Where do pickpockets strike?

Kevin Beirne reports from an FT chat with James Freedman and tells us:

I ask if there are certain hotspots where pickpockets strike. Tourist spots, Freedman tells me, especially places such as Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, where people’s attention is directed upwards and away from their belongings. He says that many pickpockets also operate near signs warning us to beware of pickpockets. The irony is that when people read the signs, they check their pockets or bag, thus alerting the lurking pickpocket to where their valuables are.

File under “Law of Unintended Consequences.”  And if you can get through the gate, the piece is interesting more generally.


Where do pickpockets go on strike? France, the answer is France.

For the win.

Pickpockets work in teams in Manila, Philippines. They strike in the subway, where it's like Japan super-crowded, and one will distract you and the other, often a female, will pick your pocket. They also operate on buses, also super-crowded, and possibly in connivance with the conductor who they tip. Happened to me once, and I thwarted a couple of attempts. Police do nothing, though in theory they use undercover cops to deter.

Pickpockets work in teams everywhere: Less experienced pickpockets just need more people. A classic tactic in Madrid is for a mob of romanian pre-teens to surround a person. Good luck protecting your valuables, knowing which one has taken them, and chasing after said kid when there's another 8 trying to stop you.

Better pickpockets cause a distraction, have someone that is skilled at actual pickpocketing, and a third person that will immediately receive the wallet, and will never get too close to you. So if you do figure out who took your money, by the time you notice, someone else has it.

Marienplatz. Munich main square. Teams of pickpocketers roam with one dressed in a Burqa and some male escorts. The "female" attempted to pick my pocket, but didn't get anything. Beware though. I assume the male escorts are to protect the short guy when people get pissed at the theft.

Another reason by the burqa should be illegal! It encourages concealment of stolen goods! :-)

Barcelona, Spain is I read the pickpocket capital of Europe, mostly the thieves are traveling gypsies. Apparently there's no jail if the perp is a foreigner, only deportation, hence the gypsies go there for 'easy pickings'.

Last year they picked my purse with 2K euro in it in Barcelona. It hurts.

2K Euro sounds a lot to keep in your purse.

An awful lot... sounds like something illegal might have been in the works.

I had a case when my Mastercard completely refused to work during a trip through France, Germany, Switzerland and I had to ask my friends to send me Western Union transfers. Calling my bank did not help, they said everything should work fine, and it did work fine as soon as I returned home.
I do not trust credit cards after it.

I read this as asking where pickpockets strike as in where they go on strike. I was imagining an article about labor relations between the pickpocket on the street and the Kingpin I guess.

And so undercover police pat their wallets to draw in pickpockets?

I recommend the film "Harry in Your Pocket." And here's a piece about pickpockets of the past: http://aler.oxfordjournals.org/content/4/2/295.abstract The Deterrence Hypothesis and Picking Pockets at the Pickpocket's Hanging by David A. Anderson

Here's an earlier version that's free: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=214831 he Deterrence Hypothesis and Picking Pockets at the Pickpocket’s Hanging by David A. Anderson

where do economists strike? O_O

Ten years in Vegas. Haven't met anybody who's been pickpocketed, just one who had 8k stolen during a traffic stop. And no, not civil forfeiture with papers signed. Pharmacological contraband gave the cop the necessary leverage.

ALWAYS use a money belt!! I put credit cards in a stainless steel box. Scanners can't work. I use belt pouches I secure with heavy rubber bands cut from bicycle inner tubes. I put folded Euros in my shoes under the insoles. Inside a plastic bag they are quite safe. I traveled all over Southern Europe and Barcelona and I never lost a Euro. Use your head. Watch for them. Study them on YouTube before you go! When you are on the street sit down and watch for them. Limit the cash you have on you to less than 500 Euros!
On and off crowded trains and stairs I felt them feeling me and I saw a lot of goofy looks but they got nothing! I also carry a cane! You can put space between you and them. They can't get in close enough to get your stuff.

You limit yourself to 500 Euro and still go to all that other trouble? That is delightful.


Stainless steel box? Why not lead, just to be sure?

Me, I carry my wallet in a zippered chest pocket if possible, and don't worry too much otherwise. Lots of travel, no pockets picked.

Steel credit card box: $10.

Bicycle inner tube: $8.

Cane: $20.

No longer having to worry about a .1% chance of losing a few hundred dollars: priceless!

I've heard that many falling rocks cunningly employ the same strategy.

Think about downtown Las Vegas, with it's 5 street long light dome having an hourly show . Everyone looks up at the dome for 5 minutes. I'm looking around to see if anyone is not looking at the show (I've seen it before ; I'm not pickpocketing)

In all my life with extensive travel on four continents I have never seen a single sign warning to beware of pickpockets.

But Ive heard that tale of pickpockets working near beware of pickpockets sign many, many, many times.

Has anyone else reading this blog actually sees such a sign?

Tourist attractions in Rome and Athens.

They have them in popular entertainment areas of the NYC subway system (e.g. Times Square by the S).

"many pickpockets also operate near signs warning us to beware of pickpockets"

Interesting causation issue here, no? If the pickpockets didn't operate in those areas, nobody would think to put the signs up in those locations. I've heard this claim so many times that it feels more like an urban legend than the result of empirical analysis, but I could be wrong.

Don't worry, "REGRESSION" (of your knowledge of scientific principles)

I haven't heard of the signs before but I have heard that people generally reveal the location of their valuables when they feel nervous or apprehensive about theft, so if one team member bumps a victim the victim will touch to make sure his/her wallet is still there allowing the rest of the team to see which pocket to pick.

In the 17-18th centuries pickpockets became such a nuisance in England they were hanged. And of course at these hangings as the spectators were distracted the pickpockets worked.

I agree that pickpockets do operate in tourist areas, even though I personally have never experienced having my “pockets picked”. I don’t know when pickpockets figured out tourist attractions were the best place for business but it seems to do them well, especially using pickpocket warning signs as a distraction. I’m guessing they caught on to the large supply of distracted tourists fairly quickly and were having a heyday until people became of aware of the problem.
When I go to tourist areas or even large cities, I continually check my back pocket for my wallet. I never considered that if a pickpocket is watching that I just showed them where my wallet is, making me susceptible to theft. I think just reading this small post will make me more aware of the ongoing pickpocket business in tourist areas and cities. I don’t know how booming the business is, but they must do pretty well if there are warning signs in some tourist areas.

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