Thiefhunters in Paradise http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters Pickpockets, Con Artists, Gangsters, Thieves, and Travel Mon, 26 Jan 2015 10:50:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Sexy Pickpocket http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/sexy-pickpocket/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/sexy-pickpocket/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 10:50:48 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6679 Ego-stroking sex-based scams target vulnerable loners, or those who appear to be single. In a bar scene or come-on, some people suck up flirtation...

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sexy pickpocket

A pickpocket distracts a man with sex: she and her accomplice grope his groin and his pockets.

Ego-stroking sex-based scams target vulnerable loners, or those who appear to be single. In a bar scene or come-on, some people suck up flirtation as if it were a windfall. Flattery becomes a white noise that all but drowns out warning bells. Bob and I watched in Barcelona while a working girl latched onto a man strolling along La Rambla. She pulled him into a shallow alcove and he couldn’t, or didn’t resist her handiwork. Both parties appeared to be into it until the woman’s groping fingers became light fingers. Coincidentally, the man’s wife and daughter caught up with him just then, too; he and his intimate thief were only two steps off the sidewalk. We have no idea how he explained the scenario and evidence of his willing participation to his family.

Sexy Pickpocket

In Prague last week, a woman used the same technique right in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel. She worked hard on one man, then serviced his eager friend as well while, of course, serving herself.

It was all over in two minutes. Marriott’s security camera caught the entire encounter. You’ve got to see the sexy pickpocket at work.

© Copyright 2008-present Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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Unethical Blogger http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/unethical-blogger/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/unethical-blogger/#comments Tue, 23 Dec 2014 18:13:08 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6646 Steal. Drink and snack from the hotel mini-bar, the unethical blogger advises in his unethical December 10, 2014 article. Go ahead and have a...

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Unethical blogger's advice will get you handcuffed.

Could be you after following Mike Richard’s advice.

Steal. Drink and snack from the hotel mini-bar, the unethical blogger advises in his unethical December 10, 2014 article. Go ahead and have a beer and a candy bar, then deny it at check-out. You’ll get it free!

Swindle. Use a depleted debit card to buy drinks on a plane. Free booze, yay, worth committing fraud for!

Cheat. Walk into a luxury hotel you’re not staying in and take advantage of guest services like free breakfast, the concierge, and luggage storage. They’ll never know!

Unethical blogger's advice will get you handcuffed.

After-effect of using a knowingly depleted debit card to buy drinks on a plane.

Unethical blogger's advice will get you handcuffed.

Unethical blogger’s advice will likely get you handcuffed.

Unethical blogger's advice will get you handcuffed.

Was the free beer worth it?

Lie. Tell the airline gate agent you have a peanut allergy and need to board first to wipe down your tray. Yeah, get that overhead bin space before the honest people get there!

Scam. If your “expensive” item breaks prematurely (an iPad is hinted), go buy a new one, repackage the broken one, and return it for a refund. Sweet dreams, if you can sleep after that one.

And on and on. Like, buy travel gear and return it for a refund when you’re done with it, the unethical blogger advises. Take an empty first-class seat on a plane and try to get away with it. Pay $20 to have your tires rotated when you need parking in a high-priced city.

Unethical blogger

Some people should not be journalists. Some journalists should be decommissioned. This guy, this Mike Richard, is one of them.

I’m not in the habit of slamming other bloggers. But it is my custom to report thefts, cons, scams, and the fraudsters who commit them. Mike Richard may or may not use the methods he espouses; he does call them “useful travel hacks.”

Richard’s headline says it all: “20 Totally Unethical (But Useful) Travel Hacks.” He’s recommending these “travel hacks” even though they’re unethical.

I try to live by a simple little motto: “What if everyone did this?” Would I want that world? If everyone shouted, littered, took a stone from someone’s yard, lied, cheated, stole…. Just…try to be decent.

I grew up with several versions of The Golden Rule. Simply put, treat others as you’d like to be treated. Reciprocity. It makes the world go ’round.

I have little issue with paid placement presented as personal opinion—that’s the way of the world. The way of blog-whores. But this unethical blogger will apparently say anything for money. He calls it paid advertising. No wonder his blog has only one advertiser, despite his plentiful pleas for ads. Well, he has three if you count Anthony Bourdain and a quick-print service.

Unethical and illegal. Steal. Cheat. Lie. Commit fraud. But sure, Mike Richard says, they are, “entirely useful… for shameless budget travelers”. I must not be the only one who finds this to be irresponsible journalism. And not the only one to find it repugnant.

© Copyright 2008-present Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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Hotel Oddity #48. Shangri-la tea http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/hotel-oddity-48-shangri-la-tea/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/hotel-oddity-48-shangri-la-tea/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 09:26:32 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6607 This intriguing basket was waiting in our room when we checked into the Shangri-La hotel in Singapore. It had been a long journey for...

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Shangri-La tea at the Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore.

The basket beckons at Shangri-La hotel, Singapore.

This intriguing basket was waiting in our room when we checked into the Shangri-La hotel in Singapore. It had been a long journey for us and our heads were spinning. We didn’t know quite what we wanted. Sleep? Food? Drink? A walk?

Shangri-La tea at the Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore.

Too tired to make tea?

The Shangri-La knew exactly what we wanted. Jasmine tea! The insulated basket contained a large pot of hot tea, which turned out to be just what we needed.

Shangri-La tea at the Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore.

The pot is large, full, and hot.

Shangri-La tea

Shangri-La tea, famous world-round, is a delightful hidden surprise in guests’ rooms upon arrival. I like that the beautiful presentation requires exploration. The reward is in the discovery.

And in case we should consider a run, there was a handy jogger’s map, too.

Shangri-La tea at the Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore; plus, a jogger's map on a lanyard.

The Shangri-La hotel provides a handy jogger’s map.

© Copyright 2008-present Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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FedEx delivery failure – boxes fall off truck http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/fedex-delivery-failure/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/fedex-delivery-failure/#comments Wed, 03 Dec 2014 22:49:40 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6622 So, I’m expecting a couple of packages. The FedEx tracking site says they’re “on vehicle for delivery.” Yippee! When your box falls off a...

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FedEx delivery failure; boxes fall off truck

Some of the boxes that fell off the FedEx truck and were delivered by good samaritans.

So, I’m expecting a couple of packages. The FedEx tracking site says they’re “on vehicle for delivery.” Yippee!

When your box falls off a FedEx truck

That morning, my niece is driving around some five miles from my house. She swerves around a small heap of boxes in the middle of a residential road and, without time to stop and look at them, she phones a family employee. “They should be moved before someone drives over them,” she says. The family employee drives over to attend to the boxes.

And lo! She notices that they are addressed to me! Amazing coincidence, everyone agrees. But wait—there’s more!

She sends her assistant to deliver the boxes to me. Two are mine, undamaged. The other two are to “Vincent,” but not to me. Some other Vincent, at Runway Media, on the far side of a neighboring city. I didn’t notice the addressee though, and opened one of the boxes. It contained fashion magazines. My own boxes contained books; these other boxes had the appropriate size and heft.

