The Basics of Pickpocketing

BY Beth Williams

The goal of being a pickpocket is obviously the taking of someone else’s wallet for the purpose of obtaining cash, credit cards, and identification.

To best understand how pickpockets work, it is best to take the subject and describe the different parts of how they work.   Usually a pickpocket will work with a partner or in a team, but being a “cannon”, or solo pickpocket as they are called is found to be just as easy by many solo pickpockets.

Pickpockets can be either man or woman. Female pickpockets usually employ methods of gaining the mark’s confidence.  Some female pickpocket’s are very aware that use of sex as a distraction is a easy way to distract the”mark” which is another word for a pickpocket victim.

The simplest form of pickpocketing involves two people, one to hook and bait (distract) the mark, and the other to make the lift (remove the wallet or money). The bigger the team the easier it is to pull of the distraction involved.

To many thieves, pickpocketing is a game not only of not only skill and stealth, but also of MISDIRECTION and DIVERSION. Many have found that they don’t need to have fast hands (although it helps) as long as the mark’s mind is on something else. For instance in a crowded elevator a woman will be thinking about many other thing besides who is standing beside or behind her. In a crowded place it is normal for strangers to press up against each other, so they don’t even notice something pressing up against their pocket or purse.  If the pickpocket is good then the mark never feels a thing. A simple bump and her wallet is now in your pocket. Most people never think twice about it when that person pressed up against them, or bumped into them and that’s the key to pick pocketing.

It bears repeating that diversion is the key! The human mind can only concentrate on one thing at a time, and its attention is easily diverted. If some one is thinking about something else then their minds won’t be on their pockets or purses…and whose hands are in them. People may believe that they can think about more than one thing at a time, but this is very difficult for many. The man in a hurry has his attention focused on not being late, and the lady who just suffered a collision in a hallway is to indignant to think of anything else. Crude forms of misdirection and diversion will work, but subtler methods are much better to work undetected.

While crude versions or amateur level pickpockets will find easy and primitive ways to distract pickpocket victims.  They have been known to shout, “Look at that!” and then grab a purse.   Again, while primitive, it works for some – many times these types of thieves may be children or teens who will steal a purse and run off like a track star.  A real pickpocket will distract their prey in such a fashion that they won’t know they’ve been robbed until its too late.  Keep in mind that the human can be distracted easily.

To prove this here is a simple test: count to yourself out loud to ten but when you get to 5 think the word “Batman”.  Could you think and count at the same time?  For most people, it does not work like that.  The human mind can only focused on one thing at a time, so if you bump into someone they will feel that and not you slipping their wallet out of their pocket or purse.

The mark’s thought, at the crucial moment, must be focused in another direction. When the human mind become preoccupied it becomes less aware of its surroundings and is even immune to minor pain, as in the example of cutting your finger but not noticing it until later. So when picking a pocket the mark’s mind must be preoccupied and unsuspecting, the bump you use to mask the lift must seem innocent to them.  A good method a pickpocket may use in this case would be compassion; with their mind bent towards helping someone else the thought of their valuables will be momentarily gone.

One of popular pickpocket scams involves the “pickpocket trio.”   This is a typical three-person team of thieves includes the “stall” (who positions himself in front of you and draws your attention), the “dip” (who acts upon your moment of distraction to pick your pocket or purse), and a third person who receives your valuables and casually and quietly disappears into the crowd.  Some pickpockets and distraction thieves rely upon your kindness by dropping something on the chance you’ll help them pick it up, asking for directions, or even faking an accident that somehow seems to be your fault or beg for your involvement.

Thieves put their faith in your good character to the extreme, as in the case of a tourist sitting on a Caribbean beach who went into the water to save a ‘drowning swimmer’ only to return to find his valuables stolen. Others “accidentally” bump into you and another “kind” person catches you from falling.  In reality, you have just fallen into their trap. Pickpockets have been known to soil your clothes with toothpaste, ash, ice cream, ketchup, mayonnaise, or some other item.   A second member of the team points out the spill to you, pointing skyward to what may have been a “bird” as the potential culprit who “pooped” on you, then offers to help you clean up.  This is the perfect set up for a theft, or even a mugging.  In some third world countries, the “stall” approaches the traveler with arms outstretched, and a friendly smile on his face. While she embraces you, another thief strikes you on the back, creating enough distraction to lift your valuables.

