While you’re strolling happily along Prague's Charles Bridge, you never know who might be plotting to scam you.

While you’re strolling happily along Prague's Charles Bridge, you never know who might be plotting to scam you. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

Going to the Czech Republic? Beware of quick-fingered, brazen thieves.

I was pickpocketed in Prague, losing about $200 in euros and Czech koruna, and a credit card. Another in our group of ski journalists had a camera stolen from her neck. And four fellow travelers had their coats taken from an unattended cloakroom at a spa hotel near the town of Jesenik.

“I’ve had more stuff stolen here than in any other place,” says Richard Appleton, consul general at the U.S. Embassy in Prague.

Appleton said he has “lived all over,” and describes himself as “careful” and “observant.” But he also says the city’s pickpockets are “really good.”

They usually operate in packs, often distracting tourists with a gypsy, for example, as everyone knows to be wary of gypsies. Then “they come through like sharks,” he says, and get your wallet, purse or whatever.

This is Appleton’s second tour in Prague. He previously served there before the 1989 Velvet Revolution, when there were transit police who surveyed the trams, subways and trains, keeping thieves at bay. These days there are no such police, and public transportation is prime territory for pickpockets. Popular tourist spots, such as the city’s astronomical clock and the Golden Lane (where I lost my money) are also fertile grounds for the thieves.

Appleton said the U.S. Embassy handles about two cases a day of stolen passports. He also mentioned “a certain level of violence, muggings” now associated with pickpockets. Although it’s not common, it is a shock to Czechs who don’t expect this in their country, he said.

Another threat he has noticed concerns single travelers, especially women, who may need help getting baggage on and off trains. A thief will offer to put the luggage through the window, then hands it to an accomplice who runs off with it.

Dishonest taxi drivers are yet another problem in the Czech capital. They often charge tourists outrageous sums for short rides. Disguised as an Italian tourist, city mayor Pavel Bem was recently overcharged on several taxi rides. Since then, city hall has cracked down with a zero tolerance policy toward dishonest taxi operators.

However, according to the Prague Post, the city’s English- language newspaper, the new policy was greeted with skepticism after the press revealed that more than 60 drivers have been accused of forging documents. Another Czech newspaper reported that 21 drivers had bribed officials to pass tests needed to drive a taxi in the city, and more than 60 drivers had obtained licenses by lying about their criminal records.

“Think twice before taking a taxi, and never flag a taxi down,” Appleton advises. He says it’s better to call ahead for a taxi or ask a restaurant, for example, to call for you. He also pointed out that given Prague’s excellent public transportation system, there’s no need to take taxis.

Appleton listed specific measures to take if belongings are stolen.

When a credit card is taken, it’s normal to call the issuing bank to cancel the card. However, that might not be enough. It’s best to also call the three U.S. credit bureaus to prevent identity theft. They are Equifax at 001-800-525-6285, Experian at 001-800-301-7195 or 001-888- 397-3742 and Trans Union at 001-800-680-7289.“Calling these three will stop someone who has stolen your wallet from opening up a line of credit in your name,” Appleton said.If your driver’s license, checkbook or anything with your Social Security number is stolen, you need to report it to Social Security at 1-800-269-0271.If documents with your address are stolen, the thief could request a change of address, giving a mailbox where he could then receive your financial statements. To prevent this, notify the local post office that controls your address not to accept a change of address unless it matches your signature.Appleton advises prospective travelers to check the State Department Web site for travel advisories before setting out on a trip.

Despite concerns about thefts, “Prague is wonderful,” says Appleton. “I don’t want to discourage people from coming. Just be conscious” of the problems.

Leah Larkin, a member of the Society of American Travel Writers, is a journalist living in France.

Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes

While you’re strolling happily along the Charles Bridge, you never know who might be plotting to scam you.


A police officer keeps watch in front of a McDonald’s restaurant in Prague’s Wenceslas Square. Unfortunately, there no longer are transit police to survey trams, subways and trains, so public transporation is prime territory for pickpockets.

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