Pocket Picked in Lisboa & Other Robberies
On Saturday, December 3, 2005 I had my pocket-picked in the Cais do Sodre train station in Lisboa.  Friends, Jack & Nikki, had arrived the day before from the states and I was taking them into town to show them some of the sites and get them oriented with the transportation system.  The thieves got all of my credit cards, my bank card, Florida driver's license and a number of lesser IDs (frequent flyer cards, health insurance, and various membership cards) and about $400 cash (in Euros, USD, and Pounds Sterling).  Not only did this cost me a lot of money, but it really screwed up my life for the next 7 - 10 days, and I'm still (3 weeks later) digging myself out of the hole into which these thieves put me.  The purpose of this web page is to describe my experience so that it might help other  cruisers or travelers better protect themselves from a similar experience and more importantly take action now to mitigate the impact of such an experience.
At the time I had been in the Lisboa area for nearly 2 months with not a single negative experience in Portugal.  For a large city, Lisboa is relatively free of violent crime (unless you count the way the locals drive).  However, there is a great deal of petty crime and all of the travel guides warn you to be careful of pick-pockets, especially in crowded tourist areas like the train and metro stations.  I normally carry the typical American wallet in my hip pocket, stuffed with every imaginable piece of ID and credit.  Before I ventured for the first time into Lisboa I purposely removed most of those cards from my wallet and kept my wallet in my front rather than hip pocket.  I also kept my cash in a money clip separate from my wallet.  I thought these were adequate precautions, but I was wrong and then complacency increased my exposure.
After 3 weeks in Cascais I returned to the states for a little over a month and reloaded my wallet with all those IDs.  While in the states I misplaced the money clip and started to keep my paper money in the wallet.  When I returned to Cascais in November I did not remove those excess cards from my wallet.  Now just about everything I needed to manage my life while in Portugal was stuffed in that thick wallet in my front pocket.  It was the same as if I put a sign on my back saying, "Rob ME!."
The Hit
That Saturday we took the Cascais to Lisboa train to the end of the line at the Cais do Sodre terminal, planning to transfer to the Metro system and tour the center of the city.  The thieves hit me just like in the movies.  At the next to last stop, the Alcantara Docks, several people got on at the last minute and two of them (a man and a woman) sat directly behind my friends.  We were facing each other and I could plainly see the pair.  I remember thinking at the time that they looked like a pretty rough couple.  At the risk of indulging in one the more common forms of racism in Europe, they really looked like Gypsies.  I didn't know there was a third member of the gang standing by the exit door on the train car.  When the train stopped in Sodre, I was the first to head for the door.  Just before the door opened the third man stepped in front of me to get off first.  When the door opened he dropped his folded umbrella and made an awkward attempt to pick it up, which prevented me from going around him and exiting the train.  As I paused I felt the other man brush against me then we all departed from the train.  This all looked so contrived the thought that I was having my pocket-picked immediately came into my mind.  However, since I had never experienced this kind of robbery it took nearly a minute, walking down the station platform, before I realized my wallet was gone.  The woman was the one who got away with the wallet after it was picked.  She was initially caught behind Jack & Nikki as we were preparing to depart.  She hit Nikki on the shoulder to make her turn to one side, while she slide by her on the other side, got my wallet from the pick-pocket and dashed away.  I assume she went into the nearest public bathroom, removed all of the cash from the wallet and threw the wallet (and all of my cards) away.  If I had managed to find a cop in time to stop the other two guys they would have indignantly demonstrated that they were not in possession of my wallet.  However, for the only time I can remember, there was not a single uniformed policemen on or around the station platform.  Initially I thought to find a policeman and see if a search of the station washrooms would turn up my wallet, but when we couldn't find one quickly I felt it was more important to get back to Cascais and start the process of canceling all of the cards and ordering new ones.  I knew this would be difficult and time consuming so I wanted to get started as quickly as possible.
The Recovery
While riding the train back to Cascais I began to realize the bad position I was now in.  Not only did I have no money in my pocket or on the boat, but I had no way to get access the money in my bank account back in the states.  I also realized that once I cancelled my credit cards I would have no access to credit either.  Basically I had become an affluent vagrant.  I considered not canceling one of the credit cards as I was pretty sure the thieves were interested only in the cash and would discard everything else.  However, I have to live on that thin line of plastic called credit and I couldn't risk either having my credit rating destroyed or incurring several thousand dollars of charges if I was wrong.  So I canceled both of my cards in addition to the bank card.  Fortunately my friends were here until after the cards were restored and they carried me financially for over a week.

