Written by Greg Ellifritz
Motorcycle robberies are becoming increasingly more common both in foreign countries as well as here in the USA. It’s important to understand how these robberies work and have a plan to prevent them.
I think this video illustrates the process very well. Being an avid traveler and having spent some time in Argentina, several of my friends sent me this video of a Buenos Aires robbery that was caught on camera, asking if there were prevention lessons that could be learned for people both at home and traveling abroad.
The video is short and worth your time to watch. A Canadian traveler was taking a bicycle tour of Buenos Aires when he was accosted by an armed man riding a motorcycle. The robber was rather inept and didn’t get what he was looking for. The tourist was very lucky, we shouldn’t rely on criminal incompetence to ensure our safety. A news article detailing the robbery is available HERE. Watch the video below:
What can we learn from this?
1) Don’t tempt the criminals. Cycling around with an expensive camera in a third world country is asking to be robbed. Keep anything of value well hidden when out and about in a foreign city. Better yet, leave expensive items in your hotel safe.
In Colombia, the locals have a descriptive term for tourists who do things which make it easy for a criminal to victimize them. Colombians call it “dar papaya.” The term literally means “to give papaya.” In other words, you are so vulnerable it’s like giving the criminal a sweet treat. When traveling in foreign countries, don’t “dar papaya.”
2) No matter if you are at home or abroad, you should be alert for deliberate approaches in public places. Most people purposely chart a path to maximize space between individuals or groups in a crowded public space. When someone walks (or rides) directly toward you in any public location, your alarm bells should be going off. The motorcyclist here saw the victim and immediately plotted an intercept course to block his path. That’s a bad sign. If you see that happening, you should immediately make an aggressive escape. If escape is impossible, you should be accessing a weapon and getting ready to defend yourself.
3) Be especially aware of guys on motorcycles in foreign countries. Robbers commonly use motorcycles to commit their crimes because they can make a quick escape and can’t be easily followed by police on foot or in cars. Motorcycle helmets also hide the robber’s identity and provide protection in case a victim decides to fight back.
Most commonly, robbers operate in teams of two. One will drive the motorcycle and one will perform the robbery. If you see two men on the same motorcycle, be especially cautious. You may be getting set up for a robbery attempt.
4) Robbers all over the world try to avoid attention. Notice how the robber here picked off the victim when he got separated from the rest of his group. He also was very concerned with keeping his gun close to the body or concealed. He didn’t want anyone else to know what’s going on.
Also notice how the robber fled as soon as the other member of the tourist’s bike group got off his bike and approached the two. Anything you do to draw attention to yourself in a criminal attack will likely be beneficial. This guy accidentally benefited by the attention he received. He should have worked harder to make this attention more purposeful.
Screaming the word “thief,” “help,” or “no” will get people looking at you. Calmly saying the word “amigo” won’t. Even if you don’t know any of the foreign language, people worldwide understand the word “No” when screamed in loud English.
5) Dithering can get you killed. The victim’s fate here was completely at the whim of the robber. The victim took absolutely no control of the situation, leaving his well being to the whims of a criminal psychopath. In third world countries where life is even cheaper than it is here, doing that can have fatal consequences.
Make a conscious decision and act. Whether you choose to comply, resist, or flee, any action you take is better than leaving your fate in the hands of a criminal.
6) Knowing some of the local language is tremendously helpful. The robber kept saying “sacate la mochila,” instructing the victim to “take off the backpack.”
The victim clearly didn’t understand and thought the robber wanted his bicycle. Misunderstanding the language could have been seen as resistance by the robber. It’s one thing to decide to resist and to do it. It’s something completely different to be killed because you never learned any of the local language.
Wherever I travel, I try to learn as much of the language as possible. I generally use the audio programs by Pimsleur to quickly gain some proficiency in the language of the country in which I am traveling. Don’t be the clueless, naive, American (or Canadian). Learn some of the local language. It may save your life.