The nefarious tricks of the pickpocket

Pickpocket caught in the act in Xiamen, China (click for source)

Pickpocket caught in the act in Xiamen, China (click for source)

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:

1. Barcelona
2. Rome
3. Prague
4. Madrid
5. Paris
6. Florence
7. Buenos Aires
8. Amsterdam
9. Athens
10. Hanoi

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.
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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

5 Responses to The nefarious tricks of the pickpocket

  1. TRex says:

    I’ve been pick pocketed exactly twice in all my wandering and both times were in the town of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on Sakhalin Island, Russian Far East. Both times were from my backpack. Now if I use a backpack it contains bulky and not important items only. I never use my back trouser pockets for anything even if they have buttons and back when there were no bulky smartphones I kept my still serviceable Nokia 6300 on a cord around my neck and inside my shirt or inner coat pocket. Now my iPhone is in my front pants pocket and I use a tiny Bluetooth ear bud (that elastic band idea is clever, I purchased a soft silicone iPhone case from the Apple Store in Polo Park Mall last time I was in town, serves the same function). My wife on the other hand has a huge purse and keeps absolutely everything in it. It may have a strong strap which she slings over her opposite shoulder to deter purse snatchers but it takes her forever to find anything and she simply will not look down the road even a couple minutes to plan for that upcoming purchase. If she is standing in line in the Moscow Metro to purchase a pass instead of having the money ready in her hand she insists on waiting until she gets to the window to open the cavernous maw of her hateful bag and then spend endless minutes fishing around for the exact change while people behind her peer into this huge opening to see exactly what is in there. I am ever watchful. The worst is of course those bags that men wear slung over the shoulder and riding on the hip under and outside the jacket. Just no!

  2. unclebob says:

    I would move Buenos Aires up a little on the list

  3. theviewfromseven says:

    I wonder about the wisdom of Canadians traveling abroad with Canadian flag luggage tags. I can understand the logic of it in areas where anti-Americanism might be rife, but I can also see those being useful to pickpockets and “pirate” taxis for identifying potentially easy targets who probably won’t be alert to things that would cause a local’s alarm bells to start ringing.

    I had my own close call with a potential pickpocket/scam in Berlin this past summer. A woman comes up to me, blows me a kiss, and hands me a pen and clipboard. “Kind sir! Please sign!”

    I look down at the form, which is written in several languages, including rather poor English. It seemed to suggest she was collecting money for building a wheelchair ramp into the church I was passing (Marienkirche, perhaps) or something to that effect. Below that were signatures and the amounts that others had supposedly donated.

    “I don’t understand, sorry,” I tell her, shrugging my shoulders.

    “No, no, kind sir. Please sign,” she says, pointing to the line below the latest signature.

    Suddenly I notice someone pass close behind me, which shouldn’t have been necessary in an open space. I hand the pen and clipboard back to her. “No. Sorry. Nein danke.”

    As I start to walk away, her demeanour changes. She starts chasing after me, which is definitely out of character for a legitimate fundraising volunteer. “No! No! Kind sir! Please sign! Kind sir!”

    I pivot away to increase my distance.

    “PLEASE SIGN! KIND SIR!” she yells, fiercely.

    I prepare myself to yell “Polizei!” if there’s any trouble.

    She gives up the chase, but continued yelling after me in what sounds like Italian. The hollering at me — or perhaps someone else who also irritated her — continues as I get further away, thankfully missing none of my possessions.

  4. TRex says:

    Never accept anything shoved into your hand by a stranger. Stuff your hands in your pockets if you have to. There are cons which are worse than having your pocket picked.

    I have never gone out of my way to identify myself as a Canadian. While they may not be able to pin it down exactly right away most people seem to figure out fairly quickly that I’m not American and that’s good enough.

  5. cherenkov says:

    My wife an I had an incident in Barcelona (#1 on the list) with a guy and girl coming up to us to ask us a question. I think they had a map or something. My wife was alert and nothing happened. They warn you when you get to the hotel to watch out.

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