Here’s another humble “stupid traveler” confession, and I share our stories in the hope that it will help other travelers. Last year, I lost my wallet and this year, it happened to my husband. This happened within an hour of our arriving in France, and here’s how it went down:
We arrived from the US and walked to the St. Augustin train station with a carry on and rolling back pack. Having had my wallet lifted last year, I was ready. My purse was a handbag version of a bank transfer truck, only it wasn’t armed. I had a cross body with a heavy strap, compartments with zippers and Velcro, a buckled outside flap that I carried backwards so that the buckle wasn’t exposed, and I even had my money/credit card pouches attached to a key fob inside the innermost compartment of my purse. I separated my credit cards and cash in separate zip pouches, and I was as good to go as I could be. My husband however, is a guy and thinks I over react. I know how good these pickpockets are, but until it happens to you, it’s easy to think you can handle it.
We arrived at the St. Augustin train station, and my husband pulled out his wallet and offered me a credit card. Why? Neither of us know, and this was our first mistake. I had my cards and said I was okay, and customarily, he put his wallet in his back pocket. That was the second big mistake. Men, don’t carry your wallet in your back pocket. At the station, I had noticed a few men sitting along the wall and after we entered the platform, I saw one of them standing close to us. I was uneasy, but wasn’t sure that I wasn’t being paranoid. Travelers, be paranoid and trust your instincts. On the St. Augustin platform in the direction of Monte Carlo, there is almost a two foot (higher than my knee) distance between the platform and the first step on to the train. When the guy offered to help my husband lift our bag onto the train car, I thought, “Maybe, he’s not so bad and it’s me.” This was a naive, over trusting rationale. After the bag was in the car, the guy squeezed between my husband and the door frame and disappeared. In hindsight, we think he used the motion of lifting the bag onto the train to push up my husband’s wallet into his hand. Within a few minutes, we realized that my husband’s wallet was gone, and from here, I want to share our experience in how one card was used and how we got replacement cards.
Everyone knows to cancel their cards ASAP, and we started doing this on the train to Villefranche sur Mer, about a fifteen minute ride from the Nice St. Augustin station. We were on this quickly. We started with our American Express cards (2) and our debit card, and these were okay. However, we had a new Chase Chip card and while we were on the phone with the Chase agent on our walk from the VF train station to our hotel, the person (people?) who had lifted the wallet used the Chase Chip card. This happened first at the train station at what appeared to be the automated machine and shortly thereafter, at an electronics store. This all showed up as we talked to the Chase agent walking from the VF train station to our hotel in harbor. We had a US Chip card without a PIN (all that is available at this time in the US), and I’m thinking that he was testing the card at the station before moving to the electronics store. The charge at the station may have been below a charge the required a pin. After the electronics store, the thief then tried to use the card several more times, but it had been shut down. This is just a theory, but I think the chip card may have been easy for the thieves to use because it looks like a card that someone who lives locally might use. American credit cards are magnetic strip only, and in the wrong hands, trying to use one of these might raise suspicions. The chip is the only card that was ever attempted to be used on both sets of cards that we lost on this and last year’s trips. Thanks to our Chase’s fraud protection, we are not being held responsible for the charges on our chip card, but it’s still creepy. Lesson learned? First, don’t get pickpocketed and second, if you have a chip card, cancel that one first.
We needed replacement cards and here’s that story: As long as my husband I were traveling together, one set of cards would have seen us through our trip, but he was traveling on business and on to Paris while I stayed in the Cote d’Azur. He needed replacement cards ASAP and our credit card companies got it done. I’m writing this from our experience in the Cote d’Azur, but I would think that the process will be similar in other parts of France. Here is some good to know information:
1) The American Express office at the Nice airport, terminal 2, can emboss a temporary replacement card and for us, this happened via the Paris AE office. We called the AE number on the back of my card and for our new cards, they sent approval through the AE Paris office to the Nice airport office. This was completed within a few hours from when we started the process at the airport. What we got was a generic card (not “Sky Miles,” “Corporate,” or whatever), but it was fine. In other parts of France, I’m thinking that the AE office can direct you to an office that can emboss a card.
2) As American Express is not accepted everywhere, travelers need to also carry a Visa or Mastercard, and we needed a Chase (or other card) replacement. Chase sent us a new chip card within three business days, and I would think other US national banks could do the same. Our hotel in Villefranche accepted the delivery and my husband was good to go.
If pickpocketing happens to you, make a police report. You need this for your own documentation and to help to French police establish pattern. They hate that this happening as much as you do. A report is easy to file at a city police station where it’s done by computer, and branch offices (such as the one at the airport) take more time.
So, that’s my confession, and I hope this helps someone else avoid a problem. A taxi from the Nice airport to Villefranche is starting to look not so expensive, and I think I now have my husband’s attention on how we need to take this seriously. Don’t assume anything about your ability to stop these guys if you carry your money and credit cards as you might do when you your are not traveling. Men, no wallets in your back pockets and ladies, leave your cute designer purses at home. That said, we’ve traveled to France annually since 2000, and we’ve only had these two experiences. My husband travels to Europe more frequently than I do and this is his first experience with a pickpocket. Sometimes, you just do stupid things in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it's creepy when this happens to you. Someone has touched you and your stuff with the intent of taking something from you. The ramifications and consequences of loosing a wallet resonate beyond just your loss of money and credit cards.