Crime against tourist while they are traveling abroad is a very old problem. It has existed for as long as there has been people willing to explore world outside of the family. In a lot of ways, I think a traveler can greatly reduce the chances of being victimized by crime. On the other hand I understand not all crime can be avoided and traveling in any country is not without some risk. Below I will discuss
As we were getting ready to leave Quetzaltenango we started hearing first hand accounts of people being robbed and worse all over Guatemala. We heard similar stories from our American friends about Mexico before we entered that country. Once we were in Mexico we only heard one first hand account of being robbed outside of Mexico City. This came from a Danish (from Demark) couple who were riding an overnight bus along the Oaxacan coast that was boarded by armed bandits. Our guide books clearly warns against riding night busses in this area. The rest of the stories we heard about Mexico never materialized from the hundreds of people we met traveling around. I believe that they are mostly just urban legends. If you are going to travel to Mexico you will hear similar stories from people that you know. My advice when confronted with such accounts is to ask the teller if they have personally been to the interior of Mexico. If their answer is no or they have just been to border towns or beach resort areas then I would not believe them. Outside of the very touristy areas I believe that Mexico is as safe as the USA.
Guatemala is another reality. We actually met the people that were victims of crimes. Some were simply pick pocketed in crowded markets or on the street. Experienced travelers never carry valuables in a pants or jacket pocket. Another comment scenario was using razor blades to slice through backpack pockets or even completely cut a camera or fanny pack strap and run off with the whole thing. Even savvy travelers have to board crowded busses with their backpacks. I am not sure what preventive measure they employ but they must have some kind of strategy. I read that this type of petty crime occurs all over the world and especially in crowded bus or train stations where foreign tourist are present. We avoid most of these type of problems by traveling by bicycle and not using public transportation. If we are riding into a tourist area and are approaching a crowded market or bus station we turn around and find another route into town. I also believe that the thieves are not familiar with the type of luggage that a bike tourist uses but I have no proof of this.
In Guatemala we also met people who had experienced more serious types of crimes. It is all to comment to meet people who have been robbed at gun or knife point while hiking on isolated trails. I believe that this can be greatly avoided by hiring a guide or at least going in a large group. Another sensible precaution is to not bring anything of value with you while hiking on the trails frequented by tourist. The exception that I make is that I bring our camera. I believe that the images that I have captured while hiking have been worth the risk.
The most disturbing form of crime that we have heard about is highway robbery. This is where bandits stop vehicles by placing large objects in the road or even just standing in the road with guns. This even happens in the daytime. Experienced travelers have told us that you are at the greatest risk while in special tourist busses or vans as opposed to the old American school busses (affectionately called "Chicken Busses") that the locals ride. This is ironic because allot of tourist ride the special tourist vans because they believe that it is more secure than the larger public busses.
One Belgian guy had his wallet, including credit card, nabbed from his pants by a pick pocket in a crowded market. Another English girl told us about highway robbers that set up a road block and systematically robbed dozens of cars stuck on the road. There were several other second hand stories that were very believable.