I got my boxes, despite the FedEx delivery failure. But what would the driver think when he couldn’t find the boxes logged in for the day’s deliveries? Are boxes logged in?

And more interesting: how can a number of boxes tumble off a truck? Doesn’t the driver shut and lock the cargo door when not loading or unloading? Federal Express is often considered the most expensive of the courier companies. Doesn’t that also mean the best?

I decided not to alert Federal Express right away. I wanted to see how they’d handle the disappearance of boxes logged for delivery. And I figured (hoped) that the fashion magazines were not urgent. (I was right.)

Days pass, and FedEx does not phone me. The FedEx tracking page continues to advise “on vehicle for delivery.”

Meanwhile, I tell the story of the FedEx delivery failure and coincidental acquisition of my boxes to several people. One was my sister, whom I told over a leisurely dinner. I happened to include the detail about the other Vincent’s boxes, which were still sitting in my garage.

“Wait. Runway Media? I know who those magazines go to!” my sister said. “My fashion designer friend just did a photo-shoot for Runway Media and is getting copies of the magazine.” She’d be seeing him in a few days and would bring him the boxes.

My sister’s fashion designer friend is not Vincent, and is not Runway Media, but the magazines are for him. We actually skipped a link by delivering the boxes directly to him but, hey—we’re more efficient than FedEx.

FedEx delivery failure; boxes fall off truck

Even today, 12 days after my boxes fell off the FedEx truck, the tracking page claims my boxes are out for delivery.

FedEx delivery failure

After a full week, and with the FedEx tracking page still advising “on vehicle for delivery,” I finally phone FedEx. “Alex,” a local supervisor, is not impressed and barely interested. He asks minimal questions. He promises, in a vague manner, to follow up with the driver. I’m left feeling that boxes falling off a FedEx truck is an everyday occurrence, a regular part of FedEx business.

I feel like documenting this FedEx delivery failure, not because the accident occurred, but because of the lax, slipshod, negligent manner in which FedEx handled the incident. Well, the company didn’t handle it. For the entire week I waited, it pretended nothing irregular happened.

Also, the series of coincidences is pretty amazing and a little funny.

FedEx is clueless. I’m left unsatisfied. I would have accepted an apology. The shipper might have accepted a refund. Oh, but the shipper was never notified either. Never told there were irregularities, that their packages vanished. FedEx hoped no one would notice. Yeah, clueless.

Even today, 12 days after my boxes fell off the FedEx truck, that embarrassing tracking page claims “on vehicle for delivery.” Has FedEx no shame? no pride?

© Copyright 2008-present Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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Arlanda shopping trick—offensive http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/arlanda-shopping/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/arlanda-shopping/#comments Fri, 28 Nov 2014 22:07:38 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6601 Like shopping? Like to be forced into shopping? Ever feel like boycotting a store because of the arrogant manner shown towards its customers? Arlanda...

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Stockholm airport Arlanda shopping: This is the way to the gates and lounge right after security at Stockholm's Arlanda airport. For years, the exit has been blocked by luggage carts.

This is the way to the gates and lounge right after security at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport. For years, the exit has been blocked by luggage carts.

Like shopping? Like to be forced into shopping? Ever feel like boycotting a store because of the arrogant manner shown towards its customers?

Arlanda shopping trick—offensive!

Like to take the loooooong way around? Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport uses luggage carts to blockade the quick way—the desirable way—to the gates. After security we used to be able to take a quick left and get promptly to the lounge, or to the gates. Now (actually it’s been this way for some years), the way is blocked and we’re forced to make the long trek through the store. Only to then turn left and backtrack outside the shop all the way back to where we started.

Stockholm airport Arlanda shopping: Forced to walk through the whole store because the handy exit at left is blocked with trolleys.

Forced to walk through the whole store because the handy exit at left is blocked with trolleys.

It’s presumtuous and insulting. They don’t know if my feet hurt. They don’t know if I’m late. They don’t know if I’m desperate for ten extra minutes of internet before my flight. Or a quick meal. Or a bathroom.

I’d like to organize 50 people to clear security with me. We’d each take a luggage cart and park it elsewhere, clearing the way to avoid the massive so-called “duty-free” store and allowing us to use the most efficient exit.

We travelers should have the choice.

© Copyright 2008-present Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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Four Seasons Hotel Perfection—Hotel Oddity #47 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/four-seasons-hotel-oddity-47/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/four-seasons-hotel-oddity-47/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 03:18:53 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6515 What has the Four Seasons Sultanahmet in Istanbul not thought of? I’ve already written about its coffee delivered with wake-up call, a practice worthy...

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A flashlight on hand at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet in Istanbul.

A flashlight on hand at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet in Istanbul.

What has the Four Seasons Sultanahmet in Istanbul not thought of? I’ve already written about its coffee delivered with wake-up call, a practice worthy of its own little post by thiefhunters. There was so much more.

Four Seasons Hotel perfection

The flashlight was a nice touch. The bedside drawer was ajar when we arrived to alert us to the availability and location of the flashlight, which rested on fleur-des-lis drawer liner to match the fleur-des-lis rug. Never mind that we all have flashlights built into our smartphones. But… is the Four Seasons hinting to frequent power outages? Or do they know that a flashlight beam makes it so much easier to find a dropped contact?

Four Seasons Sultanahmet

Espresso ready any time in my room at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet in Istanbul.

Instead of the old Mr. Coffee, our room had an espresso machine. When we had our coffee in the afternoon, it was accompanied by a sampler of perfect baklava which had appeared on our table.

The fruit bowl was particularly beautiful with its luscious appealing bounty. Even more so was the plate of fat fresh figs we received later.

At the Four Seasons Sultanahmet, ave your coffee with luscious baklava, delivered in the afternoon. We also got a bowl of exquisite fresh figs.

Have your coffee with luscious baklava, delivered in the afternoon. We also got a bowl of exquisite fresh figs.

Breakfast in the gazebo-like greenhouse in the hotel’s courtyard was simply the best. The choices, the quality, the ambiance, the service, were all top notch. There were gorgeous local cheeses paired with a variety of golden honeycombs, wonderful olives, Turkish simit, the sesame-covered bagel-like bread.

In the bar we had a variety of unique cocktails, traditional Turkish tea, and raki, the aniseed-flavored Turkish liqueur, similar to the better-known ouzo. The presentation of all the drinks was just… perfect.

The breakfast gazebo in the courtyard of the Four Seasons Sultanahmet in Istanbul.

The breakfast gazebo in the courtyard of the Four Seasons Sultanahmet in Istanbul.

A flashlight on hand at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet in Istanbul.

Tea in the bar at Four Seasons Sultanahmet in Istanbul.

Beautiful presentation of raki, the local anise liquor, to which water is added.


Beautiful presentation of raki, the local anise liquor, to which water is added.

© Copyright 2008-present Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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Paris pickpockets – kids you wouldn’t suspect http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/paris-pickpockets/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/paris-pickpockets/#comments Wed, 12 Nov 2014 21:27:51 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6580 “No, no, I won’t steal from you,” the little boy says. “You’re my brother! Family! Family!” He touches his heart, repeating “family, family.” He...

