New York Newb

You were just exiting the train on your daily commute, listening to your Chinese language podcast when suddenly your headphones fly off your ears, earbuds stolen and the train doors close.  Is there any way to keep your belongings yours and stay safe in NYC?   It’s one of those “Welcome to New York” moments you should be prepared for.

Guides and Tips

New York Safety

Safety is insanely important in New York. This is a city where everyone has a plan, a game and a goal in life. Hustlers will want to sell you a new MacBook for $20, pickpockets will work the trains and crime is a primary source of income for many. Here are some things to keep in mind to keep yourself just a little safer in the city.

Purses, Backpacks and Bags

In a crowd, it's relatively easy to reach into someones bag and pull out something valuable. If you don't want to have something stolen, make sure your bag or purse is closed so it's tougher to get into. If you've got something important in your pockets, keep a hand on your side and pay attention to people getting too close to your personal space. Usually, a pickpocket will create a distraction by bumping into you or spilling something so your attention is divided between your valuables and the bump. Once you've lost something, chances are it will end up being passed to a carrier to move it safely out of your perspective.

Just remember that although you think you would know if someone puts a hand in your pocket, you would be surprised at what people can take without you realizing it. That said, don't assume every bump and push is a deliberate attempt to grab your stuff. Plenty of people lose their balance on the train or have no coordination whatsoever, and assuming everyone is out to get you is never the best attitude to have. (Note: Everyone is out to get you!!!)

Stick to Busy Streets

While crime can take place regardless of where you are, it's much less likely to happen in heavily populated areas. This is particularly true for violent crimes. I call it the Batman principle - every one out of twenty people in New York believes they are Batman. It is by no means a guarantee, but safety in numbers is a general rule you can stick to for increased safety.

Brandishing Riches

Seriously. While reading a Kindle or iPad on the train might make you a rube, nothing compares to the commuter taking out his laptop on the J train. It's like wearing a huge sign with less than complimentary words.

Peripheral Vision

If you're in an uncomfortable situation or just have a bad feeling, you can understand much more about what's taking place by looking at a reflection in a window or from the corner of your eye. If someone is out of your field of vision, this can be a good way to keep track of what's going on without acting on what might be an unfounded concern.

Don't Get Suckered

Here are some regular scams that New York Newbs can fall for. The golden rule, of course, is that if it's too good to be true it most likely is.
a) Computer for sale - someone has a computer box and is selling it on the street for a wild price. Even I've been offered this one... someone has a computer box (usually a laptop like a MacBook), wrapped and everything. They're selling it for whatever you can afford. Inside the box, however, is only a weight to give the impression that a computer is inside. The best scam artists might even have a fake laptop inside made out of painted cardboard. This is a scam targeted towards students and you can find this around campuses in the city.

b) Buy my autographed xyz - someone has a band and they're selling their CDs on the street. They ask your name and write it on the CD to "autograph" it for you. That's when the hard sell comes out because now the CD can't be sold to anyone else, after all, it's got your name on it! Don't buy it, it's most likely a blank CD anyways.

c) My house just burnt down - this is a line used by less scrupulous panhandlers to solicit money. It's right up there with asking for bus fare, but usually there is a family or husband and wife. The story makes you really want to give more than just some change, but chances are the do not have a house. Don't fall for it, especially if there is a kid involved. It's all just part of the game.

d) Gambling - while chess in the park is a legitimate sport and the players are high-caliber, other games and anything involving cards is most likely a scam. Remember that hustlers playing a game play to make money. While chess players make money because their competition isn't as skilled, card dealers are like casinos - the odds are seriously in their favor and you're not meant to win.

e) You broke my thing - a person bumps into you, drops something (thereby breaking it), and claims that you broke it to demand compensation. This often takes place in bars or other crowded settings. This is a regular scam that typically involves glasses.

f) I'm late for a meeting - this person usually approaches women with "I'm gay, I'm not hitting on you, but I need help." He needs to get to an important meeting but doesn't have cab money for whatever reason. Don't donate - he's just a regular hustler.

g) Police, Firefighters, Verizon and Con Ed employees - if police, firefighters, or utility technicians come to your apartment requiring access, make sure they present valid proof that they are who they say they are. Unfortunately, some people will use uniforms the wrong way, attempting to gain access to your apartment in advance of a robbery, burglary or other violent crime. You should do everything possible to verify whether the individual is legitimate, up to and including calling the service they claim to be associated with. That said, if your building is on fire or about to explode, consider not exploding along with your belongings.

h) need change quick scam - usually performed in relation to NJ Transit, someone will come up to you in a hurry to catch a train. They only have a $20, however, and need exact for the train. After you provide the change and get the twenty dollar bill, you might notice that the bill is certainly fake. I have fallen for this one myself, so watch out!

i) Broker scams - Broker scams are plenty. First rule of thumb is that you should never pay anything in advance of securing an apartment, except the occasional apartment application fee. One typical scam involves "Brokers" offering no-fee apartments for a fee. Once the fee is paid, all they do is give you a list of apartments in the city - it's a scam. Another one involves people renting or subletting apartments they do not own. Always make sure you sign a lease agreement with the official Landlord of the apartment or building you are renting from. For residential rentals in Manhattan, the tenant pays the broker fee upon signing the lease.

Pro-Tip: If you're looking for a new apartment, try contacting Landlords directly to save money on the broker fee.

Partial Scams

Partial scams are not always what they appear to be, but that doesn't mean they're fake either. Here are some situations where it may or may not be legitimate.
a) Train swipe - You're about to buy a metro card when someone offers to swipe you for the cost of train fare. Technically, this is illegal. That said, if you pay the fee the same price as a regular ride they will swipe you through without any hassle.

b) Donation drives - Greenpeace, NYPIRG and other organizations often solicit donations on the streets. These donation drives are normally legitimate, and can always be verified by third parties. Always make sure you verify that you're not being swindled before handing over credit card information.

c) Basketball team fundraiser - this involves kids selling candy bars at inflated prices on the streets and in trains. It can be for a sports fundraiser or a school fundraiser, and is occasionally legitimate. If the candy bars are not what you would normally find in a bodega or have special rappers, it's probably alright. If the box is the same type of box you would find in a convenience store, it is possible that they are stolen. You can make your own judgement call as to whether you want to help out in these situations... verifying whether these are legitimate or not will probably take more time than it is worth.

In all honesty, scams are a regular part of city life whether they are legal, questionable or just plain wrong. If you find you fell for one, you can contact the police to report the incident. In the end, however; try not to take it too seriously and realize that it happens to most of us at one point or another.

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