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.

Other articles in this Travel and Money Series:

Using your Debit Card on the Road

Using Your Credit Card on the Road

How to Get and Carry Cash Safely and Securely

Prepaid Travel Cards

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Guest's picture

i've used one for traveling and included a couple of empty used up gift cards and those fake "your name here" cardboard credit cards that come in the pre approved card offer junk mailings. that way my name isn't on anything in there and a mugger isn't too likely to stop and pull out all the cards to see if they are real. the discover or visa logo showing on the edge of the card slot looks legitimate enough in a hurry.

Guest's picture

Good article, and great comment. Excellent suggestions!

Guest's picture

This has saved my but a couple of times overseas. Definitely a good idea.

Guest's picture

I have never thought of carrying a decoy wallet but I like the idea! Thanks for the tip.

Guest's picture

Great idea, but for women, I feel like they would just take your whole purse! How can you do a decoy purse?

Guest's picture

Easy: Carry your money ON you. If you're wearing jeans, then keep money in your pocket. If you're wearing a dress, then get a money belt that's worn under your dress. Keep the decoy cards and small bills in your purse along with all the stuff we women keep in purses (makeup, tissues, etc). So, the burglar grabs your purse, sees the bills and fake credit cards, and thinks he has everything. You only lose a purse filled with easily replaceable items.

Of course, savvy criminals read articles like this one, and now they know about the decoy trick.

Guest's picture

An unactivated credit card could cost you your life if a robber takes you for an express kidnapping and your card doesn't work! Just don't carry any cards, but a decoy wallet is a good idea. My favorite is to have a fat-appearing wallet with a line attached to it and my inner-pocket. I have caught a couple of pickpockets this way and beat the #*@!! out of one of them!

Guest's picture

After seeing this article, I did some research and found there is a company that specializes in making these types of custom decoy wallet, so I ended up just buying it from them. Works great! Almost looking forward to getting mugged so I can give it to them haha. shoptravelmore

Guest's picture

I've been doing this for years, ever since a pickpocket lifted my wallet. There's one wallet for cash, loyalty cards, low charge limit store cards. I carry another wallet for credit cards, ID, big cash, etc. It's worked for me.