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A pickpocket in Paris. Would you suspect him? Paris pickpockets

A pickpocket in Paris. Would you suspect him?

“No, no, I won’t steal from you,” the little boy says. “You’re my brother! Family! Family!” He touches his heart, repeating “family, family.” He calls for a group photo.

It hadn’t begun so friendly. It was day three of our eight days of thiefhunting in Paris. Day one we watched the Bosnian pickpocket get arrested. Day two we found the Bosnian pickpocket by sheer coincidence, in all of Paris. Today, we ride the Metro into guaranteed pickpocket territory and find a large gang of Paris pickpockets lounging on the platform benches. They’re as good as waiting for us.

Paris pickpockets

But they’re children! Spotting the kids, we hop off the train at Anvers, the subway stop for Sacré-Coeur, Montmartre, and the Dali museum. In other words, a gateway for tourists. We walk up and over the tracks to the platform for the opposite direction, and slowly saunter to a spot close to the kids. They look us up and down but don’t move. There are eight of them, and two others who come and go. They appear to be aged ten to 18.

When a train comes and they don’t budge, I do my usual pantomime: look at my watch, glance around fretfully as if waiting for someone. How else to indicate why we didn’t get on the train either?

When the next train comes the kids spring into action, splitting up to work different compartments and different doors of the train. Out of nowhere, an interloper appears—a competing pickpocket, a “lone wolf,” probably Moroccan.

Bob and I push onto the train, barely packing ourselves in against the crowd. None of the child thieves are near us, but the tall Moroccan (I have to call him something) is beside Bob, intently working on the man in front of him. His left hand probes pockets while his right grasps a ceiling strap in a manner that keeps his mark from turning.

Pickpockets in Paris on break. Eight of the 10 we met in a Paris gang, moments before they returned to work.

Pickpockets on break. Eight of the 10 we met in a Paris gang, moments before they returned to work.

Paris pickpockets: When a train pulled in the gang dispersed, each to his own mark. Meanwhile, another pickpocket, not part of this gang, arrived and got on the train beside us.

When a train pulled in the gang dispersed, each to his own mark. Meanwhile, another pickpocket, not part of this gang, arrived and got on the train beside us.

Paris pickpockets: The North African pickpocket is groping with his left hand in the pocket of the man in navy. His right arm holds the mark in place.

The North African pickpocket is groping with his left hand in the pocket of the man in navy. His right arm holds the mark in place.

Paris pickpockets: The North African pickpocket gets off at the train's first stop.

The North African pickpocket gets off at the train’s first stop.

Paris pickpockets: Back to the gang: Here, they've just recognized Bob Arno from Pickpocket King, the documentary National Geographic made about him. Bob has just stolen the girl's watch.

Back to the gang: Here, they’ve just recognized Bob Arno from Pickpocket King, the documentary National Geographic made about him. Bob has just stolen the girl’s watch.

Paris pickpockets: Befriending the pickpockets has an ulterior motive. We never know where a "friendship" will go.

Befriending the pickpockets has an ulterior motive. We never know where a “friendship” will go.

Paris pickpockets: Skipping and singing, the pickpockets lead us out of the subway and into Place Pigalle, a safe place to talk.

Skipping and singing, the pickpockets lead us out of the subway and into Place Pigalle, a safe place to talk.

Paris pickpockets: The youngest pickpocket called for a group photo. They posed and clowned, but none of them took photos of their own.

The youngest pickpocket called for a group photo. They posed and clowned, but none of them took photos of their own.

At the next stop the Moroccan gets off and we follow. Bob calls to him politely, asking for a moment of his time. Just to talk. We’re not police, Bob shouts, there’s no problem, just talk! All this in French. The Moroccan bounds up the stairs. Bob follows. The Moroccan dashes through the exit turnstile and tears up another flight of stairs. Bob is close behind. The two of them pick up speed, Bob chasing the thief for a full block. “Age won out,” Bob says later.

We return to the Metro station, Pigalle, and encounter a distressed family who’d just been robbed. It was their first day in Paris and their stolen wallet had contained a lot of money. “A lot of money,” they reiterate. Welcome to Paris.

It’s good to meet these victims while we’re on the hunt. They remind us how devastating their losses are, how innocent their mistakes are, how easily their guard can fail them for just a moment, for example, making sure that their three small children get on the train safely. A pickpocket needs only that moment. That moment changes everything.

Descending to the platform at Pigalle, we see the whole gang. Bob speaks to the kids in English, French, a bit of Italian. They’re chattering in all those languages, and something else we don’t recognize. As Bob tries the different languages, the ten of them spread out on the platform to evade him, shouting No!, No!, Fuck you!. The youngest crosses in front of Bob, raises his hand and says “Going!” as he and the rest of them hop onto the departing train. Bob leans into the compartment, persisting, cajoling.

Suddenly one of the girls lights up. “You! you! you!,” she says. “The film! in Italy, you steal the belt, the tie, the watch… I know you!”

Now she’s laughing, hopping up and down. She jumps off the train and the other nine follow. She explains excitedly to the other kids who are still confused and dubious. Then Bob steals her watch and they all break up, high-fiving Bob and each other. The little pickpockets are thieves, but they’re also children. They’re delighted, and believe they have met a celebrity. Not just a celebrity the girl had seen on TV, in Pickpocket King, the documentary National Geographic made about us. But a celebrity pickpocket, someone who gave recognition and a measure of fame to her profession.

Bob’s behavior—laughing and playing with the thieves, has an ulterior motive. He appears to be best buddies with them, but he hasn’t forgotten the devastated Danes we ached for just minutes before. The little boy tries his sneakiest swipes on Bob, though he can barely reach the inside jacket pockets he’s boasting of. Meanwhile, Bob is wondering how he can prolong the conversation, how he can make a translator materialize out of thin air, how he can learn about the criminal organization of this child gang. His fun-and-games clowning around is self-serving. He’s hoodwinking the kids, deluding them, swindling the swindlers.

“I want to talk to you about your life!” Bob tells them.

“Okay, but not here,” they say. “Let’s go!” And like the Pied Piper, Bob Arno and the ten little pickpockets zig, zag, and bounce their way along the platform, up the stairs, through the turnstile, and up another flight into the bright sunlight, laughing all the way.

All the kids are wearing wide-strap messenger bags diagonally across their chests. If you’re a regular reader of this site or if you’ve read our book, you recognize the ominous messenger bag. Floppy, empty, the bag is a pickpocket tool. The thief lifts it into position to hide his thieving hands.

A few of the older pickpockets drift away. Perhaps they’ve gone back to work. Perhaps they’re lurking on the perimeter, keeping an eye on the younger ones. To the six who now surround him, Bob is a rock star.

The children want to show their slickest steals. They want to show off. They want attention from an adult as children always do. “Look at me! Watch!” They want attention as pickpockets always do, as if crying out: “look at me, I’m a person, not only a thief.” Living on the fringes of society, off the grid, they crave validation.

