I Got Robbed: Pick Pockets are Good in the Philippines

 I Got Robbed!

The other day I got my iPhone 4 stolen right out of my pocket without me even knowing. Don’t worry Mom, no violence occured… but I got duped. This is the first time I’ve ever been duped and I hate it.

Here is the Story

I was riding in a Jeepney from my home to my favorite coffee shop at the Baniland Town Center in Cebu City, Philippines. The Jeepneys are interesting old Jeeps left over from the American presence in  World War II (I film some of them in this video.) Since the 1940’s they have been outfitted with  two rows of benches running parallel with the street, pointing inwards towards each other. These are the home made passenger vehicles of the Philippines. I was listening to an internet business podcast on my iPhone with my apple earbuds, while sitting on the passengers side bench.

To signal the driver to pull over in a Jeepney, the passenger uses coins to tap the handrail which is welded to the ceiling of the vehicle. With a loud “Tack-Tack-Tack” sound, I announced to the driver that I wanted to get off. There was a commotion and I assumed the cause to be me requesting a pull over in the wrong spot.

Three little guys sitting in front of me, to my left and right began talking quickly in a strange dialect. “aba aba aba Country Mall yada  blah blah.”

Mad Streets in the PhilippinesI couldn’t understand them of course, and I still had no real understanding of how this mad Jeepney system functions, but I knew the Country Mall was just a 3 minute walk down the road from where I wanted to go so I just chilled and waited for the Country Mall stop.

As the Jeep was pulling into the Country Mall Jeepney bay, one guy sitting directly across from me on the drivers-side bench reached down between my legs in, what I thought was, an effort to find a coin I had dropped from my pocket. He seemed to have a hard time picking it up and then showed me the coin and offered it to me while trying to say something. I couldn’t hear him so I took my ear buds out to listen to what he had to say. I couldn’t understand him and refused the 1 peso coin he had seemed to find between my legs.

All of the sudden, the guy next to me was pointing out that I had a piece of gum stuck to my shoulder. Again, I assumed that these were nice guys alerting me that I had leaned into a piece of chewing gum that had become stuck to my shoulder.

By this time the Jeepney had pulled up to the curb and I got out of the Jeep to pull the gum off my shoulder and toss it in the bushes.

Then I checked my pockets as I normally do to make sure I had everything in order. My heart sank. Surprise surprise, no iPhone.

Challenging Philippines SidewalkI immediately assumed it had fallen out of my pocket on the jeep so I ran over and leaped into the back of the jeep which had started pulling away. I searched around for the iPhone in the place where I was sitting. It wasn’t there and the other passengers were scared of me as I started yelling like a neanderthal. They pointed across the traffic ridden road trying to tell me that someone had taken my iPhone in that direction. I got off the jeep looking around for something to chase. I was ready to be like a lion chasing down some gazelle-like thief through the jungles of urban Cebu.

The witnesses were pointing down a dark ally surrounded by shanty style dwellings and rum vendors. What was I going to do? I don’t remember what the guys looked like. I couldn’t run after them too effectively anyways; I had a decent sized backpack on anyways. It would be like chasing a needle in a hay stack…

…no, it would be like chasing a needle in a needle stack. I was screwed.

The End

Thanks for reading. Leave some comments below and berate me for my foolishness!

🙂 -ian

16 Replies to “I Got Robbed: Pick Pockets are Good in the Philippines”

  1. Hey Ian! Do you use iCloud? There is a find my iPhone component to that program that allows you to track your phone down. I’m not sure if it would be safe to go nocking on someones door but might be worth looking into. You can also remote lock and wipe your phone of all your info.

    Good luck!

    1. HEY NICOLE! 

      Good to hear from you. Negative on the iCloud. A few people have been telling me about that… next time. 

      Thanks for the comment. It’s great to hear from you. 🙂

  2. From what Ive read the only to avoid this in the future is to always have chewing gum stuck to your shoulder! That will teach the bastards!

  3. I’ve had this experience before too, but luckily I caught on prior to getting robbed. Two guys in front dropped a handful of pisos. They then tried to straighten out my leg as though in an attempt to find it. Meanwhile the guy to my left was trying to get in my pockets. I realized it and called out to the driver to stop. 

