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Pickpocketing techniques

I'm going to write some tricks and techniques that pickpocketers use so that you don't fall victim to their thievery.
Obviously, they prefer easy targets, such as:
- Open bags, like shopping bags.
- Outside pockets of a backpack or shoulder bag.
- Outside pockets of a jacket.
- Cafe table, a lot of people put their belongings on the table thinking it is safe within view, but 1 second of distraction, of they may be gone.
Most pickpockets use elements of distraction, common tricks are:
- Someone tries to dance with you.
- Insistent begging.
- A drunk person grabs your arm and tries to talk to you.
- Someone passes by you "accidentally" drops money.
- Some people can begin a loud argument or fight in front of you.
- A street child flashes something in your face.
- Pickpockets often work in teams. Like getting on a crowded bus, someone in front of you may create a delay so the one behind you can get your wallet. One may distract the victim's attention while the other reaches into a pocket, if they succeed, your wallet may be handed off to a third "player".
If you want to know more, you can check out here: http://wikitravel.org/en/Pickpockets

Posted by
20973 posts

There is nothing new in the article that has not been discussed here over and over. Our discussions are more up to date than the article. Most of the above posting is copied from that article without proper notation. Second, the articles itself is long and contains a number of inaccuracy for current travel. I am suspicious that the article was copied from an older source. Frequent mention of using travellers cheques - for example. Another recommendation of putting a chain on the billfold.

Takes forever to get to the idea of using a money belt. And then talks about using money belts with steel cables so they cannot be cut off. I cannot remember the last time someone tried to dance with me or drunk tried to talk to me. Read it if you like, but little new information.

Posted by
1047 posts

One tip that I learned while traveling in Europe is that a pickpocket will often yell "pickpocket". All the tourists will instinctively put their hand where their money is just to make sure it is still there. Members of the pickpocket team will then know where all the tourists have their money and will chose a victim to go after a couple of blocks later. Even knowing that and having my money in a money belt, I had a difficult time not falling for this. I am curious if any other members of this forum have experienced this or have heard of this before. I have heard someone yelling pickpocket on all my trips to Europe.

Posted by
20973 posts

I don't know where you are traveling but in over a year in Europe over the past 20+ years in some of the great pickpocket capitols of the world I have never heard that shouted in a public area. Have heard a couple of announcements at railroad stations, seen some signs, but never any random shouts. And if I did it would not make any difference as I am not carrying anything in a pocket that needs to be checked. But I do think that some travelers seen a pickpocket around every corner or under every rock or any distraction is a pickpocket attempt. We don't.

Posted by
12107 posts

I'm with Frank. I've never heard that shouted unless there really WAS a pickpocket about. Most of the 'tricks' listed above are also nothing which haven't been common knowledge for years among European travelers and/or listed in tourist guidebooks.

We've never been pick-pocketed on any of our European trips. No one has ever tried to dance with us (really?) and we haven't had a drunk try to have a conversation with us. Actually, the pickpocket which you should be concerned (if you haven't taken the easy precautions) about is the one which doesn't look anything like you think they should.

Posted by
20973 posts

That is very true, Kathy. In all of our travels I have never seen a pickpocket in action or had any attempt (that we are aware of) make on us. Have seen a couple of suspicious situations and did have on our first trip in 72 a very brief encounter within the baby doll but nothing happened and nothing since then. Doesn't mean something cannot happen on the next trip but we don't expect anything. People love to post about pickpockets but that gives the impression that you are entering a den of thieves and your probability of being robbed is close to a hundred percent. We have had very few truly instances of pickpocket reported here. But it does happen to a minority of travelers, not the majority.

There is a good conversation running about five posting below on this subject because it does happen. And I particular like this discussion because it was a zipper front pocket. Nothing in a pocket is safe from a good pickpocket.