These seem like happy kids, especially the younger ones. The older ones are more somber, cracking smiles and goofing around, only to remember their dignity, it seems; then they straighten their shoulders and take a step back. We don’t know what kind of lives they live. They probably don’t attend school. After all, we found them on a Tuesday afternoon in October. Do they live in a tented camp on some remote outskirt? In crowded squalor among dozens crammed into a tenement tower? Squatting in a boarded-up building? Are they all related? Are they gypsy?

After another round of mock steals—this time they line up to experience Bob’s wallet steal—the little one calls for a group photo. They throw their arms around one another, around Bob, and mug for the camera.

Then there’s some fast chatter and the kids have had enough. They want to go back to work—or maybe they need to. Do they have quotas to make? We haven’t learned much about them but, as Bob always says, you have to try. You have to start somewhere and see where it goes.

The girl who initially recognized Bob calls the gang to order and they bound off to the subway, turning in the distance to wave goodbye before diving back underground.

© Copyright 2008-present Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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Pickpockets in Paris http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/pickpockets-in-paris/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/pickpockets-in-paris/#comments Sun, 26 Oct 2014 23:46:26 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6559 Pickpocketing in Paris is out of control. Or rather, the pickpockets in Paris are in control. The police arrest them regularly then see the...

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Bosnian pickpocket on the loose in Paris.  Pickpockets in Paris

Bosnian pickpocket on the loose in Paris.

Pickpocketing in Paris is out of control.

Or rather, the pickpockets in Paris are in control. The police arrest them regularly then see the same faces on the streets and in the Metro a day later. Frustrated, the police soldier on.

Bob Arno and I ran across a just-arrested pickpocket at Gare de Lyon, a huge train and subway station in Paris—one of the biggest and busiest stations in Europe.

The pickpocket, a seasoned pro, knew just what to say to the arresting officers: sorry, yes, I did it, but it was my first time! The police can’t prove otherwise, because the perp can decline to give a mugshot and may give a false name. Not only that, he can refuse to give fingerprints! If he does refuse to give his fingerprints, he must pay a fine of several thousand euros and/or do jail time. No problem on either count. Fines are just a cost of doing business for pickpockets everywhere, and jail time is certain to be short. Very short.

Gare de Lyon train station, Paris; Pickpockets in Paris

Gare de Lyon train station, Paris

Pickpockets in Paris. Bob Arno recognizes yesterday's pickpocket and persuades him to join us for dinner.

Bob Arno recognizes yesterday’s pickpocket and persuades him to join us for dinner.

Scene of the crime: The victim sat in one of these red chairs with her purse on the floor against the wall. From behind, the pickpocket lifted the wallet from the purse. Pickpockets in Paris.

Scene of the crime: The victim sat in one of these red chairs with her purse on the floor against the wall. From behind, the pickpocket lifted the wallet from the purse.

Pickpockets in Paris

We got the usual sob story from the victim, a 70-ish French woman who had just flown in from Washington D.C. and was waiting for her train to Lyon. She was tired, she was reading, and her purse was beside her on the floor. [Yikes! Better read Purseology 101!]

The pickpocket had snuck up from behind, took the wallet from her bag on the floor, and departed—all under the observant eye of an undercover police officer (hero!).

Lucky victim!

Late the next day, Bob and I were heading back to our hotel with a feast of cheeses, wine, baguette, and fruit. Changing trains at Chatelet station, we fast-walked along the platform when Bob suddenly caught his breath. He stopped short, plopped down on a bench, and launched into an urgent monologue to a glum-looking man. It took me a moment to recognize him. It was yesterday’s pickpocket!

I was speechless. In all of Paris, how did our paths happen to cross? How did Bob notice him, slumped there on a platform bench? How did Bob recognize him? Amazing!

The pickpocket shook his head no, no, no, but Bob blabbed on and on like a high-pressure salesman. The pickpocket had just gotten out of jail. Twenty-four, maybe 26 hours of punishment. Bob told him “you’re going to have dinner with us, you’re going to talk to us, and you’re going to have a good time, you’ll see.” The thief could not refrain.

No, we did not bring him back to our hotel room to share our hand-picked bounty. We got a back corner table at a moules joint where, after a hearty steak dinner, the thief began to relax. Smiling, leaning back, the man spoke easily to us in very good English which he said he learned while “working” in Switzerland.

Bob Arno, master manipulator, cannot be refused. After first convincing the nervous thief to go with us, he had now expertly calmed him with casual talk as if he were a confederate. After wolfing down the steak, the thief got up and went out for a smoke, leaving his backpack with us. He returned, relaxed and unhurried. Bob showed him video of other pickpockets.

The pickpocket must have been seriously grateful for the grub—apparently, jail cuisine is not what we think of as “French food.” He hadn’t eaten. He was so grateful that he agreed to talk to us on camera. We pulled out a naked little GoPro video camera—toy-like, unthreatening.

Pickpockets in Paris. After a hearty dinner, the Bosnian pickpocket watches video of other thieves.

After a hearty dinner, the Bosnian pickpocket watches video of other thieves.

Forty years old, “Dennis,” the easy name he said he uses, is from Kosovo, where he did military service. He spent a long time in Barcelona, another pickpocket paradise, and has a Romanian wife and a child there. He gave us his real name and email address. Or did he? When we tried to email him later, the address failed.

By the time we began the interview on camera, the Bosnian had gradually become twitchy. He couldn’t sit still in his chair. He fidgeted, scratched himself all over, threw glances over his shoulders. Must be a tweeker. But he still smiled, laughed, and talked openly about his profession and yesterday’s arrest.

He usually works with a partner, but his partner was in jail. His specialty is stealing from women’s purses. [Of course—they’re the easiest, having no nerve endings.]

His favored venues are train stations (but not on trains), airports, and hotel lobbies. He does not do anything with credit cards. I asked if he sells them to anyone. He said he doesn’t. Does he just throw them in the trash? No, he leaves them somewhere to be found. [By another thief? I didn’t ask.]

Well, if he doesn’t abuse credit cards, he wants cash. Who carries the most cash? Travelers. Hence his venues, right? The wallet of his victim yesterday contained over 400 euros. [His own wallet, though empty of cash, is an elegant black Montblanc, certainly from the breast pocket of some unfortunate gentleman.]

The plainclothes police officer who arrested him yesterday had tried to get him on the floor for handcuffing, the standard method. The Bosnian chuckled. “I’m so much bigger and stronger than he is, I just gave him my wrists and said please, it isn’t necessary to put me on the floor.”

After fifteen minutes on camera, the pickpocket was squirming in his seat. Bob tried to get him to agree to meet tomorrow, but he wouldn’t commit. He just wanted to go home, he said, he just wanted a shower. I’m pretty sure he needed a hit of something.

We did not hear from him again. Not even for another hearty dinner.

