How To Avoid Pickpockets (2min read)

G. Kearsley, Fleet Street
G. Kearsley, Fleet Street

I’m not normally on the look-out for crime-related material, but I couldn’t resist listening to an interview of “Pickpocket King” Bob Arno. He learned his trade through performing on shows, and has gone on to become the leading expert in the world. He now advises law enforcement agencies. And here’s what I learnt on how pickpockets operate, how to avoid them and what precautions to take:

  • The first thing to know is that the police don’t have the resources to chase pickpockets, so prevention is everything.
  • The most advanced pickpockets work in packs targeting lucrative locations like Las Vegas, or events like Ascot and the Monaco grand prix.
  • In the pack, you have the blocker who boxes in a victim and distracts them, while the cannon does the actual stealing, and then passes what’s been stolen to shade, who takes it and hides it out of sight.
  • More generally, pickpockets target tourists, and try to assess how wealthy they are. They often look at their victims shoes to assess that.
  • The basic technique used is diversion. The classic is for the pickpocket to bump into the victim when the train lurches.
    • To not be a victim, one needs to become a pickpocket spotter. Most acts happen at doors (trains, entrances/exits to busy buildings).
    • Pickpockets look for jams of people, but unlike regular people they do not look ahead when entering/exiting, they look down at purses or pockets. So look at the angle of faces.
    • They also hover in hotel, airport and train station lobbies. They’ll look serious and every now and then turn to see if the law is nearby. At airports they linger in arrivals, rather departures.
    • At shop counters, watch out for shoulder surfers – they stand diagonally behind you as you enter your pin number.
  • In general, don’t leave your phone on the table in cafes. Leave a spare credit card in the hotel safe, which you case in case you do get pickpocketed.
  • Put important information, like your passport and travel details, on a partitioned thumbdrive. Again leave it in the hotel safe, so you can access it in case you lose your real passport.
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