Posted by
1536 posts

I agree with the forum regulars who keep reminding us that this is making a fuss rather than contributing much to our cautious thinking,
BUT:
I have been mildly accosted by supposedly drunk people in tourist zones a couple of times, where, when I shifted my bag to the opposite shoulder and then turned to attend them, they quickly lost interest in engaging. I interpreted this in the moment to mean that they were trying to be opportunistic thieves. Counter-examples also come to my mind, where drunk people trying to be social don't notice whether I'm moving my bag or not.

Much more common is something that gave us a good laugh last weekend: a lot of people coming into San Francisco for the Pride festivities who are not familiar with the subway system could be seen trying to figure out the fare gates, etc. An exasperated BART staffer's voice kept pleading with people over the public address system to not buy tickets from anywhere except a ticket machine -- the people selling tickets in person are not selling authentic tickets, and they PA insisted that no-one would be refunded money spent on fake tickets.

That explains why people were trying to stick business cards and advertising cards into the fare gates!

I can picture the posting here in the forum now: incompetent BART officials in San Francisco are not exchanging my tickets...

Posted by
2525 posts

Yelling "pickpocket" to flush out the location of valuables is not a technique I've ever experienced, but I sure have seen more than my share of pickpockets in action, but never a victim. The closing statement during the daily briefing advice by Sergeant Esterhaus is still valid.

Posted by
12160 posts

Some pickpocket yelling that word in an area full of tourists presupposes that the tourists understand that word or even care. I've never seen that done, likewise with most that list. In Paris across the street from the D'Orsay museum in 2012 I've had the gold ring scam pulled on me. I gave the kid doing this the so called Gallic shrug of the shoulder. He couldn't figure why I didn't react the way he expected. Finally he frustrated, I could see he was ticked.

What is announced over the loudspeaker now as I've seen on this past trip is at Frankfurt Hbf if the gypsies are making their rounds as they do at Paris Nord, the difference between Paris Nord and Frankfurt Hbf is that at Frankfurt the message is made in English and German that the beggars are in the station and don't leave your belongings unattended.

Posted by
11613 posts

I agree that you can paralyze yourself with worry. Just take basic precautions.

Posted by
12139 posts

Put your valuables in your skivvies and two #10 treble hooks in each front pocket.

Posted by
12139 posts

Maybe its the novelty of it. Not the sort of thing that happens in day to day life unless you hang out in crowded tourist zones. Personally I admire the skill involved vs bashing someone over the head and robbing them.

Posted by
487 posts

We are all tourists on these forums and visit venues where there are lot of tourists. Folks with valuables that are exposed or accessible. I am sure that if you attended a major event in the USA there are thieves that will grab purses or pilfer backpacks or pick pockets. My wife and I either carry a neck wallet or money belt. If we carry a day pack or luggage, it is kept in front of us on crowded venues and locked. Good luck digging in my pockets all you will get is a couple of coins!

Posted by
16817 posts

I've understood that many people telegraph the location of their valuables by patting them reassuringly even without anyone yelling, "pickpocket." As well as many wallet bulges or conspicuously worn neck pouches are just obvious. Once your money belt for higher value items is properly on and secure under your clothes, you shouldn't need to check up on it.

Rick's word on the issue is under Travel Tips on the sidebar: https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/theft-scams.

Posted by
5538 posts

Every evening when the newscasts talk about drive-by shootings or terrorist attacks, we smugly say "but no pickpockets!"

Posted by
518 posts

...and another line I love hearing with regards to pickpockets, from seasoned travelers is: "it's not IF you get pick-pocketed, it's WHEN!" That no matter what I do, the pick-pockets are "professionals" and that they WILL be able to pull my wallet out of my jeans, no matter how tight those jeans are and how deep those pockets are. I think the only scenario where I received no argument on is the ankle wallet....that I'm willing to bet my life on the impossibility that a pick-pocket will be able to: 1) lift up my pant leg, 2.) pull down my sock, 3.), pull up on the velcro fold of me ankle wallet, 4.) unzip the pocket of the ankle wallet, and finally, 5.) remove whatever money I have in there. And of course, this assumes that the pick-pocket has already used his x-ray vision to know that I'm wearing an ankle wallet and on which leg I'm wearing it. Because even with the money belt I've heard arguments against it because things can fall out or you can lose it, while using the restroom. With an ankle wallet, there truly is no scenario I can imagine where you'd need to take your pants, shoes, and socks off completely while you're out sight-seeing during the day.