In the style of Financial Times’  “Lunch with the FT” column, I’ll close with the details of our dinner:

Dinner with a pickpocket

1 Moules Mariniere
1 Moules Madras curry
1 Steak
Fries all around
2 Creme Brulee
1 Belgian chocolate fondant
1 Perrier
1 espresso

€70

Next: Professional child pickpockets in Paris

© Copyright 2008-present Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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Airport survival http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/airport-survival/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/airport-survival/#comments Sat, 11 Oct 2014 19:14:40 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6502 Sometimes an exhausted traveler just has to give in and conk out. You can intend to be productive. You can try to be productive....

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Masked traveler in a lounge in Istanbul airport

Masked traveler in a lounge in Istanbul airport

Sometimes an exhausted traveler just has to give in and conk out. You can intend to be productive. You can try to be productive. You can even be productive—for hours.

Eventually though, the slog, the discomfort, the lack of comfort, the waiting, the lines. and the sheep-herding, dull the mind, wilt the spirits, and invite fatigue.

And you simply have to crash.

Airport survival

I travel loaded with productivity tools but very few articles of comfort. Zero whimsical items. Perhaps it’s time for a change.

© Copyright 2008-present Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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Wake-up call — Hotel Oddity #46 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/wake-call-hotel-oddity-46/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/wake-call-hotel-oddity-46/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 10:29:37 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6512 Four Seasons wake-up call: great morning! I recently had the great fortune to stay in the Four Seasons Hotel in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district. The...

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Four Seasons wakeup call comes with coffee delivered to your door.

Four Seasons wakeup call comes with coffee delivered to your door.

Four Seasons wake-up call: great morning!

I recently had the great fortune to stay in the Four Seasons Hotel in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district. The hotel is perfect. And, you know, I stay in a lot of hotels. A lot of good hotels, too. Rarely do I find perfection. Granted, perfection is expensive.

Requesting a 5 a.m. wake-up call, I was told there’d be coffee at my door when the phone rang. Wow! Wonderful! The concierge, a young man, said that Four Seasons had held a contest last year: what can we do to be different, beyond expectations, really stand out? Something like that. Coffee-with-wake-up-call was his submission. He said—proudly—that it’s now a practice at all Four Seasons Hotels. I’ll confirm that after my next stay at a Four Seasons.

At five o’clock in the morning the phone rang. A real human said good morning. And on a table outside my door, as promised, I found a tray with a cozy-covered thermos of coffee and to-go cups. All this in addition to the fact that the room contained a nifty espresso machine. Brilliant.

© Copyright 2008-present Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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Claes is kind. Claes is gone. http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/claes/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/claes/#comments Sun, 21 Sep 2014 16:02:25 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6543 Bob Arno writes about his brother. Bambi interrupts. Over the years I have written about my mentors, my old friends who have had a...

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Bob Arno writes about his brother. Bambi interrupts.
Claes Munthe

Claes in July 2014

Over the years I have written about my mentors, my old friends who have had a significant impact on my career, as well as a few obituaries — friends who were taken from us way too early. Writing about mentors is not hard, just go back in time and analyze why they were unique and how they extended themselves and helped a young inexperienced entertainer.

But today I have a far more personal challenge, in the midst of my sorrow for the loss of my own brother. He passed away about ten days ago, at age seventy. That’s far too early for a Swedish man who lived healthy, never excessive, and always in great trim shape.

Bambi: It was only two summers ago that he lifted tall Frida from the ground when she hurt her ankle on a trampoline in Arizona, and carried her like a baby a long distance to a sofa. He carried her as if she weighed nothing. In retrospect, we know that Claes was already ill, though none of us knew it. But he was still strong as an ox!

How does one explain the random selection of cancer victims? In my work I am obsessed with pattern recognition and the logic of why some people become victims (to criminals)—it’s all very neat and clear when looking at the bigger picture. But cancer can strike anyone, young or old, with little warning, as was the case with my brother. A little over a year ago he noticed he couldn’t quite swallow food as easily as before. He suspected some sort a throat infection. In September 2013 the tests came in: advanced esophageal cancer, located at the bottom of the esophagus, as well as smaller tumors in the stomach. No option to operate, only chemo therapy remained.

The doctors gave him a year, at best, and that is exactly what he got. In this year he never gave up, never resigned, but knew deep down that it was probably hopeless. He prepared as most cancer patients do for the inevitable. The legal documents, the transfer of properties, the farewell parties with his closest friends. Nobody around him suspected the rapid deterioration. Yes, his weight became an obvious red flag, but he did not look gaunt, and his face had the same round, filled-out cheeks as before. When he was in a good mood, nobody could possibly suspect that we all counted days and weeks.

My brother, Claes, lived in Sweden, where end-of-life health care is exemplary and caring. Every evening a nurse came by and hooked Claes to a drip tube, connected to a port in his upper chest close to his neck. During the night he would then receive about a liter of a milky nutritious fluid, while sleeping. Every morning the nurse returned and disconnected the tube. No, it was not good “quality of life,” since he could barely eat anything at all for close to a year. Always nauseous, and during the last six months of his life steadily more in pain, as the tumors grew and pressed against spine and sensitive nerve centers. Strong doses of morphine only sometimes helped.

Claes Munthe

Claes—so often laughing

So why did he maintain the illusion that maybe there was still hope for a new miracle drug? Stronger men at age 69-71 might have said “I had a good life, enough is enough, let’s not pretend anymore.” But Claes enjoyed every minute he had on the telephone with his friends, with me and my wife, and simply living another day. For 365 days when I couldn’t be with Claes, I called him daily for about an hour. We stayed with him whenever we could and behaved like we always did. Sat around the dining table and joked around, talked over current events, old anecdotes, and memories. There were lots of those and lots of laughter.

Bambi: Like that utterly believable postcard Claes sent us from Naples, pretending to be a gang of thieves thanking us for visiting Naples, and complimenting the film National Geographic made about us and them. It was brilliant, the way he mixed a little Italian in with poor English. Did Claes, with his love of all things Italian, and his reverence for the ultimate practical joke, travel to Naples just to send that postcard? It would be just like him…

But I never brought up the obvious: what do we do for Claes’s funeral, who should attend, how should we deal with this or with that? We both pushed aside the inevitable, the closure of it all. But he was not living in a dream world. He knew full well that some things just had to be done, despite the great expense in terms of his energy.

Sweden does not seem to have an end-of-life option for the patient, as is the case in the Netherlands and Switzerland. But there does not seem to be a heated dialog, either, like in the United Kingdom, about patients’ right to request a doctor’s help to terminate life. Having watched my brother suffer for a year I must ask myself why there are no choices. I’m not going to list all the horrible and painful moments my brother experienced in front of my very eyes. In retrospect, when everything is said and done, I think he still would have preferred to live just the number of days he squeezed out of his treatment and the help from the Swedish medical support system. But I would have chosen a different tack, which only means that people have different preferences and there should be an option for ALL. Not forced medical support (for whatever reason).

Claes Munthe

Bob and Claes

My relationship with my brother was unique. During the early years of my career he helped extensively with the management of promotional material back in Sweden when I was traveling around the world. But my work in the sixties was mainly outside of Sweden with few visits to my home country and so we were not as regular or intimate as in later years. Long distance phone calls in those days were costly affairs, only to be used for urgent matters. It was not until the early eighties, thirty five years ago, that I re-cemented my close friendship with my brother and we started to visit each other’s homes. Eventually this grew to extended stays on two continents, permanent possession of each other’s house keys, and “my house is your house.” We regularly visited one another for months on end.

