your wallet from your back pocket to a front one. Use a money belt, or a neck pouch, and wear it inside your clothing. Don't keep valuables in a waist-worn pouch, since the strap can be easily and quickly cut. Strap purses and cameras diagonally across your body rather than hang them on your shoulder. Keep a hold on your bag or camera, in front of you. Wear day packs in front.

Be situationally aware, and have a plan in advance. Pay attention, and know when you are in a place where you are vulnerable to pickpockets or bag snatchers. While there, keep an eye on what's happening around you. Situate yourself so your back is against a wall. If you are a hard target, pickpockets and bag snatchers will pass you by for a softer one. Situational awareness will also help you anticipate a swarm, so you can get out of the situation or better secure your valuables before it happens.

Don't hang bags on the backs of chairs at restaurants, cafes, or bars. If you are seated next to shrubbery, thieves will even reach through them to grab your bag. Some shops sell bag hangers, which allow you to hang your bag from the table, in front of you.

Mobile phones. Don't lay your mobile phone on a table at restaurants, cafes and bars. It just takes a few seconds to put it in your pocket or take it out again. When talking on a mobile phone in public, don't get so engrossed in the conversation that you are not paying attention to what's going on around you. It's better to walk in to a secure place and have your conversation there.

What To Do If You Are Targeted

Make a scene. Shout hırsız (her-sooz), meaning thief, or yankesici (yahn-keh-see-jee) meaning pickpocket. Or just start shouting in English, anything to attract the attention of others.

Point at the person who took your belongings. Don't try to apprehend the thief, since street criminals often carry knives. Turkish men are often ready to intervene and help you in such situations, so it may just happen that a Turk will grab the thief for you before he gets away.

If you are swarmed, make a lot of noise to attract attention. Grab hold of anything of value, pick a gap between the group and push quickly through it, Keep moving and keep making noise. If you just sit there, nobody will even know you need help.

If a sudden distraction like a dramatic scene or fight occurs, make sure you have a firm grip on your bag and keep an eye on what's happening behind you. Move somewhere else, preferably to a place where your back is against a wall.

See Also

Crime, Safety, and Terrorism in Turkey Forum: Please visit and join our forum if you have any questions about this topic.

Ken Grubb, author.

As a special investigator for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and teacher for the University of Maryland, Ken Grubb has lived and worked in Turkey since 1997. He now lives in Antalya, where he researches and writes guides to help others live skillfully in Turkey.


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