Common Pickpocket Techniques

BY Beth Williams

The best pickpocket techniques capitalize on the fact that your mind can only focus and do one thing at a time; example, count to 10 and half way through while still trying to count to 10 in your head shout out loud the word orange. You’ll notice that as soon as you shouted orange you lost concentration with the counting; still not convinced? Then sit down and hold one of your legs out in front of you and one of your arms out in front of you, now start making circles with your arm clockwise, now after a while try to make a circle with your leg at the same time, but counter-clockwise instead of clockwise like your arm. You’ll see it’s impossible, that’s how the brain works. Clever pickpockets exploit this fact by distracting their marks while simultaneously lifting their wallet which they don’t notice because they’re too focused on the distraction. You can have peace of mind knowing that you can foil even the best of thieves with an anti-theft wallet or body pouch.
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The Most Common Pickpocket Techniques

The Bump and Lift

pickpocket techniques Warning sign at Westminster Abby, LondonThis theft is usually done while the thief is walking in the opposite direction of their mark (victim). The pickpocket simply bumps into them “by accident” to make the mark’s focus change to the collision while they bump out their wallet far enough for them to lift out. While they’re bumping into the victim, they can either quickly dip into the victim’s pocket and take the goods or push the wallet further out the pocket with their hand while they bump into them and then lift it afterward during an apologetic moment.

This theft is a combination of distraction and misdirection, because as the pickpocket bumps into you, you become distracted and redirect your focus to the sudden accidental bumping location. This gives the pickpocket just enough time to make the lift and walk away. Sometimes the thief even engages you in friendly conversation by apologizing to you to still keep your mind off of your possessions for as long as possible.

The Bump, Grab, and Slip

Using this technique pickpockets find someone standing still but ready to go on the move (a good example here would be a line of people leaving a movie theater, crossing a street or getting on an escalator. Pickpockets simply bump into the back of their mark and apologize, while doing this they bump the wallet out the pocket a little bit; if it’s in a side pocket, then they use their thumb and middle finger to widen the pocket more for them to pull it out a little bit more. Now all they do is simply hold onto the wallet with their thumb and index finger on the tip of it and let the mark themselves detach themselves from the wallet as they walk away.

 pickpocket techniques Keep valuables hidden

Keep valuables hidden

Pressure Distraction
People are sensitive to touch and pickpockets utilize this to their advantage. Even though we are sensitive to touch, if you are constantly touched in the same general area such as the arm you start to become a little insensitive and unaware of it happening. Pickpockets grab the marks arm which is closest to their wallet and apply slight pressure to it, which distracts the marks attention to the arm, and makes them unaware that their wallet has just been lifted as they are focusing 100% on their arm. Secure your valuables with a security travel wallet.The above techniques are the most common used by pickpockets. However, they are many more advanced methods that you have to watch out for – such as:

Fake Lift

This technique is very simple and underscores that you need to keep an eye on your belongings at all times! Pickpockets have come up with an idea based entirely on misdirection. What happens is the “fake pickpocket” tries to lift something from the mark but fails on purpose, and the mark’s attention is admittedly drawn to the situation, accusing the mark of pickpocketing even though nothing has been taken. During this time his partner, the “Real” pickpocket walks past the mark and makes the actual lift while the mark is focused on the “Fake”.  A good style of wallet for foiling this type of crook is a wallet which is attached to you or your belt; these are few favorites.

If you’re ever in this situation and think you’ve foiled a pickpocketing attempt quickly check all of your belongings and swiftly move on before the secondary pickpocket can make the move.


All a run is an accomplice to the pickpocket, his job is to be given the lifted valuables and run -simple as that.  Right after a lift, the valuables are either passed or thrown to the runner, so to avoid any linkage to the actual theft. Foil this type of criminal with a security body pouch or underclothing waist wallet.

Compassion Techniques

This is when pickpockets rely on the mark’s compassion for others to allow them to make the lift. It’s an extremely deceitful form and hard to spot. Some pickpockets play on compassion in their distractions. They “accidentally” spill change or shopping bags on the ground so that someone will stop to help them. While the mark is kneeling on the ground with the first pickpocket, another member of the team steals his or her wallet. At the beach, one member of the team may pretend to be in trouble in the water. When the mark runs in to help out, another member of the team walks off with whatever the mark has left on the beach.

Distraction Techniques

pickpocket techniques Sign in London warning of ThievesIn the pickpocketing world, distraction can get pretty elaborate. Two members of a team might stage a fight while the third member takes advantage of the inattentive crowd. Child pickpockets may try to show something to a mark, like a drawing or a toy, while other children sneak up from behind. Another common trick is surreptitiously to spray someone with bird droppings or a convincing facsimile, and then offer to help clean it off. Another common distraction technique is sex – the use of a young attractive men or women to avert the attention on to the mark, focusing their thoughts on him/her.  An example may be an attractive woman; usually pretending to be tipsy will touch an unsuspecting man affectionately, and lift his wallet or be the distraction while another person takes his valuables.

Oops, Sorry

This is a classic technique, and this usually requires the pickpocket spilling something (usually hot) on the mark.  In the pretense of helping the mark clean them, the pickpocket is provided an excellent opportunity to take the mark’s wallet or other valuables.


In this case the pickpocket will of course “accidentally” knock off the mark’s glasses, suitcase, hat, or anything else. This will serve to both infuriate and disorient the victim so that his wallet can be taken without notice.