Claes Munthe

Loved to make others laugh.

Bambi: When in the U.S., Claes often referred to himself as an “Okie” or a country bumpkin when he felt unfamiliar with an American tradition. Like the time he drove alone to a plant nursery and his car was rushed by a gang of shouting Mexicans. Cold sweat, pounding heart, knuckles white on the steering wheel, Claes inched forward, terrified. Oh, did we ever laugh about that experience! Just a word of the story could forever after bring any of us to gales of laughter.

The friendship was equally warm between Claes and my wife. They were like brother and sister. We were a unique trio with shared interests and missed each other very much when apart. I would assume that only married couples or siblings can have the kind of close and warm relationship that years of sharing fosters. It was the humor, the jokes, the ribbing, the advice, the practical jokes, the insults, and the support, that was unique and is now missed.

Bambi: How could I not tease him about the creative way he shelved his books?

There wasn’t a dinner or a telephone chat (thank you Skype) when we weren’t laughing uproariously.

Bambi: Remember when Claes bit into a Chinese fortune cookie, made a face, and complained that there was paper in his cookie?

Claes Munthe

Bambi and Claes

Gags or lines often in bad taste or politically incorrect, but biting and pure. No facade or pretense, just gutsy and honest observations with ever-present sardonic over-tones. Guards-down: the sort of rapport you can otherwise only have with a mate from school or the military, and hopefully with your marriage partner. (Or as they call them in Sweden “sambo.” Only forty percent of Swedish people marry—the rest live together under the label “sambo.” Never any spousal support after a break up, but child support works the same way, married or “sambo.”)

Claes had two lengthy “sambo” relations, each lasting about ten years. But he lived alone for the last fifteen years. He felt he lived full life, but regretted that he had not found a partner to share his later years with. He had a preference for exotic appearance and had relations in Latin America and the Middle East which never materialized into something that could become reality back in Sweden.

Bambi: Maybe he lived alone because of his famous stubbornness, huh? Would anyone else behave the way Claes did when airport security told him he couldn’t fly with his pocketknife? He wouldn’t give it up to the security officer, whom he knew would keep the gorgeous little knife. Instead, he was determined to destroy it. Except… it was a strong little knife, a fine German one, and he almost missed his flight because it took him so long!

His love was travel, photography, and the study of ancient civilizations (art, monuments, and history). He spent fifty years taking magnificent photos in every corner of the globe. He was a lecturer in Sweden with a strong following and his appearances always drew an adoring crowd of fans. It was not a big financial reward since culture lectures are not exactly big money-makers, but he was re-booked over and over for the same venues, year after year.

Claes Munthe

He’s up there somewhere…

Bambi: Let’s not forget his love of tree-killing! Has any man felled more trees than Claes has? I was awed when I watched him single-handedly take down a huge mesquite in a tricky position at our Vegas house. But it was nothing compared to seeing him waving in the wind at the top of a giant fir on his country house property—a man with a fear of heights, yet! Over the years, I’ve watched his mountain of tree roots grow.

Oh, we did so much together. We gardened, we went on petroglyph-seeking road trips, we cooked. He taught me to make a killer Jansson’s frestelse. We made flädersaft together with the most old-fashioned tools.

Claes Munthe

The mountains of tree stumps in 2009.

All his friends will remember Claes for two things. His kindness and his desire to help. For many years he worked in human resources and it is amazing how many old friends have now come forward and expressed sorrow over Claes’s passing, always commenting on how much he helped them both professionally and with private trauma and complexities. He was a sensitive soul who wished well for others and always extended himself to others and their need for support.

When we were quite young, maybe about 12 years old, he wrote on a door to a tool shed that I had, “Claes is kind.”

I guess you could characterize Claes with those words—Claes is kind. I believe his friends will all remember Claes first and foremost as a kind and funny guy who passed away much too early.

Do you agree?

All text © copyright 2000-present. All rights reserved. Bob Arno

© Copyright 2008-present Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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Nigerian torture officers http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/nigerian-torture/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/nigerian-torture/#comments Sat, 20 Sep 2014 15:46:07 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6531 “Torture has become such an integral part of policing in Nigeria that many stations have an informal torture officer, Amnesty International says. “Both the...

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Nigerian nightmare, Nigerian torture

A form of Nigerian torture

“Torture has become such an integral part of policing in Nigeria that many stations have an informal torture officer, Amnesty International says.

“Both the military and police use a wide range of torture methods including beatings, nail and teeth extractions and other sexual violence, it says.”

Nigerian torture

That was in the BBC News report Nigeria ‘uses torture officers to extract confessions’ published September 18, 2014, and the quote is from Amnesty International, who just published an illustrated report entitled Welcome to Hell Fire—Torture and other ill-treatment in Nigeria.

The report immediately reminded me of my friends Michael Griffith and Nancy Grigor. As they were departing Lagos, Nigeria, after a brief business trip, they were tortured with cockroaches. A whole filthy jar of them had been dumped on Nancy.

Michael, accustomed to extracting people from sticky situations, was at a loss. He’d pulled people out of South American prisons, choreographed an American’s escape from a Turkish jail, rescued the wrongly accused and the clearly guilty. Now, as he grabbed his delirious wife by her shoulders and tried to steady her, he saw the same overwhelmed eyes he saw in many of his clients. They bulged with a desperate plea for a savior, and of unspeakable horrors.

When Nancy and Michael told me what had happened, I thought of it as distraction in order for immigration officials to successfully bribe a little extra departure tax. Distraction!

In a new light and long after the fact, I consider what was done to them torture, meant to extract money, not confessions. Nancy certainly found the experience to be torture.

Why and how would Nigerian immigration officials torture departing visitors with cockroaches? Read the story if you dare. Nigerian Nightmare.

Fair warning: you may not sleep well afterwards…

© Copyright 2008-present Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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Massive smartphone theft ring busted in London http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/smartphone-theft-ring-london/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/smartphone-theft-ring-london/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 12:00:49 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6506 Pickpockets are free to steal as usual on London’s Tube and trains, but they’ve lost their biggest buyers of smartphones. British Transport Police nabbed...

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London smartphone theft bust

Bob Arno in London, where the thieves are.

Pickpockets are free to steal as usual on London’s Tube and trains, but they’ve lost their biggest buyers of smartphones. British Transport Police nabbed 13 gangsters, including the ringleader, in a September 11 pre-dawn raid on multiple locations.

Smartphone theft ring busted

1,000 smart phones were recovered, all wiped clean of data, reset, polished up, boxed, and labeled. The phones were to be shipped to Dubai, eastern Europe, and northern Africa to be sold as new. This scheme reportedly netted the gang about 1.6 million dollars per year.

Excellent work by the British Transport Police and its “Dip Squad!”

