Thiefhunters in Paradise http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters Pickpockets, Con Artists, Gangsters, Thieves, and Travel Tue, 29 Jul 2014 14:06:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Overcharge scam or accidental mistake? http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/overcharge-scam/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/overcharge-scam/#comments Sat, 26 Jul 2014 13:00:47 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6208 Overcharge Scam “Do you take credit cards?” “Si, signora,” the salesman replied. “How much is this pepper grinder?” “€12.90.” So why was the credit...

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Overcharge scam

The salesman who overcharged me in Rome’s Mercato di Campo de’ Fiori

overcharge scam

Kitchenware for sale at Rome’s Mercato di Campo de’ Fiori

Overcharge Scam

“Do you take credit cards?”

“Si, signora,” the salesman replied.

“How much is this pepper grinder?”

“€12.90.”

So why was the credit card slip made out for 15.90 euros? Accident? Or was this a little scam the market man thought he could pull on an idiot tourist? On a hurried customer, one who might not examine the credit card slip.

This was in Rome’s bustling outdoor market in Campo de’ Fiori, at the large kitchenware stand right next to a man pressing pomegranate halves as fast as he could and selling €6 cups of juice to an endless line of customers.

When I called him on it, the salesman wordlessly handed me three euros in coins. Not sheepishly. Just wordlessly.

Like a pickpocket who silently drops the stolen wallet on the ground. Not me… there it is… no harm done, right?

I can’t say for sure that this was a systematic overcharge scam used—perhaps vengefully?—on customers who have the audacity to pay with a credit card. But I have my opinion…

What do you think?

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

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Beggars in Stockholm http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/beggars-in-stockholm/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/beggars-in-stockholm/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 13:43:17 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6220 Beggars in Stockholm—everywhere! Just a few years ago, one never saw beggars in Stockholm. Today, one never sees Swedish beggars, but beggars from Romania...

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Beggars in Stockholm

A beggar in Stockholm

Beggars in Stockholm—everywhere!

Just a few years ago, one never saw beggars in Stockholm. Today, one never sees Swedish beggars, but beggars from Romania seem to be on every corner, at the door of every shop, and at every subway station entrance. It’s an orchestrated invasion; just like the organized Gypsy begging that has been investigated and documented in the U.K. However, in Stockholm, I haven’t (yet?) seen child beggars. Not even babes in arms. I suspect the kingpins are smart enough to realize that Sweden wouldn’t stand for that.

The Swedish government periodically debates the possibility of banning begging, but then, what would happen to the few homeless and drug-addicted Swedes who beg, and the few alcoholics out on the street? Where would they get cash?

Well then, let’s ban begging by foreigners! Good idea, but unlikely to happen any time soon, I think. Everything in Sweden happens by committee, and happens slooooowly.

Beggars in Stockholm

Tools of the trade: “family” photos and a paper cup.

Beggars in Stockholm

A Swedish citizen donates to a Romanian beggar in Stockholm

Beggars in Stockholm

This couple just gave 100 crowns, about US$15, to a beggar-woman.

Beggars in Stockholm

A beggar in the Stockholm subway.

When border control within the European Union went soft, it didn’t take syndicate leaders long to take advantage of the new freedom of movement. Transnational criminal activities increased, particularly human trafficking.

For now, EU citizens are allowed to come to Sweden and stay without permission for up to three months. The Gypsy bosses know the rules. They transport the poor Romanian villagers, house them, feed them, and ferry them to their assigned begging spots. They come along and empty the cash-cups periodically.

Like the employees of a global theme park, all the Romanian beggars in Stockholm seem to be clones, all carbon copies of a model with a signature style. They all sit, they’re all wrapped in a blanket, they all hold a paper cup, and they all show photos of children. They all have a number of plastic bags near them, stuffed with things. They all block the flow of traffic.

Sweden is perfect…

Sweden is an excellent venue for this racket. Its citizens are wealthy, compassionate, and to some extent naive. The government is hamstrung and afraid to act. Tourists are rarely the budget type. I see people contributing to the cups (to the bosses’ riches); I’ve never seen meanness or complaint toward the beggars, not even hey-you’re-blocking-the-way.

The issue, the poor-Romanian-beggar, abused-victim-or-system-abuser conundrum, fraught with racial implications, is a bush to be beat around. In Sweden, there’s a ubiquitous fear of “what others think.” Everyone’s afraid to appear incorrect.

We spoke to a couple just after we saw them hand over a hundred crowns (about US$15) with a kind word and pat on the beggar’s arm. They give often, they said, whenever they can. They know these people are poor and need the money to feed their children. The couple buys into the scam hook, line, and sinker. Oh, I believe the beggars are poor and, since they don’t work, need help to support their families. But even the Romanian ambassador to Sweden thinks begging should be outlawed (and acknowledges that the beggars are her countrymen).

The beggars’ bosses* keep track of time. When three months are up, the gang is packed up and moved on for another stint elsewhere. Meanwhile, those at the top of the organized hierarachy build palatial houses back in their dumpy Romanian villages, and poor Romanian parents who “rented out” their children to begging and pickpocketing rings likewise see relative wealth.

Beggars in Stockholm

Magician Charlie Caper performed well in spite of the beggar who hobbled onto the stage and disrupted his show.

Beggars in Stockholm

After the beggar-woman gains attention on stage, she heads out into the audience with her cup.

Beggars in Stockholm

After taking undue applause with the magician, the beggar proffers her cup and photo.

Beggars in Stockholm

The beggar smiled, pointed, gestured, and took the magician’s applause.

