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Fast-Fingered Predators: Sin City Pickpockets

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Anywhere there are tourists and crowds there are pickpockets. Throw in countless distractions, and Vegas is the ideal hunting environment for fast-fingered predators.

Acrobats entertain and distract the Fremont Experience crowd. <em>Photo by John Robert Taylor</em>

Acrobats entertain and distract the Fremont Experience crowd.
Photo by John Robert Taylor

Las Vegas is beautiful and amusing. Here you’ll find acrobats, sophisticated architecture, live music, overhead screens the size of five football fields, shopping, cigars, drinks, and gambling venues rarely more than 200 yards away. I recently visited the Fremont Street Experience looking for potential pickpockets.

Many pickpockets work alone, but fortune favors a crew. I believe most crews in Las Vegas have a minimum of three members, including a “stall,” a “pick,” and a “runner.” The pick is also called a “tool” or “dip.” A potential victim is a “mark.” Stalls create diversions, picks retrieve the property, and runners leave the area with it. Crews can get elaborate with multiple stalls and two picks operating simultaneously. The prevention methods soon to be mentioned are likely to be successful against large or small crews and single picks also.

In his sought after paperback on professional pickpocket techniques, Wayne B. Yeager cited a phrase pickpockets live by. “You can’t steal a man’s money as long as he has his mind on it.” I spoke with “Anthony,” a pickpocket I apprehended during an operation called, “Safe Strip.” Anthony confirmed Yeager’s comment when I asked him why he picked the victim. “Cause she just had it out there like she didn’t give a sh@# about it,” Anthony said.

Some might say, “I’d know if someone put his hand in my pocket!” The problem is the thief’s hand may never go into your pocket. In his book, Yeager illustrates how diversions work with this experiment. Punch one of your thighs and tap the other with a pencil. Notice how the punch overrides the feeling of the pencil.

Look at the photo below. If this were a crew, the man could turn, “accidentally” bumping into the mark while the woman at the far left snatches money or valuables from the unzipped purse.

<em>Photo by John Robert Taylor</em>

Photo by John Robert Taylor

Today’s pickpockets use their hands. They rarely use tools like pliers, razor blades, or tweezers. If they’re found in possession of those items by law enforcement, their intentions are easier to prove.

Prevention Methods. Because pickpockets focus on people who are distracted, make a point of looking like you’re thinking about your belongings.

Property Placement. Try carrying your wallet in your front pocket or sideways in your back pocket. Pickpockets use two basic techniques for getting a wallet without alerting the mark. There’s a two-fingered technique in which the pick uses his index and middle fingers to create a “tweeze effect.” Another technique involves the pick bumping the wallet with a knee, forcing it to protrude out of the pocket. Then they can grab it easily. Proper wallet placement makes both techniques extremely difficult.

The woman far left would be harder to pick than the other two. <em>Photo by John Robert Taylor</em>

The woman far left would be harder to pick than the other two.
Photo by John Robert Taylor

Keep your purse zipped or fastened and hold it where you can see it. Resting your hand on the strap is ideal, because it makes a pick’s job more difficult. He or she would have to bypass your arm to get into the purse. Other considerations would include “dummy wallets” (wallet decoys) and security wallets that fasten to the body under clothing.

Be alert in crowds. This is especially difficult in Las Vegas because of distractions as I mentioned earlier. On Fremont Street, I saw a tourist with a bulging wallet. The sights mesmerized him, and I soon noticed that I wasn’t the only person thinking he’d be a great mark. A guy followed the tourist until he stopped to watch the overhead screen. As the guy began to circle, I grabbed some photos.

<em>Photo by John Robert Taylor</em>

Photo by John Robert Taylor

<em>Photo by John Robert Taylor</em>

Photo by John Robert Taylor

Keep people at arms-length. Unless crammed into a crowd, there’s no reason why people should stand too close. Hold your hand out and say something polite to create more space. Place your body between them and your property (e.g. switch your purse to your other shoulder). If they can’t get close, they can’t steal or create a diversion. Don’t think you’ll be able to see their hands, because you will not. I call them fast-fingered predators for a reason. They use “manual stalls” like jackets, newspapers, or bags to conceal their hands when they pick. So just keep them away. Don’t discriminate, because pickpockets come in every shape, age, size, and style. Keep drunks, women, and teens away just as you would a creepy-looking guy.

Beware of kindness. In Vegas, this is a common scenario. A female pickpocket flirts with a guy and gets “touchy-feely.” She steals the guy’s wallet and the victim finds out after she’s long gone. Because the women who commit this crime are often prostitutes, it’s commonly referred to as a form of “trick roll.”

Pickpockets are more than just petty thieves. They’re actors, conversationalists, and skilled hustlers. They are only caught 30 percent of the time and should never be underestimated.

COMING NEXT WEEK: CAUTION ON THE TRAIL: HIKING SAFETY

Four friends, ready for hiking

Four friends, ready for hiking

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Comments

3 Responses to “Fast-Fingered Predators: Sin City Pickpockets”
  1. Mark Sedenquist says:

    I don’t quite understand the point of the 3rd photo — or maybe the caption is somehow not clear?

    Oh wait, I looked again — so the woman on the left would be harder to pick because of the space around her and the fact that her hand is resting on her purse.

    The two woman on the right – have their purses out of the field of view (behind them)! Now, I see it! Excellent work.

    I loved the surveillance aspect of your photos — these are some very cool tips and ideas!

    Mark

  2. Steve Fey says:

    Shocked as I am that there would be thieves amongst the crowds on Fremont Street (sure, and I’m still trying to sell that bridge,) I do appreciate the information. I’ve used a dummy wallet at times ever since I got mugged (in a small Ohio college town, no less.) I usually put something in there in case of a further mugger, but I’ve never needed it. I always assume that somebody wants to steal whatever I’m holding, so I think that helps.

  3. John says:

    Mark you’re right on both counts. I should’ve explained the 3rd photo in detail within the paragraph below it. And yes, a pickpocket probably wouldn’t bother that woman because they have to get by her arm. Also, most people expecting to encounter a thief are prepared to fight for their property. A woman that is struggling with someone and yelling about her purse attracts a lot of attention.

    Steve I agree, it does help to assume somebody wants to steal from you. With the exception of people that are jumpy and paranoid and spray people accidentally with pepper spray. I’ll bet the non-verbals your mentality sends has deterred many thieves.