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Like any major city, San Francisco definitely has some rough edges and neighborhoods to avoid. Some of the city's homeless population panhandle throughout major areas of the city including areas frequented by tourists such as Union Square. The Civic Center has a high concentration as well. Panhandlers are, as a group, not dangerous but many of them are mentally ill. It is the safest and wisest not to give them any money or engage them in any way. Some areas where you might encounter panhandlers or should exercise caution:
Violent crime is not common or prevalent in San Francisco except in certain neighborhoods that are unlikely to be seen by tourists. However, as is true for most major cities, one should take all of common-sense safety precautions one would anywhere else. Carry a good street map, and perhaps a cell phone so that you can call your hotel if you get lost. Do not carry large amounts of cash or display expensive jewelry.
If you've rented a car, observe a few simple urban rules to keep you and your things safe: Do not leave bags, boxes or valuable items in plain sight inside a parked car. Even innocuous items such as an old bag with nothing of obvious value can be sufficient lure for someone to "smash and grab." After all, it costs nothing to see if there is something of value buried in that old gym bag. Place items in the trunk BEFORE you arrive in your destination and park; people can observe you too easily. If the neighborhood feels uncomfortable to you, follow your instincts and don't park there. Avoid street parking overnight in the SOMA and Tenderloin areas, particularly in alleys. The money you spend on a garage or valet may be well spent.
Crimes against tourists are often crimes of opportunity. Do not give thieves the opportunity to ruin your holiday.
Here are a few tips:
In terms of pedestrian safety while walking and taking pictures of the views of the cable cars, any hilltop view of the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown area, please be mindful and careful of the traffic. Drivers in any large city may be downright rude and run red lights, turn in front of you as you are trying to walk across the street on a green light and may not see you as you step off the street to take that one picture. Large trucks or transit buses turning can cause serious injury or death. Please watch the traffic, look for a good and safe spot to take your pictures and enjoy your stay.
There is a scam where people call hotels and ask to be connected to a room. They often ask for a common name like Smith, Jones, Wilson, etc. However, if someone calls a hotel and just asks for a room by the number, they are often connected without any screening procedures by the hotel. When the guest answers the phone in the room, the caller claims to be the hotel manager and says there is a problem with the credit card information at the front desk. The caller then asks the guest to repeat their credit card number and address. Some people have fallen for the scam and found thousands of dollars charged to their cards within minutes. Again, do not give out your credit card number to anyone who calls you. If the hotel management needs to verify your credit card information, tell them that you will go down to the front desk to do so.
Be careful using outside ATMs. People sometimes lurk just close enough to get your PIN (personal id number), and if you happen to leave your ATM card in the machine, your account could be accessed. Travelers have lost hundreds of dollars in minutes this way! It's worse if it's a debit card; since purchases can be made all over town with the same PIN.