Beggars in Stockholm

The beggars are mostly women and usually have a number of stuffed plastic bags beside them.

Beggars in Stockholm

A beggar in Stockholm

Beggars in Stockholm

A beggar in Stockholm

Beggars in Stockholm

Romania’s Command Central in Stockholm? There’s always a cluster on the stairs at Sergel’s Plattan.

Bob and I strolled through Kungsträdgården, a central park area in Stockholm, while a street performers’ festival was in full swing. Magician Charlie Caper, surrounded by a good crowd, was mid-routine when one of these Gypsy beggars actually waddled on stage and joined him.

Atypical for her type and oddly gregarious, she seemed to thrive on the magician’s reflected attention. The brazen beggar gestured, she pointed, she ta-da’ed. And when the crowd applauded for the magician, she soaked it up all-smiles and headed into the audience with her cup and photo, as if she were collecting for her talented son. The audacity!

Is it good to give?

Let’s say for a moment that the gypsy beggars in Stockholm get to keep all the cash they collect. I know—but just for arguments’ sake. Then subtract what they must pay for transport from Romania and in three months, to some unknown point (by crowded bus?). And subtract what they pay for food, lodging, and local transportation (which is not cheap in Sweden). They must be gathering a pretty penny, to make their long days on the cold pavement (Sweden, winter…) worthwhile. Citizens and tourists fill the beggars’ cups and the Gypsies (often seen talking on their mobile phones) call their friends and relatives back home and urge them to hop on the next bus to Stockholm, the deal’s great.

Or let’s say it’s not like that at all. The beggars are basically slave labor, trafficked humans, forced to sit on the pavement all day, forced to follow company protocol behaving just so. Strict overseers collect the beggars’ takings periodically and they are given a small wage. Most of the money donated by good samaritans goes into the pockets of the ringleader who—it’s well-established by now—builds palatial mansions (relatively speaking) in Romanian villages otherwise full of wood shacks.* The whole enterprise is a social engineering stunt—one huge scam exploiting public empathy and generous social services.

Either way, depositing funds into the cup-accounts of bundled beggars on the street is not a smart way to help. It rewards the begging enterprise, feeds the criminal organization, and ensures the continuation of the practice. Donors are kindhearted patsies.

Of course Stockholm isn’t the only city under siege. In fact, all of Sweden, even small towns in the frigid north, has been invaded by organized Romanian beggars. Denmark made headlines when Trine Bramsen, justice police spokeswoman for its governing Social Democrat party, said “We don’t want to make Denmark a hotel with a reputation across Europe for free food and board.” She wants them to “choose another country, for example Sweden, where they know they have better possibilities.” Looks like that’s working.

Some parts of the Austria, for example Tyrol and Salzburg, tried to ban begging altogether. But the Constitutional Court overturned outright bans, ruling that begging is a human right.

Dublin has been cracking down on organized begging for years now. In Spain, almost 100 people have been arrested for running human trafficking rings in last three years. “Most of the detainees are Romanian nationals, as are their victims, who are brought to Spain by the rings. In nearly all of the cases the victims were promised well-paid jobs in Spain, but once here they were made to beg on the streets in exchange for a sandwich and a bed inside a shelter.”

The European Union is desperate for a solution but the problem is huge—far bigger than organized begging, even though these rings fall within the realm of human trafficking. “The problem of human trafficking in the European Union” is good read, freshly presented by the European Parliamentary Research Service.

A tool to combat trafficking, is knowledge of its causes and vulnerabilities of victims. This Romanian study of trafficking in persons for forced begging provides such a picture. It highlights the vulnerabilities of potential victims, the characteristics of traffickers and outlines recommendations on combating both these aspects. This study will assist in facilitating ongoing campaigns and cooperation to fight against this heinous crime, to fight for the protection, assistance to, and dignity of the victims and most importantly, to prevent trafficking.

Trafficking in Persons for Begging — Romania Study

Well-meant donations to beggars enrich the criminal syndicate leaders and further enslave the individuals forced into begging. Giving to beggars is misplaced kindness. The gift does not remain in the hand that receives it.


*Edited 7/29/14 to add support and sources:

“The leaders of a child-trafficking operation that put hundreds of beggars on the streets of Britain were targeted in a series of raids today in a remote Romanian town where opulent mansions have sprung up since the country joined the European Union. … at least 17 people were arrested after the raids on 33 homes in Tandarei [Romania] by a small army of organised crime investigators, assisted by 26 Metropolitan Police officers and two observers from Interpol. … Firearms, jewellery, luxury cars and large sums of money were found at the homes of suspects, according to local media, which said that 320 Romanian officers were involved in the operation. Tandarei, with its population of 12,000 people, 150km east of Bucharest, has undergone a seemingly miraculous economic boom in the past few years.” Police in Romania arrest leaders of child-trafficking operation in UK, The Times, April 8, 2010

If you don’t have a subscription to The Times and do not want to pay £1, the text is also here. Underline above is mine.

Also see the BBC documentary “Britain’s Child Beggars.”

All text © copyright 2000-present. All rights reserved. Bambi Vincent

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Hotel Oddity #44 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/hotel-oddity-44/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/hotel-oddity-44/#comments Sun, 13 Jul 2014 15:30:24 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6174 The mysterious case of the dirty toilet This time, the “hotel” is my own six-star guest room. We’d been away for six weeks and...

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Cockroach poop in the toilet

Dozens of tiny pellets were in and on the dry toilet before it was flushed.

The mysterious case of the dirty toilet

This time, the “hotel” is my own six-star guest room. We’d been away for six weeks and it was summer in the desert. The water in the toilet had dried up.