    Another time a guy tried the hidden arm trick, where he sat to my right, then used his right arm (the arm I couldn’t see) to reach behind his back and grab my wallet. I noticed it and grabbed my wallet and held it in front of me. He got off right away.

    I think the best thing to look for is that if anyone ever makes it a point to sit beside you, get off. I try to squeeze in somewhere where I will be next to students or women. A few times some guy has come up and pushed his way beside me when there was already space somewhere else. I noticed this with the coin scam too, which was what put me on alert.

    Another thing… if kids come begging, put your hand in your pockets. They will come in groups and try to distract you. Ladyboys will do the same, but will distract you by first grabbing you somewhere else heh heh…

    Anyway, you probably know a lot of this, but just in case!

    Kevin

    1. Kevin,

      Thanks for the tips mate! I haven’t had the ladyboy experience, and I haven’t heard about the begging children trick either. You might have saved me from having to post a I Got Robbed Again post. 

      I’m glad you escaped your experience with the coins.

      It’s a tough world out there for the adventure life folks.

      Thanks a bunch for the comment. I feel better knowing I’m not the only one out there.

  4. I’ve had this experience before too, but luckily I caught on prior to getting robbed. Two guys in front dropped a handful of pisos. They then tried to straighten out my leg as though in an attempt to find it. Meanwhile the guy to my left was trying to get in my pockets. I realized it and called out to the driver to stop. 
    Another time a guy tried the hidden arm trick, where he sat to my right, then used his right arm (the arm I couldn’t see) to reach behind his back and grab my wallet. I noticed it and grabbed my wallet and held it in front of me. He got off right away.

    I think the best thing to look for is that if anyone ever makes it a point to sit beside you, get off. I try to squeeze in somewhere where I will be next to students or women. A few times some guy has come up and pushed his way beside me when there was already space somewhere else. I noticed this with the coin scam too, which was what put me on alert.

    Another thing… if kids come begging, put your hand in your pockets. They will come in groups and try to distract you. Ladyboys will do the same, but will distract you by first grabbing you somewhere else heh heh…

    Anyway, you probably know a lot of this, but just in case!

    Kevin

  5. total bummer! never heard of this scam trick but a total diversion tactic for sure! i just think its best for foreigners to be completely lowkey and not even have their iphones/tech stuff/expensive accessories out much in public if you can help it :/ of course this is coming from someone who has gotten money pickpocketed, my prescription ray bans stolen, etc etc. No iPhone for anyone to steal yet tho 😛   

    1. I think you are right on Janet. The key to not getting robbed is to not having anything worth stealing.

      Listening to an iPhone on a Jeepney in the Philippines isn’t smart in the first place.

      Essentially, I’m sitting next to people who make $100 dollars a month (sometimes less), with a phone that I bought for $1,000 +. That phone is worth a years salary to some of the people on their.

      It’s a foolish move. Karmic even.

      Thanks very much for the comment!

    1. It can happen anywhere huh? Two French guys tried to pickpocket my friend in Marseille, but I caught on and pulled my friend away from them. It’s a tough life for the adventurous types. 🙂

  6. Hello I have a trip to the Philippines planned for later this year butI have question about pickpockets. Are pickpockets in the Philippines mere punks or are they as good as the thiefs in Naples ?

    1. I don’t think they are all that dangerous. They’re just out to get your stuff so they can make some money. Don’t know about Naples pickpockets either.

  7. Hi, I came across your site today and sadly, I fell victim of a similar scam in Cebu City involving dropping coins. Some guy sitting across me, kept dropping coins below me and reaching out for them, making move closer to the left (I was sitting behind the driver’s passenger seat) where there was another guy. That guy must have reached into my backpack and stole a very expensive camera and must also have stolen my phone as well. Can’t remember if the phone was in my backpack or in front pocket.
    Looking back, I realized now that they are working in pairs of 2 or 3. One will sit next to you and squeeze himself with the pretext of a full jeepney or in the case of dropped coins.
    I’m so depressed as I lost a pictures that I couldn’t back up, not to mention have lost a camera worth hundreds. It has soured the rest of my vacation in the Philippines. I’ve traveled to other parts of Asia and had felt very safe so far. It makes me want to go home and never come back here.

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