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Pickpockets Go High Tech

If there were a “criminal hall of fame,” with an award bestowed on the “coolest” criminal, it would have to be a pickpocket. Pickpockets are sneaky, devilish creatures who function exactly one degree below the radar.

Pickpockets whisper through society, undetected and undeterred. They are subtle and brazen at the same time. They are  like a bed bugs, crawling on you and injecting a numbing venom that prevents you from detecting their bite until it’s much to late. They aren’t violent like a drug crazed mugger or confrontational like a stick up robber. They have much more gumption than any criminal hacker because they don’t hide under the anonymity of the Internet.

One second is all a pickpocket needs. A brief diversion, a quick move, and before you can take a breath, your wallet is gone.

Pickpocketing is one of the oldest criminal professions, and is still very prevalent in Europe. Their target? Clueless Americans. Americans just aren’t as aware of pickpockets, since it isn’t as prevalent here.

One victim’s story: “My wife and I were at a Paris Metro station where the loudspeakers were blaring, ‘WARNING. THERE ARE PICKPOCKETS PRESENT AT THIS STATION.’ We got on the crowded subway. A woman stayed half on and half off, blocking the door. At the same time, another woman was bumping against me, indicating that she needed to get off. She got past me and she and her friend exited the train, allowing the door to close. As she did, I realized that my cash (about $120) was gone from my pocket. As we pulled away, I watched the two women at the station, smiling and waving at me.”

Pickpockets’ greatest advantage is the fact that most people don’t believe it can happen to them. Including me.

Years ago, I met this cat named Gene Turner at a convention. A great guy who has the skills of a real pickpocket, but uses his abilities to inform, educate and entertain people. I told him to get, which he did. I should get a slice of that action! Real nice guy, very personable. He introduced himself to me by - without me knowing - taking my watch off my left wrist. Then asked me what time it was. I looked at my left wrist, no watch. He pointed to my right arm, where he re-fastened it. Freaked me out.

Gene says, “Personally, I get ‘caught’ maybe once out of a thousand times when I’m lifting a watch. And usually it’s either a really difficult watch or I’m taking it from the same person for the third or fourth time. I have always said a good pickpocket could pick me clean and I would never feel it. Even the best multi-tasker can be distracted, and it only takes a split second of distraction to become a victim. I have lifted watches from and put watches on many magicians, security people and yes, even other pickpockets, without their knowledge.”

Wired reports that pickpockets have upped the ante: “Feds Swoop In on Nationwide Pickpocket, I.D. Theft Ring.” The suspects, using a novel and high-tech strategy, allegedly stole the identities and bank account information from victims nationwide through pickpocketing and other means. The ring allegedly traveled around the country to crowded events, targeting sports fans in particular. Often, they worked in teams, in which one person distracts the victim and the other lifts the victim’s wallet.

How to protect yourself:

1. Be wary of someone yelling, “There’s a pickpocket in the crowd.”

Gene says, “I use this ploy a lot in my show. When people find out that I can pick pockets, the men check for their wallets and the women will check for their jewelry in the order of value – most expensive first. Their actions clue me as to exactly where the wallets and valuable jewelry are located.”

A man in a business suit has four pants pockets and six to eight pockets in the jacket. His wallet, cash and credit cards could be in any one of ten or more pockets. Pickpockets don’t usually have time to search all ten, but if they see you check your pocket when you read the sign, they now know the exact location. If you think there are pickpockets around or you see a sign, don’t be obvious about checking for your wallet or valuables.

2. Don’t display money or valuables in public.

Flashing your money will get you more attention than you want. Pickpockets will notice where you stash the cash and one bump later, you’ll be left with an empty pocket.

3. Be aware of your surroundings.

Especially in crowded places, bumps, commotions, and aggressive people are the typical distractions pickpockets use. Sometimes a person will fall down, drop something or appear to be ill, and we rush in to help. That’s great and I recommend it, but it may be a diversion. If you’re helping a stranger, make sure someone you trust is watching your valuables. Sidewalks, malls, bus terminals, airports, train stations, in any type of crowd it is extremely important to be aware of your surroundings. Pickpockets are counting on you paying attention to everything except for your wallet or purse.

4. Don’t carry valuables in a backpack or fanny pack.

Anyone can reach into a backpack without you seeing or feeling. Fanny packs, if worn, should only be worn in front. Keep in mind that that won’t prevent a thief from undoing it or slashing the belt and getting away with it. If you do wear a fanny pack, make sure the buckle is near the pouch in front, so a pickpocket would have a more difficult time getting to the latch without your knowledge. It is not uncommon for a pickpocket to use a razor blade to slice through a bag and reach in.

5. Thin out your wallet.

Ultimately, they may still get your wallet. And when they do, you need to be prepared to respond to the fallout. The best protection is to not carry anything of value. There is no need to carry documents containing Social Security numbers, passwords, account numbers, birth certificates or anything that could lead to new account fraud. I carry a drivers license, credit card and a Costco card. Think of it this way: if your wallet were lost or stolen, would you feel like throwing up? If so, you have too much stuff in there.

6. Make copies.

For those of you that have to carry lots of stuff for various reasons, please make a photocopy, front and back, of every document in your wallet. Keep those photocopies in a secure place. If your wallet goes missing, you will have everything you need to close the existing cards and get new ones. Plus, it doesn’t hurt as much when you can see a copy of the missing cards.

7. Use anti-check washing pens.

Wallets often contain checkbooks. Check fraud is a billion dollar problem. Check washing occurs when criminals use nail polish remover to scrub out the payee and dollar amount, and rewrite checks to themselves for increased  amounts. With a uni-ball anti-check washing gel pen, you can prevent your checks from being washed.

8. Protect your identity
Invest in identity theft protection and prevention services. Even if your wallet is squeaky clean, your data may be found in your banks dumpster or be hacked. Which is why you also must protect your computer by having the latest anti-virus and spyware protection.

Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Speaker discussing identity theft ring busted


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