Turnstile Jam

This is a very common distraction theft that occurs at subway turnstiles around the world – but especially in European tourist destinations.  As you go to pass thru a subway turnstile, someone presses in right behind you. You feel something in your pocket, but by the time you turn around, it’s already too late – the thief throws your wallet to his accomplice on the other side of the machine, or to the thief right behind him/her. You’re stuck on the wrong side of the turnstile, and both thieves have disappeared into the crowd.

LoopwalletMy Wallet’s Been Stolen!

You are in an underground subway when you hear someone shouted: “My wallet’s been stolen.”  You quickly check your wallet to make sure it’s still there, and you turn your attention towards the girl who claims her wallet was taken. Often there is a staged scuffle or chase which follows. This is a classic misdirection technique employed by pickpockets who work in groups. It will always be a pickpocket who shouts “My wallet has been stolen“, but why would they want to draw attention to this? It’s simple really, by shouting that, everyone in the area will immediately become concerned and will check that all their valuables are still there. This is a pickpocket’s heaven! Everyone in the area has just revealed the exact location of their valuables! You’ve just done 70% of a pickpockets work for him, well done.

Guess Who?

Involves the pickpocket approaching the mark, and placing their hands over the mark’s eyes and shouting “guess who!”, obviously, at the same time removing the contents of their pockets. When the mark turns around surprised and infuriated, the pickpockets will be very apologetic and seem very embarrassed followed by the words, “Oh my god, I’m so sorry I thought you were my brother, sister, dad, friend, etc.” and then humbly walks away.

Hand Movements

Often all it takes is a simple sharp, sudden hand movement of someone standing close to you to get your attention diverted. It can be disguised as an innocent everyday action such as just shaking water off a wet hand or lighting a cigarette and your attention will briefly go there, just enough time to steal valuables out of your purse, backpack or pocket. Pocket Liftspickpocket techniques woman stealing Pocket lifts are usually done quickly and forcefully but covered up with a collision of bodies or another distraction. It’s a lot more difficult to lift the wallet out slowly and timidly. It’s also rare for a pickpocket to just lift the wallet out in one move, usually, they will have several attempts to raise it further out of your pocket this can be done by prying the pocket open with their index and forefinger, or kneeing the marks back pocket, only once it’s clearly visible from the top of the pocket will it be snatched.


Reefing is a method used by pickpockets to raise the contents of a mark’s front pocket to the top. The pickpocket will gently tug up on the inner lining of the pocket, just enough for the contents of the pocket to become visible to grab. Reefing is generally only used on a baggier, lighter trousers versus tighter jeans.

Pacsafe Walletsafe 100 Trifold

Pacsafe Walletsafe 100 Trifold


Some pickpockets will resort to razor blades, not in a threatening manner, but a small very sharp razor blade will allow a pickpocket to cut a pocket to loosen it up or cut it so the contents of the pocket just fall into their hands. The pickpocket will often only make a small cut along a pocket to loosen it up. Most pickpockets avoid using blades. Those who do slice use one of two methods. One method is the blade is used to cut a square out of your pocket, causing your valuables to fall straight into the pickpocket’s hands. This method is very tricky and very hard for a pickpocket to conceal. Another version is the thief cuts a straight line across or down the pocket. Since the cut is being made against your wallet, there is a good chance you won’t feel a thing, and it’s also much quicker.

Protecting Your Pockets

Wearing a coat, jacket, shirt or to cover your pockets is likely to put off a potential pickpocket as it makes accessing your pocket a lot more difficult without drawing your attention to it. Another way to protect your wallet is to carry your wallet in your front pocket and then put your hand in your pocket when in a crowd. It makes the chance of you being pick-pocketed slight. Pickpockets will always stay clear of you if your hands are in your pockets, simple really.

Jacket Pockets Inner Pocket

A thief will rarely bother to pickpocket an inner jacket pocket unless they have seen something valuable there. First, the pickpocket will have to determine in which pocket you keep your wallet. Often they will use a technique known as “fanning” which can include the pickpocket bumping into you with their palms pressed against your lower chest where the inner pockets are. Another method used is asking if you can change a twenty etc. so you pull out your wallet revealing the location to him. It’s common that a left-handed man will keep his wallet in the inner right pocket of his jacket while a right-handed man keeps it in the left. So if you’re right handed, put your wallet in the right pocket. Stealing from an inner pocket requires the use of misdirection, as the pickpocket needs to divert your attention, thus causing you to turn your head, so you can’t catch the pickpocket in your peripheral vision.  See the ruse below it’s a classic.

You’ve Got Something on Your Shoulder; Sir

Pickpockets will purposely spill something on the mark’s shoulder (The opposite one to the wallet’s location), then tell the mark about it, as the mark brushes it off his arm will conceal any movement the pickpocket makes.

Kissing the Dog

This is a drunken routine pulled by pickpockets where they walk into you head on. The collision covers any movements he makes to your jacket pockets. As a jacket lift require the mark’s attention to be re-diverted, pickpockets will often say things like “Hey isn’t he **(insert famous name)** or “Oh my god that plane is going to crash” etc.

LoopwalletBest Advice for Thwarting Pickpockets

Using an anti-theft wallet, purse, or backpack of any style will greatly decrease your victim potential and will definitely increase your peace of mind.  Learn more about anti-theft bags here.