For many pickpockets and thieves, they find the best time to strike, as has been mentioned before, is right after the mark has exposed the location of their wallet.  They find this is is good time because not only does it tell them where the mark’s wallet it, but also leaves it in exposed position due to the fact that the victim is usually distracted with their purchase.  Speaking of which, taking advantage of their own distractions.  In the electronics isle, like where you can get CDs or DVDs, the mark will be every distracted while they look through the titles.  They will use this sort of thing to make off with a victim’s wallet right under their very nose.

Remember a pickpockets goal is to be stealthy and blend in.  They try not to act different or suspiciously, and dress normal.  People in general are on guard and might remember if a pickpocket acts oddly.  Even if it is a simple snatch of opportunity, it is still all about getting the goods and vanishing.  Pickpockets never run unless they have to, they usually walk away briskly. Keeping their activities out of sight is vital for pickpockets.

Pickpockets are aware that they have to be careful, even if the mark feels or sees nothing, someone else might.  They are on guard for cameras and other people’s eyes, which can be easily fooled.  Most victim’s aren’t paying attention to anyone other than themselves, and even that’s poorly (which makes a pickpocket’s job even easier.) While a pickpocket can pick a pocket just about anywhere, the best place they like to try their trade are in the following  places; outdoors, restaurants, restrooms, parking lots, parks, libraries, on escalators, in elevators, revolving doors, and in movie theaters. Basically anywhere the mark might be distracted easily. Restaurants are fertile ground because dinners hand jackets or bags over the back of their seats, or even more rashly dump handbags out of sight on the floor.  If they see see an opportunity anywhere – they go for it.  They usually never hesitate, and if they think it’s a golden moment – they seize it!

Many pickpockets carry a newspaper, shopping bag, book bag, or (ladies) a purse to hide the stolen goods in.  Simple wallets can be placed in pockets, but if they have to steal the whole purse then they don’t want to have to carry it around in plain site.  Also, pickpockets are very known to always look away from the pocket being picked.  They don’t let their eyes or expression give them away to a victim.

Pickpockets know that eyes always follow movement, particularly when it first begins.  Any sudden movement will draw attention, but it needs to seem natural or innocent to avoid suspicion.  They don’t just grab a bag or thrust their hand in a pocket, they take their time and move with a slow, but steady movement.  In some cases they use the mark’s own forward momentum against them. Once they grip a wallet, be it in a purse or pocket, they simply let the mark walk away. The natural pull of them walking away slides the wallet out right into their hands.

Pickpockets take whatever you can from the mark, because just about anything of value they have on them will also be of value to the pickpockets – especially cash, credit cards, and your id cards (which are sometimes sold to identify thieves).  Some pickpockets take watches and other forms of jewelry if they can, not to mention cell phones, laptops, luggage, etc. Larger sized “pocket secretaries” which usually contain many credit cards and passwords are particularly inviting and easy to steal.  Some times men and women use them for their wallets anyway.

Pickpockets also know to keep an eye out for reflections.  They might give them away when nothing else would have.  Dipping (another word for taking wallets) around windows, mirrors, or even in the frozen food section has to be quick or well timed to keep a mark from seeing them.   While the mark might not notice the lifting of their wallet, eventually they will notice the lack of weight, especially in the instances of small purses.  The pickpocket has to make sure to get the wallet and get away as quickly as possible with out being noticeable.

Another trick of pickpockets who steal whole purses or handbags, many skilled thieves know that they may contain a cell phone and they should turn it off right away – many victims that notice their purse missing call their cell phone and try to listen for their ring tone.  This is why it is important for the victim to try and call their phone right away to try and help them find the pickpocket who stole their bag before the thief turns it off or throws it away to avoid being caught.

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