However, the pickpockets remain at large. Public transportation passengers in and around London are no safer, and neither are their smartphones. Time to brush up on Pocketology 101 and Purseology 101 for smart-safe storage of valuables.

Actually, I suspect some of the pickpockets may briefly desert the trains and work the streets while “the tip is hot,” as they say. Uniformed and private eyes are on the lookout on the trains and platforms, and in the stations. Think thief. If I were one, I’d cool it on the trains for a week or so.

The pickpockets, doing the grunt-work for the organized crime ring, get paid like any grunt-workers, but enough for them to risk arrest, fines, and brief imprisonment.

The ringleader though, was living the high life in a million-dollar riverside apartment. He’s said to be an Afghan Sikh in his forties. His Audi Q7, parked in the basement garage, contained more than 200 smartphones.

My pet peeve: the persistence of the term “petty” when referring to theft by pickpockets. They’re taking wallets with credit cards they can exploit for thousands of dollars. They’re taking smartphones worth up to a thousand. And they’re doing the grunt-work for a business that rakes in $1.6 million a year.

Chief Superintendent Paul Brogden, leading Operation Magnum, said: “These are not petty criminals. They are in the upper echelons of the criminal network behind the pickpocketing that’s carried out on Tube and rail networks — particularly the West End.”

London Evening Standard, 9/11/14

Police Chief Brogden also reminds us that “Each of these stolen phones, of which there are hundreds, has a victim.”

© Copyright 2008-present Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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Romanian beggars http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/romanian-beggars/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/romanian-beggars/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 05:33:23 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6481 I recently wrote about beggars on the streets of Stockholm. I observed that an abundance of beggars are now stationed in the streets, and...

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Romanian beggars

A gypsy girl in Romania

I recently wrote about beggars on the streets of Stockholm. I observed that an abundance of beggars are now stationed in the streets, and that they are mostly from Romania. I argued that these beggars are organized, and possibly trafficked, that a large portion of collected money goes to “bosses,” and that Swedes are naive and therefore an easy market for the begging enterprise, which is in large part social engineering. The article became quite controversial, especially in Sweden.

Romanian beggars in Stockholm

Roma beggars in Stockholm take a break

Romanian beggars

A street in Constanta, Romania

Romanian beggars

A street in Constanta, Romania

Romanian beggars

A street in Constanta, Romania

Romanian beggars

Gypsy family in Romania

Romanian beggars

A gypsy woman, mother of five children, who collects plastic bottles for a living.

Romanian beggars

A little girl’s rough living.

A gypsy woman, mother of five children, who collects plastic bottles for a living.

A gypsy woman, mother of five children, who collects plastic bottles for a living.

Romanian beggars

Constanta, Romania skyline

Now, after making a trip to Romania, I have some follow-up information. (But you have to read through my rant before you get it.)

Romanian beggars in Sweden

Swedes are reluctant to believe that their cities and towns have been besieged by professional beggars. Despite the thousands of Romanian beggars in evidence, Swedes stubbornly insist that these are simply individual unfortunate humans who can survive by no other means. For some reason, Swedes excuse them from working for a living. Despite the fact that the Romanian beggars (individually!) all use the exact same posture, the same dress mode, the same plastic bundles of personal effects, the same blanket-wrap and paper cup and laminated photo—even the exact same laminated photo of the very same children. Despite the fact that prime “locations” seem to be continuously occupied, with methodical rotations of personnel so that the position is never vacant, never vulnerable to being usurped by a competitor. Despite the fact that these locations follow a scheme favoring the doors of particular grocery and liquor stores and subway entrances, all over Stockholm and all over Sweden.

Really. Are these Romanian beggars—all the several thousands of them—each sole and separate individuals, each uneducated, each unable to work, each self-organized?

Is Sweden a country of ostriches with their heads buried in the sand? Not quite. Sweden holds a native population intensely dependent on social proof. Everyone is terrified of committing inappropriate behavior, voicing an unpopular belief, not conforming to the group mentality. Everyone’s afraid of appearing to lack compassion, sympathy, charity, and brotherly love. Everyone’s afraid of appearing racist.

For an excellent example of this attitude, take a look at an August 28, 2014 article in Metro, the free paper distributed on Swedish trains. “No, the beggars are not controlled by criminal gangs,” is a translation of the Swedish headline. Its main source of intelligence is a Swedish “homelessness coordinator.” I don’t know, but I would suspect that Romanians who occupy Sweden for the purpose of begging do not go to the state for housing. That’s why they have bosses! To organize them, find them places to sleep. Also note that they carry their possessions around with them in sacks, like old-fashioned hobos.

Other sources in the article tiptoe through their interviews, cautiously hedging with evasive statements like this police officer’s: “‘It is very difficult to say that begging is organized,’ says Stockholm Police Peter Enell.” The article also makes short shrift of the statements by “a police officer with roots in Romania.” To me, the Metro article is laughable. Have a look. Or don’t waste your time.

To find out more about Romanian beggars, Bob Arno and I went investigating in Romania.

We met with a highly experienced police officer and another official in the city of Constanta, neither of whom would like to be named. Both told us that Romanians who beg outside of Romania are definitely organized. (I did not ask about beggars inside Romania.)

I asked if poor villagers sought out begging gang-leaders for assistance, or if villagers were recruited by the gangsters. They are recruited, I was assured. They are desperately poor, and they are Roma. On their own, they could not afford foreign travel. They require the assistance of leaders (bosses, aka gangsters) who organize their transportation. Of course, these bosses must be repaid.

The police officer told us that local gangsters who head begging rings gamble away much of the bounty. Other investigations show that begging and pickpocketing proceeds transform destitute village shacks into relative mansions with European luxury cars parked in driveways.

The official pointed out a number of Roma men drinking on the sidewalks. They are robbers, he said.

The police officer said that people are still maimed for the purpose of begging. I did not get clarification, but I take this to mean that it is children who are maimed. The officer described a horrendous practice, in which adults push a child into slow-moving traffic. When the child is hit and injured, the adults demand cash on the spot from the driver in order to not involve the police.

It’s hard to believe that this barbaric savagery really happens. Yet, the officer told us that this exact atrocity had occurred only two days before our meeting, right in the center of town, in front of Tomis Mall (near where we found our pickpockets the next day). I can’t get the nightmarish image out of my head.

I must presume that the adults were not the parents of the child victim. Who is the child, then? Stolen? Purchased? Rented? I also presume that the child, with its unpredictable injuries, is intended to become a compelling beggar who will attract sympathy and more cash with its twisted limbs and scarred skin.

This anachronism is difficult to grasp in modern, civilized society. It’s impossible to imagine the desperation and cold-bloodedness that leads to such an industry.

(It brings to mind the 1989 novel Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn, in which a circus family man concocts chemical cocktails for his pregnant wife, thereby creating his own deformed children for his own lucrative freak show. However, those children are loved. Great book!)

Roma in Romania

Bob and I spoke with a gypsy family that happened to walk past us in Constanta, Romania. Our translator begged us not to, insisting that it would bring trouble and they’d demand money. He said they wouldn’t speak much Romanian and he didn’t speak any Romany. Bob persisted, and the family sat down in a nearby park, amenable and unperturbed.

