Is Pickpocketing So Prevalent In Europe? (Compared With US)

Europe is likely one of the destinations on any traveller’s wish list, whether for leisure or business. However, when it comes to security matters, pickpocketing is a significant issue in contrast to the United States.

Tourists are the main targets of pickpocketing in Europe. The big question is, how likely will you be the next victim on your trip?

Here’s how prevalent pickpocketing is in Europe

Pickpocketing is a widespread problem affecting a lot of countries in Europe. Even though, over the years, the cases of pickpocketing have been gradually reducing, cases are still high in cities that attract a large number of tourists. Tourists complain their wallets, credit and debit cards are missing around European cities.


Pickpocketing statistics in Europe

While pocketers could be found in any city, the most visited cities of Europe have the highest number of reported cases by police.

As per the European Crime Prevention Network, they include;

  • London (UK)
  • Rome and Florence (Italy),
  • Paris (France)
  • Barcelona and Madrid (Spain)
  • Lisbon (Portugal)
  • Prague (Czech Republic)
  • Brussels (Belgium)
  • Amsterdam (Netherlands), and
  • Athens (Greece).

In London alone, for instance, between 2019 and 2020, a study by Comparethemarket shows that there were about 80,000 reported cases of pickpocketing.

In the same survey, the worst area with the most cases was Westminster, which accumulated over 27000.

Italy experiences serious cases of pickpocketing, ranging between 130,000 and 170,000 yearly (Statista).

The cities with the most cases of pickpocketing are Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan.

Pickpocketing in Spain is rampant in Barcelona, with most cases reported there.

In July, it was Europe’s most visited city in the summer of 2022, and its popularity has led to tourists falling into the trap of unsuspecting pickpockets.

The city of Madrid experienced a lot of pickpocketing, especially in congested areas like nightclubs and public transportation.

In Belgium, there has been positive progress in the decline in the cases reported on pickpocketing between 2008 and 2021.

Whereas there were 17,200 registered cases in 2012, the peak cases reported were 43,100 in 2021, according to Statista.

Police have always warned people of pickpockets in the city centre of Brussels in metro and train stations.

Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, also experiences cases of pickpocketing even though it is regarded as one of the safest cities in Europe.

The number of reported cases of pickpocketing in Portugal reduced from 10,000 in 2019 to only 3,000 in 2020, supposedly because of the Covid-19 pandemic that saw little travelling (MyPortugalNews).

Over 50,000 cases of pickpocketing were reported in the first quarter of 2022 in Paris, France, which has so far received over 33 million visitors.

Areas close to most tourist attraction sites, like the Eiffel Tower, have experienced many reports.

See related: Wearing Backpacks In Italy – Are Your Belongings Safe?

Pickpocketing in Europe Compared to the US

Pickpocketing in the US is not much of a problem as it is in Europe. The art of taking someone’s property carefully without them noticing has been mastered in most European countries than in the US, where it is considered a “lost art”.

In 1990, New York City, New York, a frequently visited city, was affected by pickpockets, where 23,000 cases were reported leading to a loss of over $10 million.

Later in 1995, there was a surge in reported cases of pickpocketing to only 5000 cases. Nowadays, the New York City Police receive fewer cases and do not add them as statistics.

Most people who reported pickpocketing in the United States in the 1990s claimed they lost cash.

With today’s people in America using credit and debit cards to transact when buying items and dodging liquid cash, cash is carried a little.

Since credit and debit cards can be blocked and are traceable if lost, pickpockets have shied off from the practice to avoid jail time when convicted and found guilty.

Why pickpocketing is so prevalent in Europe

Not only do tourists get targeted by pickpockets, locals, too, are pickpocketed.

Why is it so common? Some of these reasons lead us to understand what makes pickpocketing widespread in Europe.

Non-locals are the primary targets.

In Europe, many people fall victim to pickpocketing because they do not look like the locals.

Tourists that visit most European cities have fallen into the traps of the victimizers for this reason.

The Korean community, for instance, has been most victimized in some areas of Europe since thieves can quickly notice them and rob them of their property.

The US features people of all cultures. Indians, Arabs, Africans, Europeans, you name them, either live in the US or are visiting the US frequently; therefore, pickpockets find it hard to identify locals and non-locals to rob them.

The EU Free movement

The European Union member states allow the free movement of people from different countries in and out of their borders.

The ease of movement has made many tourists go from one country to another without disturbance at entry and exit points, crowding many places and increasing the possibility of crime.

Under-age pickpockets are acquitted.

In Europe, the average age of groups of pickpockets is 16. Most of the time, when the pickpockets are arrested, they are found to be minors who are immigrants and lack documentation that legally identify them.

The police end up releasing them since they don’t have the details of the suspects to take them to court for prosecution.

The suspects return to the streets to find more prey.

Overcrowded train and metro stations

One problem with a country receiving many visitors can be overcrowding.

Most European European cities like Milan, London, Paris and Brussels get many people using public transportation when moving between other connecting towns and cities.

Overpopulation in the station attracts potential pickpockets who can get lost easily in crowds even if they get noticed stealing.

Little fines for perpetrators

When petty crime suspects get arrested, they are fined and do not get jail time.

For example, in Spain, if one is arrested for stealing an item worth less than 400 Euros, they get fined 50 Euros.

Therefore, it urges the pickpockets to continue the crime, knowing they will get fined a smaller amount than the taxes they pay.

Ignorances by witnesses

Sometimes, when people see pickpockets committing a crime, they give a blind eye to it and do not help catch the thief.

People see it as an everyday activity and do not consider it worth risking their lives running after criminals.


Europe has some of the best travel destinations in the world, but being a tourist is risky, as you can be pickpocketed at any time. Exercising a high level of alertness in crowded areas and keeping items safe are the main ways to avoid being targeted if you are travelling there.