Pickpocketing and other kinds of petty theft are the crimes travelers are most at risk of. By taking a few simple precautions travelers can lessen the risk of losing their cash and valuables.
Try not to look too affluent. Never wear expensive jewelry, designer clothes, or display anything that signals affluence or attracts attention.
In case of emergencies, it is prudent to travel with at least two credit or debit cards, cash, and traveler’s checks in multiple denominations.
It is important to divide up cash, cards, and travelers checks. When out for the day carry only enough incidental cash, say Mex$200-400, for the day's expenses and leave all other valuables in a hotel safe.
Consider buying an inexpensive second wallet for incidental cash, tourist card stub (visitors are required to carry it at all times), and photo id, preferably an old one. In case of robbery, only a cheap second wallet and some easily replaced cash and possessions will be lost.
Never leave valuables: passport, credit and debit cards, traveler's checks, cash, jewelry, cameras, and laptops in a hotel room if there is a safe (caja fuerte) available. No matter how secure a hotel appears, it is vulnerable to theft. Many nicer hotels have in-room safes secured with an electronic lock and accessed by a private PIN code. If a hotel does not have a safe, a decision will need to be made whether it is better to take all valuables or leave them in the room.
Always carry the main stash of cash and valuables out of sight in a money belt separate from incidental cash. Loose-fitting pants with zipped interior pockets can be used in lieu of a money belt, as long as the valuables are not noticeable.
Always be inconspicuous with cash. Display as little of it as possible when paying for something and never count it in public.
Never carry valuables in a fanny pack. Doing so broadcasts where the loot is.
To secure individual lockers in hostels use a personal padlock, not one supplied by the hostel.
Always be aware of surroundings and any suspicious behavior nearby when withdrawing cash from ATMs If unsure, walk away and find another machine. Only use ATMs in the daytime or at night when other people are around.
Also be protective of credit and debit card information when using an ATM. If an identity thief obtains a card's number, expiration date, and PIN code they can make a duplicate card and use it to withdraw cash from ATMs. Card information is most vulnerable when used in outdoor ATMs. Identity thieves have been known to set up hidden cameras to acquire card information.
The safest ATMs are secured behind doors that require cards to access them. Barring that, look for ATMs in public places such as bank lobbies or shopping malls. Don't be alarmed if police or armed security guards are standing around an ATM. Most likely, the machine is being refilled. This is standard practice.
When a credit or debit card is used for payment in a restaurant it is usually gone for a few minutes. During the card's absence an identity thief, using an easily obtainable card skimmer, could scan its vital information. Paying with cash or a using a prepaid debit card such as Visa TravelMoney is the only way to guard against this.
To expedite the replacement of traveler's checks in case of theft write down check numbers. Also make photocopies of important documents such as passport, driver's license, and birth certificate.
Pickpockets, often operating in groups, like to work among the chaos of crowds in places such as bus stations, airports, and markets always looking for the easiest score. The less one looks like an easy mark, the less likely they are to be targeted. Always carry bags or purses in front, not to the side or behind. And, of course, never leave bags or other belonging unattended, not even for a second.
There are a few common schemes pickpockets employ to relieve a mark of his valuables. By being aware of these schemes, they can be spotted before they unfold and thwarted. One common ploy is for a pickpocket to distract a mark while another picks his pocket. Another old favorite is to take a razor blade and slice open a mark's bag and quickly make off with the loot. A more violent tactic is for two thieves to immobilize a mark by pinning his arms to the wall while a third rifles through his pockets. And finally, there is the straightforward grabbing of a purse or bag and sprinting off before a mark has a chance to react.
Muggings do occur, but they are rare. If held up, do not confront a mugger; hand over wallet or purse immediately. Like all thieves, muggers are looking for an easy mark; stay out of deserted areas in cities or any other mugger friendly place.
Buses, RVs, and cars — particularly those with foreign license plates — are sometimes targeted at night by highway robbers on remote stretches of highways.
Robbers have been known to masquerade as motorists broken down on the side of the road, hitchhikers, or police. Another ploy is to the signal the mark there is something wrong with their vehicle and to pull over. Consider carefully before pulling over and picking up a hitchhiker or helping a motorist who appears stranded. Nevertheless, the police do setup legitimate checkpoints and you must stop for them.
Buses are occasionally robbed by people who board them posing as legitimate passengers. The police sometimes randomly search passengers, particularly along highways where robberies are known to occur.
Driving or taking the bus during the day, especially along highways with known problems, will significantly lessen the risk of being targeted.
Highway robbers tend not to target vehicles on major toll roads and expressways. First-class buses are considered less susceptible than second-class buses because they will take the faster more direct toll roads and expressways while second-class buses usually do not.
Highway Robberies have been reported on these highways in recent years:
- Hwy 200, (P), Pacific coast from the state of Michoacán through the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca to Huatulco.
- Hwy 75, (T), Oaxaca City to Tuxtepec in the state of Oaxaca.
- Hwy 175, (O), Oaxaca City to Pochutla in the state of Oaxaca.
- Hwy 199, (C), Palenque to Ocosingo in the state of Chiapas.
- Hwy 15, (S), south of Los Mochis to just north of Mazatlán in the state Sinaloa.
- Hwy 95, (A), México City to Acapulco through the states of Morelos and Guerrero.
- Hwy 51 & Hwy 134, (I), Iguala to Ixtapa in the state of Guerrero.
- Hwy 57, (M), San Luis Potosí to Matahuela in the state of San Luis Potosí.
- Hwy 2 & Hwy 15, (X), Mexicali to Agua Prieta, along the border with the US in the states of Baja California and Sonora.
- Hwy 40 & Hwy 2, (Y), Monterrey to Matamoros in the states of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas.