Convention-Goers are Targeted by Crooks

Springtime is peak convention season. If you’re planning to attend a convention soon, learn why you might be a target for pickpockets, hotel thieves or other criminals and get tips to protect yourself.

I make an effort to attend the Police-Security Expo in Atlantic City every June.

I’ve been attending this gathering of law enforcement officers and security people for years. I look forward to sitting in on the informative and interesting seminars and meeting the cops and the security people from government and the corporate world. I also enjoy meeting the vendors and viewing the displays of the latest technology in crime-fighting.

During my time in the U.S. Navy and my years doing security work for the Defense Department, I attended numerous conferences in Washington D.C., Boston, Memphis, Baltimore, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Philadelphia, and many other locations around the country and overseas. I also helped plan and attended a good number of conferences with large and small defense contractors. As a writer I continue to attend as many conventions as I can, as I always pick up good material and interviews for my columns and articles.

The Police-Security Expo is a personal favorite of mine, partly because I always met interesting people and glean new and vital information regarding crime and terrorism. But I must confess that I also like visiting Atlantic City’s beach, boardwalk, and casinos.

Millions of business people attend trade shows, expos, conferences and conventions each year. These gatherings are generally a mixture of business and pleasure for the attendee. Many convention-goers bring their spouses and make a mini-vacation out of it. Atlantic City, Philadelphia and other cities heartily welcome convention-goers, as they fill hotel rooms, eat in restaurants, go to shows, shop, and in the case of Atlantic City, they gamble.

Unfortunately, the welcome wagon also includes criminals.

Conventions, especially those held in convention centers located in the downtown areas of large cities, attract pickpockets, armed robbers, con artists and other criminals who prey on the convention-goers. (The exception being the Police-Security Expo, as only a truly dumb criminal would dare to rob a cop).

In the case of my hometown, Philadelphia, our modern convention center is in the Center City area, located only blocks from fine hotels, shops and restaurants, as well as the many historical landmarks that make Philadelphia a world-wide attraction for visitors. Crime is held at a minimum, as the police presence in this area is highly visible and effective. I’ve found this to generally be the case in other cities as well.

However, no matter how well the police try to protect convention-goers (they want you back next year, after all), criminals occasionally slip through and manage to pick your pocket, rob your hotel room, and otherwise ruin your convention-going experience.

Criminals, like sharks, stalk their potential victim and look for weaknesses. To avoid being victimized, you must observe the same safe practices you do at home – only more so. First and foremost, don’t look or act like a victim. You must be alert and aware of your surroundings at all times.

Most importantly, moderate your drinking while attending conferences. As a former sailor, I have some nerve dispensing this advice, but I know that criminals simply love drunks. Falling-down, sloppy drunks are easy to manhandle, manipulate and take to the proverbial cleaners. If you are going to drink hearty, you should go out with a group and not go to bars and clubs too far off the beaten path.

Don’t flash jewelry or cash, never carry excess cash on your person, or leave cash in your hotel room, unless the room has a safe. You should also be especially careful when withdrawing cash from street corner ATM machines. ATMs provide criminals with a wide variety of opportunity, including robbery, purse theft and worst. Use the ATMs in and near the hotel and in well-lighted areas.

When walking down the crowded city streets women should carry their purse close their body and not dangle the bag by the strap, as these are easy to snatch away. Men should keep their wallets in an inside coat pocket or front pants pocket. Never keep your wallet in your back pocket, where a pick pocket can easily lift it.

If you’re a runner or walker, ask someone at the hotel or convention center about popular running/walking routes. Avoid unpopulated areas, deserted streets, overgrown trails and high-crime areas. Always trust your intuition. If you feel uncomfortable, get out of there.

Many convention-goers bring their laptop computers with them, but they don’t want to carry the laptop with them all day and night. Although you can place your jewelry and cash in a mini-safe, your laptop will be left out and vulnerable. You can replace a stolen laptop, but can you replace the data stored on the laptop? It pays to back-up your data, or if the data is sensitive or proprietary, remove it from the laptop before you travel and store it elsewhere.

Only a small number of convention-goers become crime victims. Most of the crimes involve thefts, but violent crimes have also been reported. So unless you’re attending a police convention and plan to be in the company of armed cops, it pays to be security-conscious.

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