In the midst of some unrelated home improvements, the plumber wanted to check the toilets for leaks. I brought him into the guest bath and immediately noticed some spots on the closed lid. Opening the lid, I was repulsed to see a large number of tiny brown pellets in the bottom of the dry toilet. And all over the toilet. On the seat, on the rim, on the tank top.

My knee-jerk reaction: “Oh, disgusting!” And I flushed it. Stupid. Would have made a much more dramatic photo if I hadn’t.

At first I wondered if someone had been in my house (possible) and messily dumped something into the toilet (highly unlikely). What else?

cockroach poop

What’s in and all over my toilet?

After a visit from the friendly family entomologist, mystery solved. It’s… oh, ick… cockroach poop. There were many intruders—or one that stayed for a long time.

When the toilet water dried up, direct access was opened from the septic tank. The trespassers took full advantage of the new expressway and invaded, looking for food and water. My six-star accommodations being spotless, their exploration proved fruitless and they departed.

My plan of attack, or is it defense, will be to deploy a team of flushers to attend regularly to my toilets when I’m away on extended travels. And maybe a little strategically placed diatomaceous earth.

Any other ideas?

cockroach poop

Not the culprit, but perhaps a relative?

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

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Naples pickpocket Angelo sighted http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/naples-pickpocket-angelo/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/naples-pickpocket-angelo/#comments Mon, 07 Jul 2014 12:00:55 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6160 Guest Post Dear Bob Arno and Bambi Vincent, I want to thank you for your information. Before I went to Naples I searched for...

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Guest Post
Naples pickpocket Angelo

Naples pickpocket Angelo

Dear Bob Arno and Bambi Vincent,

I want to thank you for your information. Before I went to Naples I searched for info on street crime and pickpockets there and also saw your info and video.

As preparation I only had some cash on me in my front pocket and knew the tactics.

Naples pickpocket Angelo

Riding on the notorious R2 bus for a visit to Pompeii I recognised one guy (I think it was Angelo) [from Pickpocket King] and certainly knew that he had bad intentions even when he entered the bus in the front about eight meters from me.

He went out and in with some guys, looked me straight in my eyes and then went for my pockets. As I knew what his goal was I could move away from him while still noticing that they were checking my pockets.

The older Italians complemented me for my reaction and asked if I was robbed. I was not.

However, it was agressive that he went for me even though he must have known that I knew that he was up to this.

I have only experienced this agressive pickpocket behaviour in Naples and not in Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, Athens etc.

One thing that I don’t understand is that these guys can continue their pickpocket work. A ten year ban on public transport would do the job maybe? But I think there must be a bribe.

But most of all I would like to thank you for the information that made me enjoy my trip. I will not go back to Naples and prefer the other cities.

Best Regards,
[Name withheld by request]

Read how we first met Angelo in 2004.
Read about Angelo-the-family-celebrity in 2014.

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

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Pickpockets on Rome Metro http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/pickpockets-on-rome-metro/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/pickpockets-on-rome-metro/#comments Sun, 29 Jun 2014 23:39:58 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6148 Hunting Pickpockets on Rome Metro As we rode the steep escalator to the depths of Rome’s Termini Station we marveled at the swirling, pushing,...

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pickpockets on rome metro

This young pickpocket has just returned Bob’s wallet and is now nervous and uncomfortable, trapped on a moving train with her victim.

Hunting Pickpockets on Rome Metro

As we rode the steep escalator to the depths of Rome’s Termini Station we marveled at the swirling, pushing, roiling crowd of passengers. Before we reached the bottom, we could see several uniformed officers on the platform. Bob groaned.

“Bad luck for us. There won’t be any pickpockets with the police around.”

It was nearly noon. We thought we’d have a quick look anyway, then surface for a lunch of Roman-fried artichokes and zucchini flowers. But as we were funneled off the escalator, we immediately recognized the abused-looking face of a pregnant pickpocket we’d filmed years earlier. Again, she was big with child. The woman, perhaps 20 years old now, swayed on her feet and smiled as she kidded with the police officers.

What was going on?

Had it not been for that familiar face, we wouldn’t have looked twice at a trendy teenager nearby. The girl wore cute, tight pants rolled up at the cuffs, a clingy, low-cut top, and the latest in designer eyeglasses. She wore a gaudy choker and makeup, her lips darkly outlined with pencil.

pickpockets on Rome Metro

Two female pickpockets in Rome’s subway. The one wearing a cap later stole Bob’s wallet.

In no way did she fit our previous pickpocket profile. Her dark hair was short and straight, neatly cut at shoulder length, sticking out beneath a black baseball cap. Slung across her chest, she carried the latest style shoulder-bag, the body-hugging, wide-strapped leather pouch with extra cellphone/glasscase/coin compartments attached to the broad strap. Smart and sassy, she resembled not-at-all her dowdy, pregnant friend. The girl was suspect by association.

The two girls conversed together, and with the uniformed officers as well.

At first we assumed the girls had been arrested and were awaiting police escort to the station. How silly of us. After five or six minutes of chat, the girls and officers wandered from the bottom of the escalator to the train platform, which was momentarily quiet. Their joking and laughing continued, and there was even a little friendly physical contact initiated by one officer.

A new crowd soon built up on the platform, and our attention turned to a perfect suspect, a pudgy male. We watched his eyes, and the way they locked onto another passenger. He moved to his chosen one and stood close.

