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We all know what the oldest profession is, but pickpocketing is probably the second oldest. For as long as there have been pockets and crowds there have been people around who can relieve you of your money and valuables without your even noticing. Literature, like Dicken's Oliver Twist, movies like Ocean's 11, and TV shows like Sneaky Pete all show our fascination with pickpockets. Being the victim of a pick is not in the least bit romantic.
There are many simple methods used to get your cash. One of the most common is the stall. You are moving quickly to catch a train, subway or bus and someone in front of you drops whatever they are carrying. They bend over to pick up the items, you plow into them. The person behind you runs into you and while you are recovering, your money is lifted. On a crowded subway car or any small space where people are pushed together, the pickpocket has found his haven. You are used to being jostled in these situations, and the pick is able to get your goods with ease. Or maybe you've stopped for coffee at a crowded cafe, and you put your backpack on the ground. Bingo! A wallet is gone, a license is gone, credit cards are gone.
When you go to the ATM you make sure no one is behind you to steal your pin, but a pickpocket will stand off to the side and just watch where you put the money. He'll follow at a distance until he sees an opportunity to strike, or if he has a partner, they'll concoct a scenario that will give them the moment of distraction they need. That's what it's all about—distraction. There are pick teams that stage fights, accidents, screaming babies, all to distract your attention. They play on the fact that a person's attention allows for only one observation at a time. Teams of pickpockets have even been known to fake a troubled swimmer while another rummages through beachgoers belongings. It's like something right out of the TV show Imposters. They also use children in these set-ups. A child might approach you with a picture they've drawn of you in a restaurant or on a train. Children do not approach unknown people without direction from an adult. Beyond places already mentioned for extra acuity, there are department stores, open markets, street fairs, any place where a pick can disappear easily. Sporting events such as the World Series or tennis championships are places a pickpocket will travel to and work the crowds. Today's fashions call for tighter pants, and picks have that problem solved. They carry blades that will slice open a pocket allowing cash or a wallet to slip out.
Even being on a bike leaves you open for a phone theft.
Phones are worth money, too.
Pickpocketing is rampant in Europe where they pay little attention to it. Gangs of Eastern Europeans farm out to hot tourist spots all over Rome, Paris, Venice, and Berlin. Your iPhone may be worth a month's salary in some countries. Even posting signs to warn people of pickpockets draws them like a magnet. Why? Because as soon as someone sees the sign, they pat their pockets to see if their wallet is still there, tipping off the picks which pocket to hit. What can we do to protect ourselves? Quite a bit, actually. Aside from the usual warnings about not using back pockets for wallets, there are several things that will help. Be proactive. Photocopy everything from passports to credit cards and keep them safely protected at home. If you are leaving the country make sure you leave them with someone you can trust—you may need this information while traveling. Belly bags, fanny packs and the like are a no go. They are too easily picked and they are a sign that you are a tourist. Instead, opt for an under the clothes money belt. They are made for women as well as men. They make accessibility awkward, but they are a great deterrent.
Pickpocket-proof clothing is available at several places such as Amazon, or here, or at Magellan. They contain zippered compartments or nylon bags that go down the leg, but some have metal compartments which give more security but can wreak havoc with metal detectors at an airport. They have articles of clothing for men and women, including shorts, tank tops, and jackets as well as pick-proof purses. Remember to look like you belong, pickpockets target the tourist, photocopy IDs, and credit cards, don't leave backpacks or purses on the floor or over your chair in restaurants, if someone stops short in front of you, keep walking. Oh! And don't talk to unknown children.