The one essentially tool that allowed me to quickly cancel all of my cards and order new ones was the Internet.  Although the Cascais Marina does not provide Internet access, there is a WIFI service at one of the coffee shops on the premises and I had previously signed up for that service (I am using that service to publish this web page).  The other essential tool was SKYPE, which is a Voice Over Internet Phone (VOIP) service.  Although I have a cell phone with a local Portuguese SIM card, I did not use that phone to contact my banks.  Phone service is very expensive in Portugal, especially for overseas calls and I didn't believe the 30 Euros I had on the SIM card would cover all of the charges I might incur, and I would need a credit card to add more Euros to the SIM.  With SKYPE I can call just about anywhere in the states for less than $0.03 per minute, and it's free if I'm calling a stateside toll-free number.  A cell phone would have worked, but I believe it would have been fairly expensive for the number of the calls I made, and all of the time I spent listening to that sweet voice say, "Your call is important to us, so please stay on the line and the next available attendant will assist you."  Both of my credit cards and the bank card required a telephone call to report the theft and order replacement cards.  I was able to order a replacement Florida Driver's License and a new AETNA health insurance card directly from the respective web sites without a telephone call.

I encountered two minor problems in getting all of my cards replaced.

  1. My bank, USAA Savings Bank, does not provide a 24-hour hotline for replacing bank cards.  I suspect few banks do.  So I had to wait until Monday afternoon in Portugal (Monday morning in the states) to report the card stolen and order a new one.  The bank card is fairly secure without the PIN so I felt no risk due to this delay.  Even if I could have reported the theft on Saturday, the bank would not have shipped a new one before Monday anyway.
  2. How to get the cards to me in Portugal.  Most banks and credit card providers do not want to ship replacement cards anywhere except to your address of record for the card.  I expect I could have gotten them to send the cards directly to Cascais, but it was a lot easier (and possibly more reliable) to have them send the cards to the address on file.  Fortunately for me that address is my mail forwarder, St. Brendan's Isle who were very supportive and helpful in getting the cards to me once they arrived at their location.
By Monday, December 12 I had a new bank card and credit card from the USAA Savings Bank, a new Florida Driver's License and a new AETNA health insurance card.  St. Brendan's Isle, per my instructions, had sent everything in my mail box to me via FEDEX on the previous Friday.  That is an expensive service (about $40 for a letter carton), but as far as I was concerned it was money well spent.  For some reason the CapitalOne credit card didn't arrive by Friday although that was the first card I reported and I requested and paid for expedited deliver of the card to St. Brendan's Isle.  The best thing about CapitalOne is their commercials, certainly not their service.
Lessons Learned
This was not the first time I have been robbed, but it was the first time a thief had gotten away with the contents of my wallet.  It was both a humbling and an instructional experience.  One I don't every want to go through again.  I've listed and described below some of the lessons I believe I have learned from this experience.  I hope that by applying those lessons to my preparations and behavior in the future I can avoid a repeat, or at least mitigate the impact of another experience.
Lesson What I Learned (I Think)
Never carry more than the minimum number of credit and ID cards For that trip into Lisboa I did not need my bank card (I had plenty of cash) nor did I need both of my credit cards (one would have covered any unexpected expense or the loss of the cash).  I didn't need my Driver's License nor any of the other cards in my wallet.  I now keep everything in a small container and only take off the boat the cards and ID I think I need for the trip at hand.
Protect the cards and cash that I carry. Click on picture to view at full resolutionI always used one of those big fat American wallets that advertise to thieves that I am a good target.  If I were to buy another wallet it would be a very thin one that will only hold a couple of cards and a small amount of cash (if any).  Some people recommend putting a rubber band around the wallet as it is supposed to make the wallet less slippery and more difficult to flip out of your pocket.  the other alternative is a money or wallet belt or a small fanny pack carried in front, not on the side or the back.  I decided not to replace my wallet at this time.  Instead a rubber band is now my wallet.  I just wrap the band around the cards I will carry that day and put it deep in my pocket (preferably one with a zipper or button).  I've also gone back to keeping my cash separate from my card, but instead of using a money clip or money belt I just wrap the bills in another rubber band.  My new wallet system is shown in this picture.  I'm not sure it is any safer than the other alternatives, but I believe it is much safer than my previous wallet.
Maintain a credit with the services you may need to recover from lost cards. These services include Internet Access, VOIP or cell phone service, and mail forwarding.  Once I canceled my two credit cards I no longer had a way to purchase these services.  Fortunately I had purchased a credit on each of these services to allow me to continue to use them after the cards were canceled.  I did hit a problem with the Internet Access.  I pay by the month for access to the WIFI and my period of service expired on Dec 5, after I had canceled the card, but before the new one arrived.  Fortunately my friends were here and they allowed me to use their credit to continue the service.  I was very lucky in this regard, which goes to the next lesson.
Always keep some cash or credit hidden and available. Because I had friends visiting this experience was only expensive, embarrassing, and unpleasant.  It could have been a lot worse if they were not here.  It was over a week before I again had access to cash and credit.  I barely had enough food on board to have fed myself for that period of time, and we're talking Chef Boyardee not gourmet.  If not for my friends I would have had to either impose myself on other cruisers in the marina (not many in Cascais) or tried to work something out between a local bank and my bank back in the states to get some cash.  Neither option would have been pleasant.  In addition to leaving at least one credit card on board when I go into town I will also hide a small amount of cash in a locker (hopefully I can remember which one).  I may put that hidden cash in Traveler's Cheques or something similar.  Maybe those old AMEX commercials with Karl Malden had a point after all.
Have a way to get mail to you quickly This is really tough when cruising.  You either have send your mail to friends or family and count on them being responsive, use a mail forwarder like St. Brendan's Isle, or have the replacement cards shipped directly to you at a local address.  St. Brendan's Isle was extremely responsive to my situation.  Although special handling of mail is a service for which they normally charge, they went a little further than normal to ensure I got my cards quickly and reliably.  A reliable mail forwarder is familiar with overseas mailing, understands the addressing requirements and has a relationship with the various shippers (USPS, UPS, FEDEX etc.) that family and friends do not have.  I am really uncomfortable asking a bank to do something they don't normally do, such as a one time mailing address for the card.  This is especially true when I know I am talking to someone Bangalore not Charlotte. 