The train swooshed in and stopped abruptly. Its doors slid open and clotted streams of human beings gushed forth, flowing, somehow, into the mass of bodies waiting on the platform, coalescing into a solid, writhing, determined organism. The new being contracted, then broke into bits, dispersing like grains from a punctured sack of rice.

The pudgy male followed his mark onto the train, shuffling in tiny steps so close, so close. He wouldn’t allow anyone to separate them. Bob and I followed, intending to film him, but we were roughly shunted to the right by a last-second surge of passengers as the train doors tried to shut. There was no way we could filter our narrow bodies through the dense pack to get closer to Pudgy.

Pickpockets on Rome Metro

Three of the many pickpockets surrounding us on the subway train in Rome.

Pickpockets everywhere

Before we had time for disappointment, Bob turned to me.

“All around us,” he said under his breath.

Yes, four young men, on three sides of Bob and one behind me. They were eyeing each other. The tallest, in front of Bob, already had Bob’s wallet.

“Give it back.” Bob said, firmly but quietly. “Give me the wallet.”

No response. Four pairs of wild eyes now flicked everywhere but at each other, everywhere but at their victim.

“Give me the wallet.” Bob hardened his voice and stared at the tall one.

Plunk. The wallet hit the floor and the men stepped aside.

I picked it up as the train reached a station. Bob was still glaring at the four. He intended to follow them onto the platform.

The foursome got off and we were right behind them. But there, on the platform, was the pudgy male we’d followed earlier. We dropped the four and snuck up on Pudgy, who was now behind a crowd waiting to board while a stream of others disembarked.

Bob’s camera was still rolling.

Pickpockets on Rome Metro

“Pudgy” prepares to lean toward his victim, whose wallet he steals. (I know, bad quality photo. It’s a frame-grab from video in a dark area.)

Behind the waiting passengers, Pudgy did a slow lunge, reaching his hands as far forward as possible. Bob leaned dangerously against the train, straining to see, angling his camera. Pudgy stretched toward a man who shuffled slowly toward the train door. With both hands, he opened the Velcro flap, then put one hand right into the cargo pocket low on the man’s thigh, and came out with a wallet. He turned and rushed away down the platform, suddenly followed by a cluster of children—like the Pied Piper. We followed him to an escalator where a security guard, watching our pursuit, shouted “Kick him! Kick him!” over and over. Obviously, Pudgy was well-known in the area, and frustrated guards have little authority over crimes they do not witness.

Where were we? I gave Bob the recovered wallet and he replaced it in his fanny pack. We turned to look for a station name and there, standing in a just-arrived train, was the trendy teenager in the black cap.

We dashed on before the doors slammed shut. The train lurched and gathered speed. Squashed against the door, we scrutinized the passengers. Now I noticed that the teen girl wore the small crude tattoos often associated with criminal tribes: two on her upper arm and at least one more on her hand.

“Give me back the wallet,” Bob said quietly. I didn’t even know she’d taken it. She tossed her hair and looked away, inching closer to the door.

“Give it back.” Bob pointed his sunglass case (containing a hidden camera) directly at her. He’d already filmed her hand in his fanny pack. Now he focused on her face.

She licked her made-up lips and blinked nervously, trapped beside her victim. Finally, she unzipped her shoulder-bag and removed Bob’s wallet. She handed it to him meekly.

The train came to a stop and the stealthy opportunist made a quick escape. Bob and I returned to Termini, ready for lunch. We’d only been three stations away.

Back at Termini, as we shuffled along with the mob toward the escalator, we saw the uniformed officers again, and with them, the pregnant pickpocket, the trendy teenager, and at least a dozen others.

Pickpockets and police: friends? or what…

Instead of surfacing for lunch, we lingered on the platform, watching the interaction. The area had cleared of passengers. Six or eight police officers sauntered around among the 15 or so in the pickpocket gang. There were women with babies on their chests, women without babies, and many children. All of them, pickpockets and police, loitered comfortably together in a loose and shifting association. Passengers began to arrive again, but the platform was still pretty empty. A clutch of women formed a huddle nearby, bending inwards. Soon they straightened, a knot opening like the petals of a daisy, or a fist opening to reveal a treasure. As the women moved away, each counted a wad of bills and stuffed them into a pocket or backpack. They made no effort to hide their swag.

Pickpockets on Rome Metro

“Pudgy” the pickpocket on the Rome Metro train

Later, analyzing the footage of our subway exploits, we were astonished to see the trendy teenager lift another wallet before she took ours. Her victim was a woman who clutched her handbag to her chest. Beneath it she wore a fanny pack. Bob’s camera, held low as we entered the train, recorded what our eyes had missed: the trendy teenager’s tattooed hand unzipping the fanny pack, removing a wallet, and rezipping the bag. Then she brought the stolen goods up to her own bag, and out of the camera’s range. Two wallets in two minutes! That could add up to serious money, depending on how many palms had to be greased.

Excerpt from Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams
Chapter Six: Public Transportation—Talk About Risky…

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

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Theft deterrent? http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/theft-deterrent/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/theft-deterrent/#comments Mon, 23 Jun 2014 22:19:14 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6137 Stop, thief! All you have to do is ask. Rather, tell the thief: “Stop. I’m not yours.” Cute. This method hadn’t occurred to me...

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Stop, thief!

theft deterrent

Bag tag and polite admonishment

All you have to do is ask.

Rather, tell the thief: “Stop. I’m not yours.”

Cute. This method hadn’t occurred to me as a theft deterrent. I wouldn’t count on it working.

I saw this admonishment while boarding a plane in Oslo. The man was Norwegian. Maybe this sort of theft deterrent works in Norway. Maybe only against Norwegian thieves. Maybe only against polite Norwegian thieves.