Posted by
12139 posts

Every evening when the newscasts talk about drive-by shootings or
terrorist attacks, we smugly say "but no pickpockets!"

No drive by shootings and no pick pockets where I live, work, commute, shop. So I guess I am doubly blessed.

Be careful in crowded tourist situations. Maybe a little extra cautious in places where they are known to operate, but beyond reasonable (non-paranoid) caution, just have a good time.

Posted by
31219 posts

One of the stories on the noon news today was about the annual "Running of the Bulls" in Pamplona, and they showed one of the plazas packed "elbow-to-elbow" with thousands of tourists. My first thought when seeing that was, "there's a target-rich environment for pickpockets". Prior to travelling in Europe, I probably never would have thought that.

Posted by
152 posts

We saw no pick pocket action in Paris, Belgium, Austria and Germany 10 years ago. My parents went to Italy at the same time. Twice someone in their group was pick pocketed, wallet, in a pocket (Termini station). Camera in the bottom of a zipped backpack (on the famous bus in Rome). Guy didn't feel a thing. My father knew there were hands in his pocket on the famous bus, he yelled pickpocket but she kept on digging. He says the gypsy tried to distract him while nursing her baby and shoving baby and herself into him all the while digging into his pockets, she didn't stop after he yelled. She got nothing from him, neck wallet did its job.

Posted by
12139 posts

As the Hawaiian says, you are 23 times more likely to be run over by a drunk goat on your way to a legal Paris vacation rental than you are to be the victim of a pickpocket on a Moroccan beach.

Posted by
12160 posts

"...legal Paris vacation rental...." What is legal in Paris I am glad in Berlin is now illegal.

Posted by
24885 posts

was it really a drunk goat? I would have thought it much more likely to be run over by a drunk dog. How do you get a goat onto a barstool?

I bet chickens are involved somewhere..

Posted by
7204 posts

I was pick pocketed for the first time while in St Petersburg Russia last Summer - after 30 or so trips all over Europe was the 1st attempt. He got nothing except the dirty kleenex in my pocket. I hope he enjoyed THAT!

Posted by
20973 posts

It took awhile, but this posting finally arrived at the silly zone.

Posted by
12139 posts

Nigel, I believe the whole thread was characterized by some individuals as being about chickens....

I don't think the posts on pickpockets are trivial, since I am
going to Paris, Amsterdam and Barcelona for the first time.
I know I am naive and need to be reminded to stay alert.

Posted by
12139 posts

phylliscountryman; with that list of destinations I would be nervous too. Well, not nervous, but a little more cautious than usual.

Posted by
5 posts

On pretty much every trip I've made to Europe I've run into some sort of pickpocket or scam. Having kept up to date with the latest tricks I've been ready for them. Recently a friend planning his first trip to Europe asked me if I had trouble with pickpockets when I traveled. I was able to tell him I'd seen plenty but never had any trouble. Wear a money belt, keep bags close and your eyes open and enjoy the trip!

Posted by
12139 posts

april43434, you might look for safer places to visit. I’ve made maybe 45 trips to Europe and I have been hit once, unsuccessfully, in Paris. I have personally known four people who have been hit, one in a tram in Vienna, one on the street in Barcelona and two in Rome both involving a motor scooter.

Posted by
12160 posts

If someone starts talking in an exaggerated loud voice, yelling, etc, in front of me, I step aside, ie, flank them. If someone "discovers/drops" money suddenly, who cares, I ignore it and move out of there. If pickpockets work in teams, they don't get my wallet.

If you feel/sense that you are being encroached upon, ie, encircled, then it's time to be rude and push your way through. Although I rarely need to do this, if I'm feel pestered by begging, I bark at them. They aren't used to that from tourists.

