TOP TIPS FOR GUARDING AGAINST PICKPOCKETS

With thanks to Joseph Neighbor who provided some catalyst text for this short article about pick pockets. This editor has added a bit here and there based on his many years in the travel industry including times as a tour guide. For as long as there have been pants stitched with pockets, there have been people trying to pick them. They scheme in every city for ways to separate unsuspecting tourists from their cash. And the only way to keep them from ruining your travel experience.

A Quick Primer – Ed's Note – American terms are used here. Uncertain an online translation system would succeed with these slang terms.

Pick pocketing is most often performed by teams, known as “whiz mobs”, and each member has a specific job. The “steer” selects a victim, also known as a “mark” or “vic”. A “stall” distracts the mark, while a “shade” obscures the actual act of theft—known as the “dip”—which is performed by the “tool” or “mechanic”. Shortly after the dip, the goods are handed off to a runner, or “duke man”. That way if the tool is confronted, he doesn't have to explain why he is still wearing Ray-Bans inside the casino at Caesars and he is not holding anything. A “cannon”, by the way, is a thief with the confidence and finesse to do it all himself, known as “working single o”.

The Art of the Pickpocket

Step 1: It's all about location

The first obstacle a pickpocket must overcome is personal space, as most people (outside of China) naturally become defensive when someone stands too close. That’s why thieves most often work in crowds and places where people are pressed together -- it provides cover for physical contact. They hunt in subways, buses, concerts, nightclubs, and parades, targeting spots where targets (ie the tourist) are distracted by some type of spectacle.

Step 2: Size up the mark

Pickpockets will generally avoid confrontation. They're more like wolves hunting gazelle, selecting the victim that poses the least risk. But they do need to know what valuables the target has and where he or she is holding them. Which is why if a potential target is within reaching distance, the thief will gently graze the target (a jacket’s breast pocket is a “pit”; a side pants pocket is a “prat”) with his hand to get a read. This is called “fanning”.

Common Pickpocket Tricks

1. The “Beware of Pickpockets” sign

As noted, pickpockets need to know where you keep your valuables; one easy way to do this is hang out near these signs, common in tourist areas in Europe. As it’s natural to subconsciously reach down and check your wallet and phone when you see a sign, thieves only have to watch as you broadcast exactly where you're stashing your cash!

2. The “bump and stall”

Common at subway turnstiles and escalators, two thieves will sandwich a mark. When the one in front stops short unexpectedly, this causes the target to bump into the "stall", the mechanic standing behind dips into the pocket.

This routine is used all over the world – one day, your illustrious editor, was wandering through a section of the old Arab quarter of Jerusalem. So we have gone from a modern subway system to very ancient small crowded lanes. He noted ahead a, ‘casual approach tourist’, with a bulging back pocket. Before he could rush forward and warn the said tourist a donkey was brought into action! No, not a scene from ‘Life of Bryan’ being filmed! The donkey was used to bump into the tourist whilst a small boys hand slipped into the back pocket. Indiana Jones Your editor shouted and dashed for the young boy, suddenly another donkey was lurched against said editor, the original wallet being thrown to another accomplice, I pushed said donkey away and lashed out with foot at another man who thought he would try his luck (all secure anyway) on me. After much shouting and my ‘bull elephant charge’ he quickly left the arena, as did all others involved and of course no one else saw, or knew anything, including the old grandmothers who watched it all. Meanwhile the ‘casual tourist’ was resigned to his loss, thanked me for my attempt to stop the incident and carried on!

3. The "cardboard sign"

Any spectacle with a crowd provides an opportunity for thieves to do their work, but sometimes they have to manufacture their own distractions. Common schemes are spilling something on you, asking for directions, flirting, dropping things, and, of course, the ever-popular gypsy kids waving pieces of cardboard in your face.

· APPROACH WITH CAUTION: Like the crooks in Dickens’ Oliver Twist, pickpockets almost never work alone. One captures your attention while the other rifles through your bag. It might seem rude, but politely challenge overly-friendly approaches from strangers. It may be cover for an accomplice to get his hands on your valuables. The genuinely friendly will understand and the thieves will skulk off to find an easier target.

