A classic pickpocket team comprises three members. In the video below, watch exactly how they steal a wallet from a backpack, pass it off, then return it.
This video was shot by Emily Slessinger in Barcelona. Emily works for Rylo, the maker of a new 360°-video camera. Emily didn’t intend to film her own theft—she was trying to capture the crowd on the waterfront footbridge. She had no idea what was happening behind her, but her camera caught it all.
Classic pickpocket team
See Emily, dark-haired, sunglassed, holding the Rylo cam above her head. As the gray-hatted pickpocket approaches Emily’s backpack, her two accomplices join her. In an effort to look like ordinary tourists, all three raise their open maps and pretend to consult them while actually using the maps to conceal the theft.
Why don’t the thieves notice that their victim holds aloft a camera? Do they think she’s a tour guide brandishing a tiny device instead of an umbrella? The camera is tiny… and it’s a brand new product. Why would pickpockets suspect that a camera is filming behind the photographer? Perhaps they’ll soon learn, and carrying a Rylo will become the ultimate pickpocket repellent!
Anyway, pickpockets tend to hyper-focus on their target and are not terribly fearful of being caught. Because when they are caught, most victims don’t do anything as long as they have all their property, i.e. the pickpocket failed, didn’t complete the steal, or returned the item. So, little did these thieves know that the tiny Rylo camera had a clear view of everything. Their dipping, their pretense, their faces…
Seriously—watch this video on a tablet or cellphone to get the immersive 360° effect. See what Emily saw in front of her, but don’t miss all the action behind her—that’s where the dirty deed goes down. You’ll see pickpocketing in action as you never have. But you won’t get that close-up, right-there view on a regular computer. [Use this video link, if you don’t see the video below.]
You see the theft. You see the pass-off to the pickpocket’s partner. You don’t see the team remove €100 and $40 from Emily’s wallet. Keep watching and you’ll then see the pickpocket return to the scene of the crime and replace Emily’s wallet.
Why risk the return?
Why did she dare take this dangerous step after having gotten away with the theft? Why would she risk another dip into Emily’s backpack a full minute after a clean getaway? As Emily told me, “I assume it’s because if they got busted, it’s obvious they stole from me if my IDs are on them whereas with just cash, it’s harder to prove.” Exactly. Also, they’d have higher fines to pay if caught with a victim’s credit cards.
Emily said it was “nice of them.” Yes, it saved her a ton of work, cancelling credit cards, replacing her driver’s license, and whatever else she might have had in her wallet. Cash? Losing it is a good lesson, but not as painful as losing a walletful of documents.
But “nice” is not what drove the pickpockets to return the wallet. They’ve been told by their organizers, their bosses, their teachers, to empty the cash only and return the wallet with its documents whenever possible.
Why? Such a risky move! She and her partners are in exactly the same suspicious positions as when they first stole Emily’s wallet. So obvious are they during the return of the wallet that a bystander approaches to tell Emily that she’s been pickpocketed. Why would thieves take that risk?
These low-level pickpockets work for bosses who understand the bigger picture. The big picture is that a lot of stolen cash is not nearly as bad as a lot of stolen credit cards and IDs. With bigger thefts and more police reports being filed, the city would be forced to protect its reputation and tourist economy. More police would be put on the pickpocket detail, more arrests would be made, and more pickpockets would do jail time. Jail is expensive for cities. As it is now, eh…. The pickpockets caught by police are fined €100 to €300, which of course they must acquire by stealing cash. And for the pickpockets, that’s doable. So don’t rock the boat, don’t cause the city to step up pickpocket prosecutions.
The low-level pickpockets must obey their bosses. They are threatened with physical violence. And that’s why you see the pickpocket repeat her pickpocket choreography just to return the stolen wallet with its credit cards and ID. Emily lost only cash. She did not file a police report. If she’d lost her credit cards and IDs, she may have.
And that pass-off to the partner? Textbook-typical! The pickpocket prefers not to hold stolen goods.
Lastly, about that crowd: a large number of pedestrians had been held up while the drawbridge was open for a passing sailboat. The stationary crowd gave the pickpockets a perfect opportunity to choose a target and get into position. Then, when the bridge was lowered, they worked under the cover of their maps. It’s a classic pickpocket team technique, especially favored by East European perpetrators. They want a natural bottleneck, something that slows pedestrian traffic.
So, what are you going to do? You’re going to wear your backpack in front. You’re going to put your real valuables in under-clothes pouches or pickpocket-proof underwear. And you just might get yourself a Rylo 360° video camera, to capture your own theft.