All text © copyright 2000-present. All rights reserved. Bambi Vincent

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Venetian glass beads, blown live in Venice studio http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/venetian-glass-beads/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/venetian-glass-beads/#comments Tue, 17 Jun 2014 13:00:05 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6100 Serendipitous finds are one of the joys of travel. In Venice, the rule is wander, get lost, and head away from the unbearably crowded...

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Venetian glass beads

A mannequin at Muranero glass bead studio.

Serendipitous finds are one of the joys of travel. In Venice, the rule is wander, get lost, and head away from the unbearably crowded tourist areas. Doing just that, I found Moulaye Niang’s tiny glass studio by accident, and what a gem! If handblown glass is the embodiment of Venice, these glass beads are the perfect, beautiful (and affordable) way to take home a piece of the fragile island.

Moulaye sits at his little worktable blowing small miracles. When I came in, he popped up and dragged me out into the sunlight, spinning a freshly molten bead on a metal rod. It was black and smoking. Watch, he said, turning the rod. Blue began to emerge, then streaks of red and swirls of yellow. Within minutes, the black blob cooled and metamorphosed into a gorgeous work of art.

Venetian glass beads. Moulaye Niang at work in his Venice studio.

Moulaye Niang at work in his Venice studio.

Venetian glass beads

Glass bead maker’s raw materials.

Venetian glass beads

One of Muranero’s creations.

Venetian glass beads

Moulaye Niang’s necklace: “two possibilities.”

Venetian glass beads

Moulaye Niang’s necklace: “two possibilities.”

Back inside, it was hard to choose among the strung necklaces. Moulaye’s partner is responsible for designing necklaces with his beads, and her combinations are stunning. But there’s also a big tray of unstrung beads. If you can pick one, she will string it into a necklace of her design—or yours.

Many of the necklaces have “two possibilities,” as Moulaye put it: in a short style, or a totally different long style. I’ll let you visit the shop and see for yourself what that means.

Venetian glass beads

Moulaye, from Dakar, studied glassblowing with the masters on Murano. His Venetian glass beads are inspired by nature. They are exquisite, and very affordable. Not cheap. They’re the perfect Venetian takeaway or gift that will be prized forever. All you have to do is find the shop!

Muranero: Salizada del Pignater 3545, Castello, Venice.

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

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Pickpockets on trains http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/pickpockets-on-trains/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/pickpockets-on-trains/#comments Wed, 11 Jun 2014 10:46:39 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6093 Unfamiliar fingers fiddled with the flap of my bag. I let them. My American Express card was in the purse, along with a small...

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Pickpockets on trains

A typically crowded train in Athens

Unfamiliar fingers fiddled with the flap of my bag.

I let them. My American Express card was in the purse, along with a small camera and other things I’d hate to lose. Still, out of the corner of my eye, I watched without interfering.

I was wedged like a flimsy pamphlet between big brass bookends, and about as immobile, too. We had just boarded the metro train at Omonia Station in downtown Athens. The train was packed with it’s usual proportion of locals, tourists, and pickpockets. It was hot, airless, and odoriferous to distraction.

Bob and I had been separated by a force from behind as we boarded the car in a crush of bodies. The power behind the force stood between us: two large men in their thirties. I had one hand on a ceiling strap, the other protectively clutching a cheap-looking canvas bag on my shoulder, which perfectly disguised my laptop. My purse hung low and appeared vulnerable.

The fingers tugged gently, but I knew it was futile. I had tied a small knot in the leather cord of the drawstring bag. I allowed the man to try solely to confirm to myself that he was what we suspected him to be.

Pickpockets on trains

Bob and I had watched these two on the platform. They were neatly dressed, clean-cut, and spoke Russian. They stood apart from one another as if they weren’t together. Their behavior on the platform made them suspects. When an uncrowded train came and they didn’t get on it, they were as good as guilty in our minds. Then again… we didn’t board that train either.

Pickpockets on trains

A train in Athens

We squeezed onto the next sardine can and Boris and Igor (as I’ll call them) pressed themselves in behind us, then between us. Igor bumped hard against me, spinning me against my will as he orbited around me. Just a little self-serving do-si-do accompanied by a fleeting expression of apology as he positioned himself to his secret advantage. Physical contact was unavoidable in the over-crowded car. Against my forearm, I could feel Igor’s wrist twitching as his fingers played with my bag.

The two men looked everywhere but at me. As our favorite New York cop taught us, watch their eyes. They seemed to be making unnecessary head movements, looking here and there as if they had no idea what was happening down below and were not responsible in the least for any mischief their hands might do.

Igor didn’t mess around long. At the next station, he slapped his forehead in a pantomime of stupid me, I forgot!, and slipped off the train. Boris followed. Bob and I did not.

Then they surprised us: they reboarded the other end of the same car, enabling us to observe them. Although the Russian-speaking pair towered over the short Greeks and most of the tourists, our line of sight wasn’t perfect across the mass of passengers.

Igor looked at Boris and Boris looked away. They had sandwiched a woman tourist and separated her from her husband, just as they had done with us. This was their method of stabilizing the victim, of impeding her movement. The couple took it in stride though, and braced themselves with both hands against the jerking and jostling of the train as it sped to the next station. They were understandably oblivious to the intentions of their neighbors. But they were unacceptably oblivious of their belongings, their situation, and their vulnerability. We were dying to shout out, to yell pickpocket! It is our deepest urge and instinct to warn others of the danger we’re so aware of. However… however…

We didn’t. For the reasons we have and will further explain, we let the situation take its course. We reminded ourselves: we are researchers in the field, observing and documenting a specific behavior, and we use the knowledge we gain to educate many. Once again and with twinges of guilt, we refrained from interfering.

