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How to avoid theft during a Hawaii vacation

By AUDREY McAVOY, Associated Press
Published: June 22, 2024, 5:21am

HONOLULU — Honolulu police recently received some attention on social media for recommending beachgoers not leave their valuables unattended and instead take those items with them into the ocean in a waterproof bag.

But the police and the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, a nonprofit organization that helps tourists who become victims of crime or other problems, also have even more basic advice: Don’t take your valuables to the beach at all. Instead, they say, leave them at the place you are staying.

The number of thefts in Honolulu generally, and Waikiki in particular, were lower last year than in 2022 and 2021, but locals still have some tips on how to avoid becoming a theft victim on Hawaii’s famous beaches.

How do I protect myself from theft at the beach?

Jessica Lani Rich, CEO of the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, recommends only bringing with you what you need for the day. For example, just take $20 so your vacation isn’t ruined if you lose it.

In the past, she helped a South Carolina woman who took all her jewelry with her to the beach and then had it stolen. Some Japanese visitors brought all their cash with them. One man buried his wallet in the sand for safekeeping with the intention of digging it back up later but was never able to find it, even after volunteers from Rich’s group helped him look.

“You don’t need to bring … thousands of dollars in cash,” she said. “You don’t need to bring all of your credit cards.”

Rich recommends visitors use their hotel safe for valuables and always have one member of their party stay with their belongings at the beach.

“Never leave your valuables unattended on the beach,” Rich said. “Tucking it under a towel, putting it in your tennis shoe is not as safe.”

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Waikiki convenience stores sell waterproof pouches that can hold a cellphone and other items. Some have lanyards so you can wear them around your neck.

What about leaving things in the car?

If you leave bags in your car, make sure you don’t leave them anywhere visible, Rich said.

Earlier this month, the society helped a woman who left her purse in her front passenger seat. Thieves smashed the car window and ran off with it.

In another case, a woman from Los Angeles who stopped to see turtles at Laniakea Beach on Oahu’s North Shore left her purse on the front seat of an open convertible. It was stolen.

If you put your purse or bag in your car trunk, do it before you arrive at the beach.

“Do not do it at the location of where you’re going to park your car because people are watching,” Rich said.

Maj. James Slayter, the Honolulu Police Department’s officer in charge of the tourist mecca of Waikiki, reminds people to roll up their windows and lock their doors.

“It’s important to just take a lot of proactive measures to prevent easy crimes of opportunity from occurring,” he said.

What do locals do?

Mindy Pennybacker, a surfer and author of “Surfing Sisterhood Hawaii: Wahine Reclaiming the Waves,” said she puts her car key, driver’s license, credit card and sunblock in a plastic bag and zips the bag inside a small pocket of her surf shorts. A loop inside the pocket also secures the key.

She can do this because her key is an older type she inserts directly into a car door and ignition, not an electronic key that could get damaged by saltwater, she said.

She always shops for wetsuits or shorts that have a well-fastening pocket.

“You really can’t leave anything in the car at all as far as I can tell. Anywhere, by any beach,” Pennybacker said.

She also leaves her cellphone at home.

“It’s just not worth it,” she said.

How safe is Hawaii?

Honolulu is Hawaii’s biggest city with a metropolitan areaof nearly 1 million. It has crime like many other places. But those who become crime victims are a small share of the nearly 10 million visitors who travel to the islands each year.

Honolulu Police Department data show there were 1,927 instances of theft in Waikiki last year, down from 2,276 in 2022 and 2,167 in 2021.

For all of Oahu, theft cases dropped 23 percent and 7.1 percent during the same periods.