They were clearly penniless. The mother’s clothes were black with muck and she carried a grubby blanket. The children, eight and eleven years old, were bright and alert. They answered Bob’s questions with the same trepidation any shy children would, glancing at their mother, who smiled back and nodded. The children attended school. The mother had not.

I was enchanted by the little girl, whose scarred and dirty face was beaming one moment, serious the next. Her radiant smile baring two chipped front teeth hinted of a tough life. Her rubber sandals were cracked, broken, and dirty. Her feet were caked with grime, her toenails chipped and encrusted. She wants to be a doctor.

The mother has five children: 3, 8, 11, 15, and 20. They live in a house where they pay a small rent. The children’s father is very ill, she told us. He was hit in the head recently. But she doesn’t drink or smoke, she emphasized, as if to counter an unsaid accusation. Also, her brother has been arrested and is in jail for two years. She didn’t elaborate, but added that she’s not afraid of police. She’s sad that she doesn’t have her own house—that’s her dream. To support her family, she collects plastic bottles.

“You ask hard questions,” our translator said, “very personal.”

Now Bob beat around a bush. Without asking directly, he tried to find out if the family had been approached by human traffickers or gangsters offering them a better life. He spoke directly to the children.

Our translator was not familiar with our peculiar area of interest and had no idea what we were getting at—which is just the way we wanted it. No interfering, no answering on behalf of the family or spinning their replies. It was interesting to observe his change in attitude. He softened toward the children, he was charmed by them, and impressed by the mother’s candid and sincere statements.

When Bob invited the mother to ask him questions, she had none. She simply smiled and said “I’m glad that you asked us all these questions and pleased that you are interested in our life.”

The family did not ask us for money, though we gave them some at the end. The children handled the bills reverently, then handed them to their mother. The woman was surprised and grateful.

Criminal Romanian begging rings

I have not seen any children (Roma or otherwise) begging in Sweden. I’m sure it wouldn’t be tolerated. However, Romanian children beggars and pickpockets are plentiful in England, Italy, Spain, France, and probably additional European countries, but those I have listed I have personal experience with.

Here’s a 2-minute BBC clip on Romanian child-beggars, human trafficking, begging-ring bosses, and new riches in poor Romanian villages.

© Copyright 2008-present Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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Romanian Pickpockets in Romania http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/romanian-pickpockets/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/romanian-pickpockets/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 22:37:01 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6427 The pickpocket pair was plain as day to us. And we were just as obvious to them: tourists—by definition, filthy rich and fair game....

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Romanian pickpockets in Romania

Romanian pickpocket in Romania today. Where will he be tomorrow? Paris? Rome? Madrid?

The pickpocket pair was plain as day to us. And we were just as obvious to them: tourists—by definition, filthy rich and fair game.

Romanian pickpockets in Romania

One of the two pickpockets who tried to work on Bob Arno

Romanian pickpockets in Romania

The Romanian pickpocket tries to work Bob Arno

Romania’s pickpockets are tourists, too. As some of the most traveled of thieves, they’re regularly found plying their ancient trade all across Europe and beyond. They send their earning back to Romania. (Hence their little Romanian shanty towns gone grand.) In our thiefhunting pursuits, Bob Arno and I have met Romanian pickpockets while traveling in Europe top to bottom, east to west, from Sweden to Spain, from England to Estonia, and everywhere in between.

Romanian pickpockets

Bob and I had come to Romania to see Romanian pickpockets on their home turf. It didn’t take long. Two minutes in the city, and there they were. We’d planned to visit Bucharest but learned at the last minute that on this long summer holiday weekend Bucharest would be empty. Everyone who possibly could would be at the beach; and following them would be the pickpockets. So we decided to explore Constanta.

The pickpocket pair laid in waiting on the corner of the pedestrian street. We probably spotted and identified each other at the same instant. For my part, it was easy. If I’d just seen the man’s diagonally-worn messenger bag, I’d give him a suspicious look. Noting the sweater he carried, the man was as good as guilty. After all, it was 80 degrees; yet, the sweater was not folded and forgotten. Rather, it was over his arm, then flourished, fiddled with, and finally folded over his messenger bag. A “tool,” for sure.

Yesterday, we’d met with the city’s pickpocket police officer, a man with 32 years’ experience—rare for the pickpocket detail, who usually move on to more interesting policing. The cop, whose identity I need to conceal, described the local pickpocket techniques.

Romanian pickpocket techniques

“Wrestling” is what he calls the first M.O. The pickpocket approaches his mark straight on with a big smile and familiar greeting. “Remember me, Andrei?” He picks a very common name. While locking eyes and insisting that the two know each other, the thief puts his hands on the mark’s shoulders and shakes him roughly. His partner comes from behind and picks the wallet during the commotion. The thief stops abruptly, apologizes, and departs, while the victim is still rattled, wondering if he really did know the friendly stranger.

“Belt-shake” is method number two. The thief compliments the mark’s shoes and/or clothing, and finally his belt. He shakes the belt and, during the distraction, either snags the vic’s wallet or his partner does.

The cop also described the back-to-back cafe-chair steal, and said there’s a lot of theft on buses.

Romanian pickpockets in Romania

A poser, early bathers, a stage, and 30 beer stands, ready for the holiday weekend evening on the beach in Constanta, Romania.

Romanian pickpockets in Romania

Constanta beach crowd just getting started

Romanian pickpockets in Romania

A building in Constanta, Romania

Romanian pickpockets in Romania

A grand old house in Constanta, Romania

So Bob and I went for a little stroll in this large Romanian coastal city and almost immediately, there we were, face to face with a pair of Romanian pickpockets in Romania.

With almost no English skills at all, the faux-friendly thief began chatting up Bob while his partner tried to head me into a different direction. “Where you from” is a phrase they both used. Bob’s guy claimed to be a tourist from Bulgaria and asked where the casino was. Then he began to compliment Bob’s clothes.

I had started taking pictures right away. Though the partner tried to distract me, I kept an eye on Bob’s encounter. The perp fingered Bob’s pants with an admiring smile. He ran his hand lightly over the fabric. This is called “fanning,” when a pickpocket tries to establish where the valuables are kept.

Bob maintained a smiley, gentle demeanor, hoping the thief would validate his designation by dipping into his pocket or getting his partner to do so. But something spooked them. Perhaps it was my picture-taking, or perhaps one or both of us didn’t play like regular tourists. In any case, my guy said something to Bob’s guy and pulled back, retreating to pace twitchily in the shadow of a building. His colleague continued to persist with Bob for several minutes longer. He slowly grasped that we weren’t playing our expected roles. Finally he too disappeared down a side street.

Upon seeing these photos, our police contact identified the pickpocket right away by name and said he’d just been let out of jail. Take a good look at him. You may see him next in Paris, Rome, or Barcelona.

© Copyright 2008-present Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

The post Romanian Pickpockets in Romania was written by and posted on Thiefhunters in Paradise - Pickpockets, Con Artists, Gangsters, Thieves, and Travel.

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