Thiefhunters in Paradise http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters Pickpockets, Con Artists, Gangsters, Thieves, and Travel Sat, 23 May 2015 02:54:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 Eiffel Tower pickpockets force landmark closing http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/eiffel-tower-pickpockets/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/eiffel-tower-pickpockets/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 02:54:17 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6798 The Eiffel Tower was closed due to pickpockets most of Friday. Once again, this so-called “petty crime” has affected tens of thousands. How many...

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Eiffel Tower pickpockets. Gone at night. No crowds, no pickpockets, no entry.

Eiffel Tower at night. No crowds, no pickpockets, no entry.

The Eiffel Tower was closed due to pickpockets most of Friday. Once again, this so-called “petty crime” has affected tens of thousands. How many people lost a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enter the iconic site in Paris? As shown two years ago when the Louvre closed for the same reason, the pickpockets are a powerful force.

Eiffel Tower Pickpockets

You might think well, look at all the people who weren’t pickpocketed on Friday. Wrong, of course. The pickpockets fan out, targeting those same tourists who, already disappointed about missing the Eiffel Tower, congregate nearby before wandering off in the surrounding streets. The Eiffel Tower pickpockets do not take a day off. The Eiffel Tower pickpockets work the Metro, the streets, the cafés, the museums, and all the other crowded attractions in Paris. The Eiffel Tower pickpockets win.

Eiffel Tower pickpockets. A crowd at the Louvre jostle to see the Mona Lisa, ignoring the prominent pickpocket warning.

A crowd at the Louvre jostle to see the Mona Lisa, ignoring the prominent pickpocket warning.

Eiffel Tower pickpockets. A pickpocket warning at the Louvre.

A pickpocket warning in Paris.

Bob Arno and I have observed, filmed, and spoken with pickpockets for more than 20 years, and we have watched their evolution. In the 1990s in Europe, we saw a preponderance of meek young people, most of whom were dressed in cheap, gaudy, layered ensembles that made them recognizable to anyone who paid attention.

By the turn of the century, most had shed their identifiable costumes and picked up on the latest fashions, including tight jeans, slivers of exposed skin, baseball caps, silvery jewelry, and cool shades. This generation was impossible for the ordinary traveler to identify and, therefore, practiced with formidable success.

At the same time, we began to hear of horrendous violence practiced by a flood of incoming pickpockets. Active thieves we interviewed complained to us of the brute force employed by these newcomers, some of whom might be considered borderline muggers. Newspapers ran articles about jackets being set alight, ensuring that the victim would drop everything to strip and douse the flames while the thief made off with his valuables. Gangs commit robbery by choking, nearly strangling, victims. Bag snatchers pull women to the ground, breaking their bones. Rolex thieves have struggled with victims, causing the death of one tourist in 2011.

Thiefhunters in Paradise has documented this evolution, reporting on hundreds of pickpockets, their methods, and motivations.

The Eiffel Tower pickpockets, like those who worked at the Louvre two years ago, are aggressive and organized. Gangs of pickpockets gain confidence and bravado from one another, surrounding and intimidating their victims with loudness, rapid movements, and many, many hands. Awareness is not enough to resist this M.O. It is vital that valuables be stashed under clothes.

Bosnian pickpocket on the loose in Paris. Pickpockets in Paris. Eiffel Tower pickpockets

Bosnian pickpocket on the loose in Paris.

Pickpockets love Asian tourists, and Paris today is the most popular destination for the Chinese. The culture difference creates a pickpocket advantage, since Asian visitors don’t know how to fend off these aggressive thieves. Asians also may carry more cash instead of relying on credit cards to the same extent as European visitors. The credit card habit is not as extensive in China as in Europe. This makes Asian tourists especially attractive to pickpockets in Paris, and since every Chinese tourist will visit the Eiffel Tower, the equation is obvious.

Paris pickpocket police are running on hamster wheels. With great patience and persistence, they find and arrest pickpockets every day. They haul them into the station and book them into jail. Next day, they walk, free to continue their trade. They’re freed for a variety of reasons—some as trivial as the pickpocket claiming that this is his first time stealing. And he can do that repeatedly! Since he is allowed to decline both mugshot and fingerprints. The police are frustrated to distraction.

Eiffel Tower employees resorted to going on strike for much of Friday, closing down the Eiffel Tower completely, in an effort to call attention to the pickpocket situation and to get a permanent police presence at the monument. Their frustration stems from their city’s lack of political will. There simply have not been enough undercover officers working in the immediate vicinity of the Eiffel Tower.

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

A pickpocket in Paris. Would you suspect him?

Paris, being a large city with many tourists and many important sites to visit, has the highest number of pickpocket incidents in Europe. Authorities need to allocate protection in the form of uniformed police officers as well as undercover officers. Paris authorities currently claim there is a 25 percent decline in violent crime (think mugging and aggressive bag snatching) and 23 percent decline in pickpocketing. But street crime statistics are extremely hard to calculate and confirm, and the coming summer summer months are the real bellwether for this type of crime.

It is clear, however, that since the January terror attack France has assumed a more serious attitude to crime and how it affects tourism. But how authorities divide and assign existing law enforcement in order to combat crime is what will eventually create results. And a judicial system that truly follows up and prosecutes offenders according to the law.

