We’ve all heard it before. We mention to a family member or co-worker that we’re heading out of the country for a trip. And they all say the same thing: “Watch out for pickpockets!”
Most of us shake our heads and say something like, “I know, I’ll be careful,” but what is the actual risk of pickpocketing, and are we truly being careful?
What is a pickpocket? What are they typically after? How do they go about their pickpocketing?
These are all questions that every traveler should know the answer to, but even seasoned travelers don’t always know the details of how pickpocketing works. Hence, today, we’ll learn all about pickpockets and the real risks associated with them.
What Is a Pickpocket?
A pickpocket is technically defined as someone who steals from someone else’s pockets. While this term originally came about from thieves who would steal the wallets from men's pockets, the word is now used more generally to talk about petty thieves who steal from pockets, bags, and purses without being noticed by the owner of these items.
Traditional pickpocketing is not nearly as common as it once was, but it is still important to pay attention to the risks associated with petty theft while you are traveling. The best defense that you have is to be aware of the risk.
How Do Pickpockets Work?
There are a few main ways that pickpockets and petty thieves will steal from unsuspecting travelers. Knowing about these ways will help you to avoid becoming the target, also known as the mark, in these situations.
#1: Unsuspecting Targets
The first and easiest target for pickpockets is those who are not paying attention to their belongings. There isn’t any real talent involved here other than simple observation.
In this scenario, pickpockets will sit somewhere public. They might sit in a cafe where students study or in an airport where people fall asleep. When the person is distracted and has left their bag open, or the person falls asleep, the pickpocket swoops by and steals what they can.
This type of pickpocketing happens simply through opportunity. If the target had been more alert, the pickpocket would have looked to someone more vulnerable instead.
#2: Taking From Someone’s Pocket or Bag
When most people imagine pickpocketing, this is the scenario that they might imagine. In this scenario, the thief sets up a situation in which they can casually brush against you for a simple reason. During this encounter, though, they secretly steal something from you.
There are a lot of different ways that pickpockets mask their thievery. On a subway car, they can use the pressing crowds of people to disguise their actions. In a less crowded place, two pickpockets might work together to cause you to bump into one of the thieves, giving the other one an opportunity to steal from you.
#3: Dropping a Prop
Many pickpockets will rely on your kindness in order to steal from you. They might drop their camera, bag, or some other item.
At this moment, a kind person like you is more than likely going to stoop down to help out. While you are stooped down, a second pickpocket will help steal something valuable from you.
The Common Thread
What is it about every one of these scenarios similar?
The idea of distraction. Pickpockets use a distraction to ensure that you do not notice them stealing something from you.
In scenario #1, you are already distracted, and that makes you vulnerable. In scenario #2, the distraction is the bump that you receive from someone in a seemingly normal way. In scenario #3, the prop being dropped is the distraction.
Pickpockets are always coming up with new ways to cause a distraction that will make you and your belongings vulnerable. Being alert can be a difficult skill to learn, but it is the surest way to ensure that you will not have your belongings stolen from you will be worth the effort to learn how to be more alert.
Pickpockets in Action
While we’ve explained a few situations that pickpockets might take advantage of, it’s not always easy to understand how these situations actually work until you see them in action. This video gives great demonstrations of seven common ways that pickpockets steal from people just like you:
What Are Some Simple Tips to Keep in Mind to Avoid Pickpocketing?
Now that you know more about how pickpockets work, the chances are high that you will want to learn a little bit about how to avoid their schemes! These are a few different ways that you can protect yourself from pickpocketing. None of these techniques are particularly difficult to implement, but it will take some practice to get used to traveling this way.
1. Keep Your Belongings Touching You
When you sit down to look at your phone, take a drink, or do something else, make sure that you keep your bag touching your body in some ways. Link a strap through your leg or put it in your lap. Simply having your bag close to you will deter pickpockets.
2. Watch Each Other
If you are traveling with friends, keep an eye on each other by continually looking over your friend's shoulders. Solo travelers are easier targets than those who are traveling in groups. Use that to your advantage!
3. Act Confident
Pickpockets are more likely to target someone who looks lost, confused, or out of place. At times, you won’t be able to help the fact that you look like you’re not from the area. Regardless, walking with confidence, stopping to look at a map instead of wandering around while you do it, and having an air of alertness will help to protect you.
Pickpockets Can Be Avoided!
Today, we’ve learned a lot, and just knowing these simple things can help you to be better protected. What is a pickpocket, after all? Someone who preys on the vulnerable and the unaware.
By taking a few minutes to learn about common pickpocketing techniques, you’ve already made huge progress in protecting yourself from the risks of pickpocketing. How will you put these tips into action on your next trip?