Travel and Money: Carrying Decoy Wallets
Traveling safely and managing your money along the way is an exercise in balancing multiple risks: theft, loss, high surcharges, and confusing discrepancies. This Travel and Money series discusses various ways to address money and security issues while you are abroad.
A friend of mine left the bar he had enjoyed a few drinks at to walk back to his hotel. It wasn’t late, but it was late enough. He wasn’t drunk, but he had certainly drunk enough. And he wasn’t in an unsafe area, but it was dodgy enough. (See also: Disguise Your Stuff to Prevent Car Break-ins)
He had visited this town before, and had all the street sense of a seasoned city-dweller — even with a few drinks in him. So he had relatively little to worry about.
Alert and aware of his surroundings, he crossed the street and rounded a corner. Wham! Face to face he came with a group of big guys with even bigger scowls on their faces. The exchange of minced English and foreign words that took place was fast and furious. It all ended with my friend receiving a body-doubling punch in the stomach, and a not entirely cordial request for his money.
He reached into his pocket and reluctantly drew out his wallet. His perpetrator grabbed it, quickly opened it to reveal a few small bills and a few cards. He sneered at this paltry take and ran off with his friends, wallet in hand, before they could create too much of a ruckus and attract attention.
My friend slowly stood up, and once he determined they were out of sight and not coming back, smiled — just a bit. His robbers hadn’t actually robbed him. They had run off with his decoy wallet.
Carrying a Decoy Wallet
Two risks you face when traveling in certain areas of the world are mugging and pick-pocketing. (Heck, you might just as easily get mugged or pick-pocketed in your hometown, however your chances are often lessened if you don’t look like a tourist and don’t hang out in tourist places. Tourists are prime targets for theft.)
The best way to stay safe in the event of a mugging is to give your perpetrator what they want. That is, without giving up what you need.
Decoy Wallet Components
My friend carries his decoy wallet in his jeans pocket, where most people have their wallets. It isn’t flashy, and doesn’t stand out. But a savvy pickpocket can relieve him of his wallet in a crowded marketplace or subway, and he could give it up on duress and his robber would be none the wiser. Because to most people, this wallet seems as real as it can be.
He carries a few small bills in the wallet, and even uses this wallet to pay for items while out and about. He only carries the cash he anticipates needing for each day in his wallet, locking the rest safely up at his hotel. If he needs more than he is comfortable losing in one go, he carries the bulk of his cash somewhere else on his body (like a money belt, hidden inside pocket, or in his shoe), and steals away to the bathroom to replenish his wallet when needs be.
He also has a few cards to bulk out the wallet, including:
- Blockbuster membership card
- Library card
- Inactivated credit card
He ensures that the possessor of these cards can’t steal his identity or access his funds. They are essentially useless. But on first — and even second — glance, they appear to be real.
The inactivated credit card is the stroke of genius in this plot. No perpetrator will know that the card hasn’t been activated until they try to use it, at which time they’ll simply be out of luck.
Some people might suggest that this strategy is an act of over-compensation, and according to the law of attraction may actually cause more problems. I say it all depends on where you are traveling to, and how travel-savvy you are.
There are many people (around the world, but especially in developing countries) who commit acts of theft and robbery as a way of life. A friend of mine who is an incredibly seasoned traveler was drugged in Bangkok — where he lived for six months no less — when he ordered a drink that had been spiked. A couple I know who was traveling through South America got in the wrong taxi and ended up having all their bags stolen. And another friend had her purse snatched in Rome.
Would I go to the trouble of putting together a decoy wallet in a city where I blend in and feel entirely comfortable? Probably not; instead I’d just use some street-sense (and of course, I still wouldn’t carry all my cash and ID in one place).
But in an area known for petty theft and crime? Absolutely; I’d rather be safe than sorry.