Protect Your Wallet and Handbag From Pickpockets

Whether you’re relaxing on vacation or attending a conference, pickpockets are not far behind. Here’s what you need to know to keep yourself from falling victim to their tactics.

A couple of weeks ago a local TV station aired camera surveillance footage of a pair of female pickpockets working their trade in a Philadelphia café.

The two women targeted another woman who had casually placed her handbag over the back of her chair. As the victim was talking to a friend, one of the two seasoned pickpocket professionals simply reached into the unfastened handbag and lifted out a credit card.

The pickpocket, called “the wire” in criminal slang, passed the credit card to her partner and the two crooks walked out of camera range without an apparent care in the world. The pickpockets then proceeded to go on a merry shopping spree with their victim’s credit card. They have not yet been caught.

As small business people are attending conventions, vacationing, or simply out conducting business this time of year, be advised that pickpockets are also out conducting business.

I recall a conversation I had with a detective a while back. He told me that pickpockets often work in pairs or groups, and while most pickpockets are men, there are also many women and teenage pickpockets.  

Pickpockets, my detective friend explained, usually begin their criminal careers as teenagers and they learn to target easy “marks,” or victims. They learn to read people and they learn how to move like a graceful athlete.

Pickpockets operate in and around hotels, airports, bus and train stations, stores, shopping malls and crowed streets – any place where there are crowds and unrestricted public access. Pickpockets especially love rush hour, as their victims are hurrying home or to work and they are often preoccupied.

Victims draw the attention of a pickpocket when they take out their wallet or purse for some purpose and then place them back in their jacket, pants, handbag or backpack. This action alerts the pickpocket to where you place your valuables. The pickpocket’s nimble fingers and shadowy movements allow them to dip into your clothes or bags without your noticing. Very often the victim does not even realize they have been robbed until they reach home or work, or attempt to use their cash or credit cards

Pickpockets love to slide through crowds and look for a victim with luggage in hand, or their arms full of packages. They also look for victims reading, talking on a cell phone, looking at a Blackberry, or concentrating on some other electronic device. These distractions give the pickpocket the edge when he or she slips in to rob you.

Pickpockets also like to distract their victims. In a crowded area one member of the pickpocket team may bump into your left side as the other member of the team goes for your wallet or purse on your right. Another tactic will have one pickpocket ask you a question as the other pickpocket moves in to lift your wallet.

Pickpockets have also been known to spill coffee or a soda on you. Then while apologizing profusely and attempting to wipe up the mess, they pick your pocket.

Law enforcement and security professionals offer the below tips: 

  • Don’t draw attention to yourself by being appearing inebriated, flustered, confused or angry.
  • Never carry or display large amounts of cash.
  • Carry only credit or ATM cards that you plan to use that day.
  • Button, zip, snap and close your handbag and purse.
  • Keep a list of every valuable in your wallet or purse. Place serial and contact numbers on the list.
  • Keep the list separate from your wallet and purse.
  • Men should keep their wallets in a front pocket rather than a back pocket.
  • Women should carry their purse tightly under their arms.
  • Always be alert and aware of your surroundings when you are in a public place.

In addition to losing cash and valuables to a pickpocket, one should also be concerned about identity theft. Be sure to report the theft immediately to the police and then notify your credit card companies of your loss.

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