Pickpockets on trains

Athens contrast

Athens’ green line is notorious for pickpockets. This convenient route is heavily used by tourists from Piraeus at the southern end, where ferries and cruise ships dock, to Thiseio for the Acropolis, Monastiraki for the Plaka shopping district, and Omonia Square, the city center. When these trains are crowded, and they frequently are, they’re pickpocket paradise. Thieves thrive on the forced physical contact, distraction of discomfort, and bodies hiding their dirty work.

Boris and Igor were swiveling their heads with exaggerated nonchalance. The train lurched into darkness for about three seconds. When it emerged, Igor lowered his sunglasses from the top of his head to his eyes. A got-it signal, we reflected later.

Still pretending not to know each other, they shoved impolitely through the standing crowd to position themselves against the doors. They were first to exit the train as the doors slid open, and they separated immediately, walking in opposite directions on the platform. The tourist couple was almost last to get off the train, so we jumped off also and caught up with them. We could see right away that the woman’s bag had been slit with a razor.

Why hadn’t those thug-like thieves sliced my bag? I knew they wanted it. Perhaps they thought the leather too thick, or they weren’t happy with their access or angle. Possibly the knot in my drawstring signaled my awareness of potential danger. Maybe they thought someone could see them, or their getaway would be hindered.

How to avoid pickpockets

Boris and Igor left me for someone else. It’s proof of the tremendous coordination of innumerable aspects required from the perpetrator’s perspective. So many factors must be in alignment before a thief will take a chance; so many conditions must be just right. With such a delicate balance necessary, it is not difficult to throw a monkey wrench into the thief’s equilibrium. Eliminate one or more of the elements he requires, and he’d just as soon move on to an easier target with a higher likelihood of success.

Excerpt from Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams
Chapter Six: Public Transportation—Talk About Risky…

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Bugs in Hotels — Hotel Oddity #43 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/hotel-oddity-43-bugs-in-hotels/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/hotel-oddity-43-bugs-in-hotels/#comments Wed, 04 Jun 2014 10:56:43 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6077 NIGHTMARES, ANYONE? These curtains look ordinary at first glance. Who scrutinizes the design on hotel room curtains? But your eyes have registered the subtle...

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Hotel oddity: bugs in hotel room

On first glance, an ordinary curtain, right?

Hotel oddity: bugs in hotel room

Nightmares, anyone? Insects crawling up bedroom curtains.

NIGHTMARES, ANYONE? These curtains look ordinary at first glance. Who scrutinizes the design on hotel room curtains? But your eyes have registered the subtle depiction that your conscious mind has failed to process: insects are crawling up the drapes.

Bugs in hotels

Later, the insidious images creep into your cognizance. You’re sleeping—or trying to sleep—and from from the depths of your subconscious rise ugly apparitions of insects—giant insects—marching upwards. They’re frolicking among… what are those? Larvae? And the larvae begin to metamorphose, and the juveniles become adults, and the adults swell to the size of full grown boxers, all brown, marching, swarming up the curtains and on to…

In your drowsy agitation, something touches your skin—a corner of the pillow case, a lock of hair, the antenna of an oversized beetle. Your eyes fly open. Now every dark or bumpy thing in the room looks like a creepy-crawler: the handles on the windows, the drawer pulls, a hook on the wall, and—is that a shoe or…

Hallucinations in hotel rooms are as unwelcome as bugs in hotels. Why did this brand-new, otherwise fabulous villa in Florence choose an insect motif for its bedroom curtains?

Bugs in hotels: Larva: The active immature form of an insect before its metamorphosis to adulthood. Suitable as a motif for bedroom curtains.

Larva: The active immature form of an insect before its metamorphosis to adulthood. Suitable as a motif for bedroom curtains.

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Springfield IL airport http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/springfield-il-airport/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/springfield-il-airport/#comments Mon, 26 May 2014 13:00:21 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6071 Here it is, 2014, and we are in the airport of Springfield IL, the capital of Illinois. I’m amused to see the actual, in-use,...

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Springfield Il airport luggage scale

It’s 2014 in the airport of a state capital and this is the luggage scale.

Here it is, 2014, and we are in the airport of Springfield IL, the capital of Illinois. I’m amused to see the actual, in-use, antique airport luggage scale at the check-in counter.

Springfield Il airport

We are leaving Springfield. Landing here, less than 24 hours ago, was remarkable. The Skywest jet’s wheels hit the runway hard and—nose up—we immediately took off again, bumpily. We were in row 2, so clearly heard one of the flight attendants exclaim “oh my god!” No explanation came from the captain. Just silence.

The whole plane was silent. Deadly silent.

We rose higher and banked steeply, overlooking the green-green-green of Springfield’s farms. Finally, many minutes later, the captain came on over the P.A. It was gusty, he said, with severe wind sheer on the runway. He’d try to land once more—otherwise, we’d go to another airport.

I looked down at the trees—we weren’t very high—and didn’t see any movement at all. No swaying branches, no bending poplars. He’s probably just a bad pilot, I thought. He botched the landing.

We circled once more, then aimed for the runway. Any white-knucklers onboard must have been beside themselves.

It was bumpy, but we landed. The clothes of the tarmac personnel whipped about their bodies. I descended the airplane stairs certain I’d be blown down them with my hand luggage acting as a sail.

