The "art" of picking pockets is among one of the world's oldest professions. While many pickpockets are young males, pickpockets may be young or old and of either sex.

The skilled pickpocket is not the seedy character you'd expect to find lurking in a dark doorway. He appears to be normal in appearance and manner. Because they make a study of how to blend into the crowd, pickpockets usually remain undetected and can practice their activities with little hindrance.

Pickpockets follow no regular schedule. They operate equally well during daylight hours as at night. Picking pockets may take place not only in crowds, but pretty much anywhere. Pickpockets generally focus on the public during times when they might be carrying more money than usual, such as during pre-holiday spending sprees, store sales, at fairs, carnivals, horse races, gambling casinos, near bank entrances, at ATM machines, in bus and train stations, etc.

While many pickpockets work alone, there are also teams of two or three which sometimes involves a female accomplice. A team with nimble fingers is next to impossible to apprehend. The first team member removes the valuables from the unsuspecting victim's pockets. He then secretly passes them on to the next member who quickly disappears. When a female member is also employed, she generally engages the victim in conversation to distract or delay his attention.

Contrary to what most think, experienced pickpockets do not place their hands all the way into the victim's pockets. Rather, the expert criminal reaches into the top of the pocket, takes up a pleat in the lining, then makes a dozen or so more tiny pleats, folding the lining with swift dexterity between his fingers. The shortening pocket lining moves the valuables upward so that they emerge at the mouth of the pocket. The entire act takes place in a second or two.

There are thieves who try to distract you in some way, or wait until you aren't paying attention. They can then slice your bag open quickly with a razor, or run off with your bag and hand it to their accomplices.

There are many methods used to distract a potential victim. Spitting on shoes, hair or clothes, calling attention to an "emergency," asking for the time or where you are from, throwing something on your clothes and talking to you about how incredibly gorgeous you look are some of the distraction tactics used.

The best protection for foiling thieves is to remove the opportunity of becoming a victim. Below are some tips:

  • Follow the advice under the Money and Documents section
  • If you strut around with enough jewelry to make Mr. T envious, or carry cameras to support the entire National Geographic team, you'll increase your chances of being a victim of theft. Keep things simple, inexpensive and to a minimum to avoid problems
  • Be careful of seductive members of the opposite sex. They may try to get close to you to pick your pockets
  • Be especially wary in crowds where a lot of bumping is going on
  • On public transportation sit away from the door and keep your backpack out of site. When the vehicle stops, thieves like to grab and run
  • When on the streets, in stores, at a restaurant or at bus stations keep your backpack with you at all times. Don't set it down even for a moment unless it is firmly protected
  • Some valuables may be kept at your hotel's safe. Be sure to get a signed, itemized copy of what is deposited there
  • Keep your money, documents and any other valuables you might have out of sight as much as possible
  • Be alert and listen to your instinct
  • Keep your dummy wallet in your front pocket. Zippered or buttoned pockets is a good idea
  • Never pat your pocket to see if your wallet is still there. This notifies the criminal of the location of your valuables
  • When on buses or trains keep your backpack with you. If it must go underneath the bus or in a train luggage area make sure that it is tagged with your name and checked with ID when claimed
  • If you have been victimized by a pickpocket, immediately notify police and give the best description you can

  • Travel Course: Thugs

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