The nefarious tricks of the pickpocket
January 3, 2013 5 Comments
When Winnipeggers worry about crime, it tends to be about the in-your-face kinds of crime, such as muggings and armed robberies. Little thought is given to a more nefarious kind of crime, though, that can leave you having to hastily call your credit card company, replace lost identification and, in the interim, get by without cash — pickpocketing.
Winnipeg isn’t really known as a hotbed of pickpocketing. Nor, for that matter, is North America. In September, TripAdvisor released a list of what it considers the world’s 10 worst cities for pickpockets: eight of them were in Europe, one in South America and one in Asia:
7. Buenos Aires
But pickpocketing can happen here in Winnipeg — I caught one would-be pickpocket in the act of starting to open the zipper on my backpack, which in any case consisted of nothing more valuable to a thief than my gym gear. The best way to protect yourself, here at home or anywhere in the world, is to know their tricks.
Taking advantage of the fact that you don’t have eyes on the back of your head. Many pickpockets like to operate from behind, precisely because that’s where you have the fewest visual cues about what’s going on around you. Backpacks, back pockets and other items normally held behind the arms are favourite targets because they’re easy to fish things out of without being seen.
Getting your hands occupied. A person who has his or her hands full is a person whose hands aren’t obstructing or guarding their pockets. Thus, be more alert when you have both hands occupied. Some pickpockets have been known to hand unsuspecting passers-by petitions to sign, or a pen and clipboard with a request for a charitable donation on it. The more brazen have even tried thrusting babies (or dolls made to look like babies) into the arms of a total stranger. After all, what kind stranger would take a chance on dropping a baby?
Distracting you. There are all kinds of variations on this technique. Some people have reported being squirted with mustard or ketchup, only to have friendly locals — miraculously equipped with cloths or napkins at that very second — come rushing over to wipe the mess off; only later does the victim realize that he or she is not just wearing stained clothes, but also suddenly missing a wallet or passport. Others will start an argument in public, while accomplices get busy getting ahold of onlookers’ valuables. Yet others will drop valuables in front of you, or block your path in some way, to distract you from what’s going on behind you.
Several useful tips for avoiding being pickpocketed, courtesy of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police:
Tips for Men
- The target areas are back trouser pockets, and suitcoat and sports jacket pockets, located both inside and out. A pickpocket generally avoids front trouser pockets, and especially buttoned or zippered pockets.
- If you have to carry your wallet in an unbuttoned jacket, coat or pants pocket, be sure it holds only what you can afford to lose. Keep large sums of money, credit cards, IDs, in your front pocket or any buttoned or zippered pocket. Some people even place a rubber band around their wallet, because the rubber band creates friction and rubs against the fabric of your pocket if someone is attempting to remove it without your knowledge. The best place for keys is on a chain attached to your clothing.
- Never pat your pocket to see if your wallet is there; this lets a criminal know the exact location of your valuables.
- Larger-size “pocket secretaries” are particularly inviting to pickpockets, and relatively easy to steal.
Tips for Women
- Do not carry your wallet in your purse. Conceal it in a buttoned or zippered pocket where it doesn’t show a bulge.
- Use a purse that is difficult to open. A purse with a zipper or snaps is best.
- If you are carrying a shoulder bag, place the strap(s) diagonally across your body, as opposed to carrying it on one shoulder. This keeps the purse in front of you, instead of at your side or behind you, which sometimes happens with purses with long straps. If you are carrying a hand bag, then make sure to hold it close to the front of your body, instead of holding it on your wrist or loosely in your hand.
- Never leave your purse unattended on a store counter or in a grocery shopping cart.
Tips for Travelers
- Pack a photocopy of your airline tickets, passport, credit cards and any other documents that would be impossible or inconvenient to replace if stolen.
- Keep a list, separate from your wallet, of contact numbers to report lost credit cards.
- Don’t wander into risky areas alone or at night, and try to avoid buses that are “standing room only.”
- It’s always a good idea to carry your valuables in a money belt and leave your expensive jewelry at home.