Posted by
487 posts

It is awareness of surroundings. ALWAYS be aware of who is around you while you are waiting for something to happen in a crowd. For example the clock in Prague. Street performers in large busy public areas. etc., And watch were you stow your items when having a coffee, beverage or food.

Posted by
5652 posts

@ Tom the reason it is an obsession with some of us Americans is that pickpocketing is not perceived as a common threat in most of our daily lives here. Most Americans are not used to taking such precautions. Not to say it doesn't happen, it just doesn't have high visibility. I was at a big street festival in a large US city last fall, and just for fun, I went around checking to see how many men were walking around with a big fat wallet in the back pocket of their jeans. I guessed it was 90%, and often the other back pocket had a cellphone, or dangling car keys.

The presence and perceived tolerance of organized petty crime as in the touristy areas of European cities, is what gets Americans attention. If that was the case where I live, it would probably get major coverage and public outrage in the local media. The reverse is probably true when it comes to violent crime and drive-by shootings. They happen every week in my city. I would advise European visitors the same kind of awareness cautions we get about pickpockets in Europe..

Posted by
12160 posts

Keep in mind that in Vienna at the train stations, Westbahnhof and Meidling a lot more of the SOS Notstellen can be found. They're emergency places painted in red and blue (conspicuously ) with instructions given in only English and German for the person to push the button and talk. Nothing new really, except a lot more of them have been added.

Posted by
22 posts

We just spent a month in Barcelona, and only once did an amateur pickpocketer try to get into my girl friend's almost empty open purse (it had a water bottle and her eyeglass case). The clue was that she squeeze in between us going up an escalator, not noticing that I was watching her. As soon as she tried to slip her hand into the purse I slapped it, and yelled at her. When we got to the top she quickly walked away. I have been traveling thru Europe on and off for the last 36 years, and this is only the second time I have personally experience this. ( I caught the first one too.) Just be cautious especially in crowded public places; USE COMMON SENSE, and STOP thinking that everyone is trying to pickpocket you. Relax and enjoy your vacation !!!!

Posted by
444 posts

I carry an old wallet in my hip pocket as a decoy. I keep bills in there if i have to purchase something out in public where who knows could be watching to see where my money comes from. I would prefer for them to grab it and go than to keep searching elsewhere.

I had a thief attempt to open my backpack while someone distracted me in Barcelona, but I had clips on it and felt the zipper pull and caught it. We have been surrounded by very persistent gypsy kids in Rome. As we walked away. And I have seen the gold ring trick an old woman tried on us and kept walking in Paris. She approached the the single female behind us and my wife and I told her it was a scam and to keep walking. The old woman, gave me a dirty look and shuffled off. I have seen a backpack that belonged to one of our group snatched off a bus in China, but the owner and several in the group chased him down while the others stayed with the rest of the backpacks. But, I have spent a year overseas traveling to 32 countries so I am bound to have something happen to me.

I think the reason pickpockets are such a big concern, is that we are out of our normal environment. We as tourists are constantly visiting many places that are packed with people in a very short time span. Most of us do not live in big cities. We do not deal with large crowds and are not riding the subways and busses so we may not be attuned to pickpockets whereas someone who lives in a big city deals with it everyday. To them, it is just a fact of life. In my town, we may visit two or three events a year where there are large crowds of people. The rest of the time, there is no reason for someone to approach me, if they do they are more likely to rob me with a gun or knife. So, I am more concerned and vigilant about that than someone picking my pocket. When we travel, we are out of our environment and surrounded by the pickpocket possibility from the time we leave our room in the morning until we get back in the evening.

Posted by
12160 posts

"A drunk person grabs your arm and tries to talk to you." Talk to me, why would he want to do that? That presupposes that I don't jerk my arm away from him first. Bottom line is they don't even get close enough to pull such a diversionary manuever.

Posted by
11613 posts

"Surrounded by pickpocket...(from morning til night")?

Most likely at a few points during the day (getting on/off crowded buses or trains, crowded tourist venues), but after about 3000 days in Europe over the years, I have encountered pickpockets twice.