Springfield Il airport. More interesting than I expected.

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Handicap stall in ladies rooms http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/handicap-stall-ladies-rooms/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/handicap-stall-ladies-rooms/#comments Wed, 21 May 2014 13:00:05 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6037 90% of the times I bypass a long line at a ladies’ room, I find an unused, available, extra-wide, “accessible” cubicle. Trained by parking...

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Handicap stall ladies room

Ladies: it’s not a parking place.

90% of the times I bypass a long line at a ladies’ room, I find an unused, available, extra-wide, “accessible” cubicle. Trained by parking spaces, women think those toilet stalls are reserved for handicapped women. No ladies—they’re not!

Disabled women have a right to an accessible toilet, but not necessarily without waiting their turn. In an airport, we all expect to wait.

Handicap stall use

So I use the handicap stall. Yes, I’m cutting the line. I could suggest that the first woman waiting use the empty stall, but she has already decided to avoid it. And then I’d return to the end of an even longer line, which grew while I was inside trying to make things happen. And while I’m way back in the line, how do I know everyone ahead of me will continue to make use of the accessible stall?

So I use it. And from then on, at least for a while, the line moves quicker. I get an advantage, but everyone else in the line also benefits.

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What’s the safest place to carry money? http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/safest-place-to-carry-money/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/safest-place-to-carry-money/#comments Thu, 15 May 2014 13:00:48 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6062 The question we’re most asked is… where should I carry my valuables? What’s the safest place to carry money? And the ambiguous answer is…...

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safest place to carry money

A pickpocket uses a newspaper to hide his steal. Any external storage is vulnerable, be it a pocket, purse, or fannypack.

The question we’re most asked is… where should I carry my valuables? What’s the safest place to carry money?

And the ambiguous answer is… it depends on who you are and where you’re going.

First analyze yourself. Are you a worrier? Overconfident? Carefree? Forgetful? Only you can choose the level of security for you. Will you be trekking in the highlands of Peru? Walking with elephants in East Africa? Or going to museums and the opera in London? What’s the tone of your trip, elegant? grungy? in between? What’s the weather? Summer clothes, especially women’s, have fewer pockets and far less security. No one is likely to get into the pockets of your jeans if you have a heavy coat over them.

Safest place to carry money

We say keep your wallet in your tightest pocket, but in many situations that isn’t enough. A wallet in a visible pocket is an invitation. Awareness helps. But maybe you don’t need to carry a wallet. Slim down your necessities, if you can.

Excellent products are readily available for the safekeeping of your stuff. Under-shirt pouches are pretty good, but they can usually be detected and demanded in a mugging. For all but the most dangerous streets, they’re a good option. Better yet is the type of pouch that hangs inside the pants, attached to your belt by a loop. These come in a full range of materials, from nylon to cotton to leather. We love these.

safest place to carry money

The nimble fingers of a pickpocket can easily open a fanny pack while hidden from the victim’s view. Even a twisted wire will thwart the thief.

Another kind of pouch fastens around your waist and is worn beneath your clothes. These come in infinite styles, sizes, and varieties and are excellent for men and women. It’s a little more difficult to get to your money or credit card when you need it, but what’s a little effort? Sometimes these are referred to as moneybelts, but they’re not. A moneybelt is a regular leather belt worn outside trousers; it has a zippered compartment on the inside. You can fold in a few large bills or travelers checks, but it won’t hold much.

safest place to carry money

Secure your fanny pack zippers with paperclips, or anything to slow a thief.

What about the ubiquitous fanny pack, aka waist pouch, aka bumbag? Well, it’s good and it’s bad. On one hand, all your goodies are right in front, on your body, in sight. On the other hand, the fanny pack shouts out “here’s my stuff!” For the most part, Bob and I recommend them for security, if you don’t mind the fashion statement they make. We have never seen, and rarely heard of their straps being cut. However: in many locales pickpockets are extremely adept at opening fanny packs and stealing their contents quick as lightning, while you’re wearing it. I recommend a simple preventative: fasten the zipper with a safety pin or with a paperclip and rubber band. Anything to frustrate wandering fingers. For the fanatic, fanny packs can be found that incorporate numerous safety features, including steel cable through the strap, a concealed buckle, a hidden key clip, and built-in zipper locks.

Several companies make clothes for travelers with zippered, Velcroed, and hidden pockets. I haven’t seen a look that I like much, but these are an option if you care for the somewhat dowdy styles on offer.

Pickpocket proof clothes: Clever Travel Companion's black tank; safest place to carry money

Clever Travel Companion’s black tank

pickpocket proof clothes; safest place to carry money

Stashitware men’s pocket undies.

Lastly, there’s a growing variety of pickpocket-proof underwear. The Clever Travel Companion makes a nice collection of briefs for men and women and zip-pocket tank tops. Stashitware makes several styles of underpants for men and women that have a huge central pocket I find most comfortable and useful. (And you have to love a company with the balls to use “shit” in its name.)

No solution is perfect. None is invincible. But if you carry only what you need, and secure those things wisely, you’ll avoid anxiety and better enjoy your travels. So dress down, stow your stuff, raise your antennas, swallow three spoonfuls of skepticism, and have a great journey.

Read Pocketology 101
Read Purseology 101

Adapted from Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams
Chapter Five: Introducing…The Opportunist

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

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Qantas iPad for every flyer to use http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/qantas-ipad-for-every-flyer/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/qantas-ipad-for-every-flyer/#comments Thu, 08 May 2014 21:13:14 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6030 Every passenger gets an iPad on Qantas. Yep. Even in economy. Mine never worked, but the airline gets an A for effort. With their...