I recommend the services of St. Brendan's Isle.

Be Aware This is probably the most difficult lesson to apply and may be impossible.  These were professional thieves and they might have gotten my wallet no matter what I did.  However I recognized what was happening to me before, during and after my pocket was picked.  I was just so unprepared it took 10 - 15 seconds for me to react and almost another minute for me to conclude my wallet was gone.  In the future I hope my other precautions will keep me from being the target of choice, but I also hope I will react a little quicker when I see the job going down.  If had put my hand on my pocket and or stepped aside when the blocker got in front of me I might still have those original cards and the cash. 
No Confrontation No matter how aware, one thing I won't do is confront the thieves unless a cop is standing real close.  These guys didn't take up this profession because they like jail time.  I expect at a minimum they carry a big knife and know how to use it.
I hope all this doesn't give the impression I have become a hopeless paranoid or that I've soured on my stay in the Lisboa area.  I am paranoid, after all they really were out to get me and they did.  But I am not obsessed with protection, just some minor adjustments to my previous behavior.  I also continue to explore this area with no sense of fear or dread.  However, if it happens again ....
Robbed Again
No, this time they did not get into my pocket, just into my luggage.  When returning from the London Boat Show on January 13, my backpack weighed too much to be carry-on luggage.  At Gatwick Airport, outside of London, Monarch Airlines apparently has a strict policy that no carry-on luggage can weigh more than 10 kg.  My backpack weighed 12 kg and I was forced to check it.  I don't believe it weighed that much more than it did at the Lisboa Airport when I left for London, but I reluctantly allowed it to be checked.  My other piece of luggage (a small duffel bag) was packed to the limit and I could not transfer any items to it to lighten the backpack.  I was mostly concerned that the backpack would be lost as it contained my main personal computer, which I use nearly every day.
When I picked up the backpack at the Lisboa Airport at baggage claim, I noticed one of the zipper compartments on the pack was partially open  I naively assumed security had checked the contents and neglected to securely close the zipper afterwards.  I thought no more of it and beyond checking the status of my computer I did no inventory of the backpack when I was back onboard Sarah that afternoon.  The next day I needed my cell phone to call friends who were arriving in Portugal.  I couldn't find it.  I knew it was in my luggage, but I assumed I had put it away somewhere on the boat and spent over an hour going through all possible storage (hiding) locations.  Then I realized my Garmin iQue Palm Pilot was also missing.  This was also in my backpack. Now I realized something had happened.  Just in case I called the hotel I stayed in near Gatwick the last night in England - nothing had been reported by the cleaning crew.  Finally I was convinced that someone had taken my cell phone and iQue from my backpack after it was checked at the Monarch desk in Gatwick.
Most likely these items were pinched at Gatwick by someone in the baggage or security crews.  It would have been very easy to quickly unzip one compartment reach in and pull out a few small items and put them in a pocket.  I doubt it happened at Lisboa as the luggage moves fairly quickly on arrival and there is a risk that I would have noticed the missing items and reported it immediately to airport security.  Of course the type of people who might pilfer checked luggage are unlikely to be among our best and brightest, so who knows.  The items stolen would have very limited value.  Cell phones are not very expensive, so I can't believe there is a big market for stolen ones.  The iQue is an expensive Palm, but it requires a unique and expensive charger bracket which was not in my luggage.  Once again, the loss to me was much greater than any value realized by the thieves.
One more lesson to be learned to protect my dwindling personal articles.  I didn't anticipate the need to check the backpack as it was within normal dimensions for carry-on luggage.  I had never encountered a weight limit before (although it makes sense).  Once confronted with the need to check the backpack I was screwed as it has no provision to lock any of the compartments.  In the future, when I take this pack on a trip, I will insure it never is so full I could be forced to check it.  In this case I could have removed the cell phone and iQue from the backpack and put them in my coat pocket, but I also had several other expensive items in the pack not all of which I could put in my pockets or carry around my neck.   The other preparation is to have some way to make it difficult to access the compartments.  In this case I think if I used small pieces of string to secure the zippers the thief would have left my pack alone.  It was the easy and quick access that made it vulnerable. 
I sure hope I can get off this personal security learning curve sometime soon.