British holidaymakers could fall victim to rising crime when they jet off for their favorite European hot spots as high youth unemployment triggers an upsurge in petty crime, confidence tricks and muggings, as well as outbreaks of civil unrest.
British consulates in Spain are reporting rising numbers of street crimes, with many involving stolen passports. Similar problems are happening in other European destinations.
Insurance experts say this is the result of economic unrest and austerity measures, with high unemployment fuelling increased crime. Among the under‑25s, 63% are jobless in Greece, 56% in Spain, 43% in Portugal and 41% in Italy, according to the latest reports from the EU statistics office, Eurostat.
Malcolm Tarling, a spokesman for the Association of British Insurers, said: “Economic conditions can impact on insurance claims. British tourists can be easy targets and many are crime victims waiting to happen.”
Greg Lawson of Columbus Direct, the insurer, added: “Unemployment increases the potential and opportunity for crime. We are approaching the perfect storm. When you have high levels of unemployment, the risk of rising crime increases.”
Jan Dalrymple White, a director of MIA online travel, said some insurers were battening down the hatches in preparation for troubles ahead by reducing the cover they offer.
He said: “I don’t think there can be any doubt about crime going up with high levels of unemployment, which is why some travel policies have lowered the maximum cover they provide.”
Spain has already seen an increase in burglaries at holiday accommodation, according to the Foreign Office, which is advising all travelers to make sure their accommodation has adequate security and that they lock all doors and windows at night or when they are out.
Passport thefts at Spanish airports are prolific, add the diplomats. The insurer LV= estimates that 133,222 British passports, which can sell for £400 each, were stolen in Spain between 2000 and 2012. Nearly 30,000 British passports are stolen worldwide every year.
Each year “beach bags” become a hotter target, according to Mr Lawson, who said: “A typical beach bag is now worth thousands of pounds. It might include three mobile phones, a couple of Kindles, a fistful of credit cards and an iPad. This makes them a very attractive and easy target.”
Scenes of protests and civil unrest have rarely been far from our screens in recent months and remain a worry.
Last week, Turkey was the latest to see its main cities ripple with disruption.
If you cancel your plans you cannot claim compensation. So anyone traveling abroad this summer must not only buy adequate insurance but understand what the policy will cover and what will be excluded in the small print. Here’s what to watch out for.
Travel companies and insurers were last week reassuring those traveling to Turkey that their holiday destination was safe, despite scenes of protest in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities.
Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents, said: “Most British travelers holiday in the Mediterranean resorts and these are untouched by the demonstrations in the big cities. Even those in Istanbul are safe, provided they stay out of a few main squares.”
Yet according to the Foreign Office, demonstrations have taken place in areas frequented by British tourists, including Fethiye, Marmaris and Bodrum, though these have so far been mostly peaceful.
Anyone who feels nervous about traveling cannot claim compensation if they cancel their arrangements, as insurance does not cover “disinclination to travel” unless the Foreign Office specifically warns against visiting your specific destination. So far it is only warning against travel to areas of the Iraqi and Syrian borders as well as Tunceli, because of the threat of terrorist attacks. It is merely advising tourists elsewhere in the country to “avoid” demonstrations.
Similarly, if you ask your travel agent or tour operator to switch destinations, it is likely to say “no” without a specific Foreign Office warning.
Limits and exclusions on cover
Street crime is particularly rampant in some of Europe’s main cities, particularly where tourists are crowded into busy sites, says Selwyn Fernandes, managing director of LV= Travel. The most common approach involves distraction tricks and techniques.
“Criminals often work in groups of four or five with one person distracting the victim while another takes the bag and the others help with the getaway,” he added.
To cut back on the cost of claims, insurers have been quietly withdrawing cover from personal items as the risks have grown, according to Mr White.
He said: “A few years ago, typical policies offered around a £3,000 to £4,000 limit on personal belongings. That has now come down to as low as a £500 maximum on many contracts. Some contracts stipulate maximum cover per item of, say, £300. That won’t go far to cover an iPad or even your glasses.”
For higher limits, Ian Crowder of the AA recommended extending worldwide cover on personal belongings through your household insurance. However, this will push up your premiums.
Cars with British number plates, or hire cars, are frequent targets of crime, so it is important to remember that insurance will normally not pay out if your belongings are stolen from a car, although some may if possessions were locked in the boot with a clear sign of a break-in. Again, read the small print before you travel.
Hire cars are particularly vulnerable as they usually carry stickers telling criminals they are being driven by foreigners. Be careful where you park, and remove belongings from the vehicle or lock them away.
Martin Robinson dozed off momentarily in a waiting room at Brussels railway station when traveling from Amsterdam to Paris. When he opened his eyes, his bag, containing his passport and all his personal belongings, had gone.
Mr Robinson, 23, a marketing executive, said: “I was visiting a few of the major European cities with a friend, but discovered we had to change trains at Brussels to go from Amsterdam to Paris.
“We were traveling early in the morning and had reached Brussels by around 6am, so went to the waiting room. It was a respectable waiting room full of travelers like us waiting for their connections.
“My friend and I both dozed off for a brief moment while we were waiting. When we woke, my bag had gone.”
Mr Robinson, from London, had lost his passport, all his clothes, some plastic cards, his camera and various pieces of electronic equipment.
“The biggest nightmare was the passport,” he said. “We went to the British embassy in Brussels to be told it couldn’t supply a replacement. We had to go to the Paris embassy, which is not very central, for that. So we lost a great deal of time trying to sort that out.
“Fortunately, I had kept my main bank card on me, so we were able to get cash. It was all very annoying. I only dozed off briefly.” He was insured, and received total compensation of £500 for the loss.