How to avoid petty crime in Ireland

The people are gorgeous, the Guinness a work of art and the "trad" music spellbinding – to be sure to be sure. Which nobody in Ireland has actually EVER said.

As far as European countries go, Ireland rates low on the violent crime spectrum, but at the risk of using another cliché, not all Irish eyes are smiling. Just like any city, in any country around the world, there are places you should steer clear of, frequented by people that want to take advantage of you and your tourist dollars.

Irish gang crime

According to the Irish Central Statistics Office, while there has been an obvious drop in most categories of recorded crime, there has been a jump in theft, fraud, and public-order offences during the first three months of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010.

Assaults on tourists are in low figures, and racial violence is not a noticeable trend in the Republic at all.

Any tourist-related crime centres around petty theft. Gangs of young men, known as "scumbags" or "knackers" are easily identifiable by their attire, shiney tracksuit bottoms tucked into their socks, white sneakers and a baseball caps and hang around in groups and are usually between the ages 15 and 25.

They roam the streets late at night targeting areas where tourists frequent, especially in the capital Dublin.


Temple Bar is crammed with pubs, clubs and restaurants and tourists often find themselves enjoying the "craic" a little too much and hit the cobble stone streets late in the evening a little worse for wear (see more in Drinking article).

They can become easy targets for petty crim's and bag snatches are not unusual. It's wise to leave your passports in a secure place in the hotel, and don't carry wads of cash in your wallet. With EFTPOS these days, there's no need to.

Violent crime in Ireland

Unlike other countries, crimes involving firearms are rare in Ireland, and if they do occur tend to be related to gang and family feuds. However knife crimes are definitely on the increase. Anyone threatened with a knife should do what is demanded, hand over wallet/bag and calmly retreat.

One city notorious for knife use is Limerick, in the centre of the country, which has earned the dubious title of "Stab City".

Knife crime is known to be rife and has at times topped the European league for murders. However these murders relate to ongoing feuds between criminal gangs located in impoverished council housing estates. The tourist areas are generally quite safe.

By and large, in most aggravated robberies weapons of choice are fists and boots.

ATM and Credit Card fraud in Ireland

This is a worldwide phenomenon and Ireland is no exception. Like you may have read before, always protect your PIN and if the ATM appears to have been tampered with, don't use it.

The Emerald Isle has recently seen an increase in the use of "skimmers" on ATMs, especially in tourist areas. These are small electronic devices that are attached to the outside of an ATM in order to steal credit card data for crooks to use later on to make purchases with your money.

For less sophisticated methods, be mindful of thieves using distraction techniques, such as waiting until the PIN has been entered and then pointing to money on the ground/asking for loose change. While the user is distracted, another thief quickly withdraws the cash and bolts.

If you are distracted in any way, cancel the transaction immediately. If the machine does not return your card, report the incident to the issuing bank immediately. Don't seek help from the friendly local who appears at your side – it's a scam.

And beware the cheeky little Irish children. Sometimes they are recruited by gangs to help thieve the money at ATMS during a cash withdrawal.

One ploy is a gang member brandishing a newspaper in the face of the customer while a small child sneaks up to the ATM and removes the money. The customer is left wondering whether the transaction worked and normally tries again, unaware what happened until viewing the bank balance.

Another crime on the rise is credit and debit "card cloning". And this involves retail staff being in on the act. Unsuspecting tourists pay for goods/service by a card that is cloned at the point of sale. The only thing they need for their scam is the Pin which is gained by "shoulder surfing" – the staff member closely observing the PIN being entered.

Simple but effective. In a recent racket, more than one million Euro was stolen from unsuspecting customers. After the cards were clones and PINs stolen, those bank accounts were attacked, usually from ATMs in southern Europe.

Oh and one particularly pleasant distraction ploy by children and pickpockets is mustard spilled or spit on your shoulder. As you check out what it is, they snatch your bag.

Internet scams

Another worldwide trend that does not exclude Ireland. Basically they are fraudulent emails, chat rooms and social networking sites that lure in victims with promises of money, lotteries, hot dates, inheritance, airport transit taxes, bank overpayments, job offers, or notices to help a friend who is in need etc with one thing in mind – getting your money.

The crooks do invest a bit of time and effort getting to know their victim, building a rapport and trust. Once they have gained their victim's trust, the scammers create a false situation in order to ask for money. They are generally quite convincing and devise sad stories to make you want to send them money. These include needing money for hospital treatment for a close friend/relative, hotel bills, taxes and other costs that may seem legitimate.

If you do receive an email from family and friends for financial assistance, contact them first to check the story. There was a facebook scam similar to this in recent years – do not rely on a third party you don't know to inform you a friend/relative needs money and send the funds to them.

The US Department of State's website sets it out quite clearly: "In Ireland, there are no licenses or fees required when transiting an Irish airport, emergency medical treatment is never withheld pending payment of fees, and hotels in Ireland will not detain guests for lack of funds without involving the police. A claim that a hospital or hotel will not let someone depart until their bill is settled is usually a sign of a scam".

Break in's and "Smash and grab" attacks on tourist vehicles are opportunistic crimes that have been on the up in recent years, following established trends in other large European cities. Prevention is the key – don't leave your bags, laptops, cameras or other valuables in plain sight. They are safer hidden from view in the boot.

Unfortunately it seems carjacking is a new phenomenon in Ireland, bit fortunately it is still very rare. Locking your car doors when driving in urban areas, especially at night, is advised as a precaution.

Emergency numbers in Ireland

Contact the authorities at once. Also get in touch with the tourist support services offered by your embassy. Your first point of contact should be the Gardai (Irish police) by dialing 112 or 999

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