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Qantas ipad

iPads for every passenger on Qantas

Qantas iPad

In the seat pocket in front of every Qantas long-haul flyer?

Every passenger gets an iPad on Qantas.

Yep. Even in economy.

Mine never worked, but the airline gets an A for effort.

With their red covers and red splashscreens, you can see the iPads in each seat pocket.

I wonder how many walk away?

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Pickpockets in Prague http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/pickpockets-prague/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/pickpockets-prague/#comments Mon, 28 Apr 2014 16:12:17 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6022 When in Prague, Czech your Wallet We hit the cobblestones as soon as we had dropped our bags and admired our room in King...

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Two pickpockets in Prague look back at their angry intended victim.

Two pickpockets look back at their angry intended victim.

When in Prague, Czech your Wallet

We hit the cobblestones as soon as we had dropped our bags and admired our room in King George’s House hotel, an atmospheric 14th century building in Prague’s Staré Mesto district. The late-summer crowd of budget tourists absorbed us into their mass migration. We surrendered to their pace, joining pudgy, reddened, middle-aged German men in sleeveless t-shirts and Birkenstocks with socks, tattooed skinheads wearing studded collars, and dizzy-eyed long-hairs whose sole employment seemed to be wrapping strands of hair in multi-colored thread.

Since pickpockets operate where tourists congregate, we allowed the happily drifting crowd to sweep us along the narrow lanes. It wasn’t easy to peel our eyes away from the intriguing marionette shops, enticing beer joints, and the renaissance-costumed concert touts. But our mission meant scrutinizing people, not souvenirs and architecture. We disciplined ourselves to study the throng and began to get used to the faces, rhythm, and tempo around us.

When we emerged into a sunny clearing, we found ourselves at the foot of Charles Bridge, a magnet for tourists. The many graceful arches of this medieval bridge step across the broad Vltava River to the Mala Strana area. Mala Strana is a popular pub and restaurant district, and a little further up the hill is Prague Castle. So Charles Bridge is heavy with pedestrian traffic all day and late into the night. Nestled among its 18th century statues, artists and craftsmen ply their wares and musicians play everything from classical to klezmer. The bridge is a destination itself.

Thiefhunting

The two women at left are pickpockets in Prague. The two boys at right are their stalls. The woman at center was the intended victim.

The two women at left are pickpockets. The two boys at right are their stalls. The woman at center was the intended victim.

We realized at once that the square at the foot of Charles Bridge offered a unique opportunity for pickpockets. A street of wild traffic and speeding trams separates old town from Charles Bridge. Everyone wishing to get from one place to the other must cross the street here at a stoplight. Crowds of a hundred or more people, mostly tourists, quickly accumulate on both sides of the street. Pickpockets have ample time to locate a mark, get in position, and work them while they cross.

Pickpockets in Prague

An affectionate couple on the street corner caught our attention in a big way. When the light changed and the traffic paused, they crossed the busy street among a mob of gawking tourists. But three quarters of the way across the street they abruptly turned and crossed back to where they had begun.

How purses are picked: the matador position.

In the “matador” position, the pickpocket (left) slings a coat on her shoulder when she’s ready to work. The coat blocks others from seeing her handiwork.

There they stood, again waiting to cross with the next gathering crowd. The man’s hand casually rested on the woman’s right shoulder. The woman had a blue blazer hanging from her left shoulder. They were better dressed than any of the summer tourists, but somehow didn’t quite look like local business people, either.

The woman sidled up to a man waiting to cross. The light changed. The pedestrians stepped off the curb and surged around the nose of a tram, which had come to a stop in the crossers’ territory.

The man shifted his hand to the woman’s left shoulder, where he anchored her blazer. The woman used her left hand to extend the blazer, completely shielding her work. As we all reached the opposite curb, I fought through the crowd and tried to speak with the elderly gentleman who was the woman’s target.

Pickpockets in Prague

In Prague at the Charles Bridge crossing, pickpockets block their marks as they cross the street to slow them down.

“Where are you from?” I asked him.

“Greece,” his wife said. The man was old and hard of hearing.

“Does he have his wallet?” I asked.

The wife didn’t understand.

“Portofoli?” I asked, pointing to the old man’s pocket and hoping I remembered the correct Greek word for wallet.

The wife felt her husband’s pocket and looked up at me in alarm. I looked wildly around for the affectionate couple but they were gone. Thinking frantically for the Greek word for pickpocket, I tried Spanish and Italian. Finally, klepsimo. The woman understood, but why not—the wallet was gone. She hurried away from me before I could say anything else, as if I were the thief.

Excerpt from Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams
Chapter Five: Introducing…The Opportunist

For more on pickpockets in Prague, read Thievery in Motion

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Banana liqueur http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/banana-liqueur/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/banana-liqueur/#comments Thu, 24 Apr 2014 14:00:08 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=5773 You find the strangest things in airport lounges. Fancy banana liqueur? This was in the Turkish Air lounge in Izmir. Let me tell you:...

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You find the strangest things in airport lounges. Fancy banana liqueur?

Banana liqueur in Turkish Air lounge, Ismir airport

Banana liqueur in a Turkish airport lounge. Is this a joke?

This was in the Turkish Air lounge in Izmir. Let me tell you: the Turkish Air lounge in Istanbul is fantastic! I love the cuisine of Turkey, and the lounge has a luscious sampling. In Istanbul, I want a long layover.

Of course I had to try the banana liqueur. Yep—very sweet. Probably mixes up well though, if you know what you’re doing.

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