5 Ways to Beat a Pickpocket

To use an old analogy: If you’re in a crowd being chased by a bear, you don’t have to be the fastest to survive — just not the slowest.

1. Pickpockets look for easy prey: the lost tourist with the bum bag, the girl with her eyes fixed on her phone -- don’t be that fool. At the very least, make your things difficult to steal. That should be enough to deter most thieves.

Live without your phone for the day! Keep it stashed away if you must take it with you. Smart phone theft is overtaking camera theft from tourists. So much so that the U.S. government is trying to introduce laws that force phone manufactures to install a failsafe, erase and destroy system in all phones. This would mean that as soon as the phone is stolen and illegal access tried it self destructs internally, operating system wise.

Suresave travel insurance executive director Michael McAuliffe says SureSave statistics indicate certain patterns to pickpockets’ behaviour.

“For example, 60-70 year olds and 18-25 year olds are statistically the most likely age groups to be pick pocketed. This is because they are typically the most vulnerable and represent different, yet equally enticing opportunities for thieves. The younger people are targeted for their iPhones and iPods, while the older travellers are targeted for passports and wallets. Both these groups also carry credit cards, which are of particular value to these criminals,” McAuliffe says.

“The most common place for tourists to fall victim is on or near public transport. Trains and train stations are the standout locations for robberies to take place, so it pays to be vigilant when boarding and disembarking.”

SureSave statistics reveal markets and shopping centres represent the next most common location for pickpockets to strike, due largely to the fact that thieves can easily blend into the crowd and disappear after committing their crime.

When it comes to destinations to watch out for, McAuliffe says Spain, France and Thailand are the destinations most commonly associated with pick pocketing, closely followed by Vietnam, Bali and Italy.

“However, it should be stressed that pickpockets operate in every major city in the world. Luckily, by taking a few simple precautions, travellers can spend less time worrying about their belongings and more time enjoying their trip.”

2. Males, put your wallet in your front pocket instead of the back and wrap it in a rubber band so it doesn’t slide smoothly. Also, carry an empty decoy wallet in your back pocket to misdirect their attention.

3. Ladies, carry your purse/bag in front of you when in a crowd. Keep it closed. Don’t let it leave your sight.

4. Keep your important items — cash, IDs, documents — in different places; if you do get pick pocketed, you won’t lose everything at once. Better still, the hotel safe, either room, or front desk, is a good place for stuff that is really not required for that walk around the Coliseum.

5. In general, keep your valuables on the down low. Half of pick pocketing is knowing what you have and where you keep it; each time you pull out your afore mentioned smart phone to Snapchat that wonderful local you met at the cafe, you are doing half the thief’s work for him. Use good sense. In most countries you wouldn’t stick out for having a top smart phone. But in many it is wise to keep it hidden.

In general, ‘dress down’ and avoid bright iridescent type backpacks. Leave jewellery at home – does the Queen wear the crown jewels on holiday??

· BLEND IN: Spend the first couple of hours in a new country looking at what the locals use to carry their belongings, and go get one. While you’re at it, look at how they dress, copy that and blend-in a little. This will make you stand out less to thieves.

· STASH YOUR CASH: Many travellers recommend not putting wallets in pockets ever. If you must carry large amount of cash, stash it in out of reach inside pockets.

· BELT UP: As unstylish as they are, money belts can be a saviour, but still only carry enough cash for the day. Leave the majority of your money locked up back at the hotel with your passport.

· RELY ON PHOTOCOPIES: If you’re in a country that insists you carry ID, take a photocopy of your passport and some other photo ID, for example, a driver’s license. If the police insist on seeing the original, offer to take them to see it at your hotel. Be aware some countries, such as Japan, insist that a photocopy is not good enough and you must carry the original, so make sure it’s stashed away safely.

· DITCH THE BUM-BAG: When in a crowded place hold your bag or purse tightly in front of you. But remember, backpacks and bum-bags scream ‘tourist’ and are prime targets for pickpockets.

If you are really, really into this someone has a blog on the subject!!