In the past, perception among law enforcement officers, and the thieves themselves, has been that Paris has a lax judicial attitude. Thieves are not afraid to commit their crimes and to continue in their trade, even when they have been arrested a few times. In addition, Eiffel Tower pickpockets who specialize in stealing from Asian tourists practice a brazen technique that is especially aggressive and threatening to employees working the grounds. We know how they use “in your face” outbursts as a technique to intimidate those who warn victims of an impending attack.

BBC Newshour interviewed Bob Arno May 22 on the subject of the Eiffel Tower pickpockets. You can hear him 7:48 minutes into the Newshour.

© Copyright 2008-present Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.
All text © copyright 2000-present. All rights reserved. Bob Arno

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Hotel Oddity #50. Whose clothes are in the bed? http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/hotel-oddity-50/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/hotel-oddity-50/#comments Fri, 15 May 2015 00:30:21 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6785 It’s my birthday, and we’re on the road, as usual. This time it’s an okay low-budget hotel in Anchorage. Our plan for a nice...

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Clothes left in hotel bed?

Ew! What’s that in my bed?!

It’s my birthday, and we’re on the road, as usual. This time it’s an okay low-budget hotel in Anchorage. Our plan for a nice dinner was dashed due to the limited nearby options.

(At the diner with the best potential: “What’s best here?” “Well, we serve breakfast all day.” I can take a hint.)

After “breakfast,” I’m about to watch a film in bed, laptop on my lap. Bob says he’ll watch it with me, move over.

“Get on the other side,” I suggest lazily.

“No, move over,” he insists.

So I do. And under the covers, I feel something soft and loose. Something that doesn’t belong in a freshly pulled-back hotel bed.

Squeamish, I leap out of the bed, disgusted. “Ew, they didn’t change the linens! Someone’s left clothes in the bed! I have to call…”

I reach for the phone and Bob bursts out laughing.

“Look again,” he says. “It’s your birthday present!”

Yes, a dress. Beautiful. Funny. And so much more fun than tearing open wrapping paper.

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

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Leaving bags in hotel luggage storage http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/hotel-luggage-storage/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/hotel-luggage-storage/#comments Sun, 03 May 2015 17:45:17 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6752 At check-out time, you call a bellman to collect your luggage. You pay your bill, then tip your bellman for loading your bags into...

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Hotel luggage storage: Who's responsible for luggage left in the hotel lobby?

Who’s responsible for luggage left in the hotel lobby?

At check-out time, you call a bellman to collect your luggage. You pay your bill, then tip your bellman for loading your bags into a taxi. Did you count your bags? Bellmen at Las Vegas hotels tell me that suitcases are frequently left behind, even when guests are asked to check and sign a luggage release form. Bellmen don’t know whose bags are whose. And, cabbies often drive to the airport with bags that don’t belong to their passengers.

“What happens then?” I asked Ed, a bellman at Mandalay Bay. “Some cabs will bring them back to us. Some leave them at the airport but give us a call and tell us. Others just leave them. Then we have to trace them.”

Hotel luggage storage

Most hotels offer some sort of bag storage for guests. Say check-out is noon and your flight is not until night, or you visit Las Vegas and want to take an overnight bus trip to the Grand Canyon and leave your club-wear behind. Bob and I frequently take advantage of hotel luggage storage, but only after examining the facility.

Hotel luggage storage: Who's watching the luggage? The single harried receptionist?

Who’s watching the luggage? The single harried receptionist?

A large hotel may have a dedicated room with limited access, possibly kept locked, possibly dispensing luggage tags. This is common in, say, Nairobi, where guests headquarter themselves, then take off on safari with light duffel-bags. In small hotels in Venice, in Istanbul, and in Westport, Connecticut, for example, we’ve left bags in the hotel manager’s office, behind his desk.

In Athens recently, the storage option we were offered was out of the question; we opted to rearrange our plans, instead. A motley heap of suitcases were piled in the lobby, with nothing but the desk clerk’s “eye on them.” We’ve passed on adding our bags to rows of others with rope through their handles, and messy mountains of luggage with netting tossed over them.

Hotel luggage storage: Dead time. Stuck with luggage in hotel.

Dead time. Stuck with luggage in hotel.

Group travelers arriving early, before rooms are available, are urged by their tour leaders to leave their bags and go out. We’re so often amazed at the unclaimed masses of miscellaneous suitcases in hotel lobbies, extracted from the underbellies of tour buses and left unguarded. Just who is responsible? A young dancer in a show we worked in lost her laptop this way. “Just leave your bag there,” she was told on arrival, after flying into Stockholm from New York. When she found her emptied backpack she got plenty of sympathy, but the nebulous question of accountability was never answered.

Judging the safety of hotel bag storage, whether it’s a locked room behind the front desk or organized chaos spread across the lobby floor, means making a personal decision based on your own comfort level. What’s in your luggage? Dirty clothes, or expensive electronic equipment? What kind of luggage is it? Hard-shell with generic locks? Soft-sided with zippers? What about lobby traffic, and how many employees exist to oversee the situation? Like most personal safety issues, only you can weigh potential risks against your particular circumstance. The idea is to make an informed decision, not allow happenstance. At some time or other, you’re bound to make compromises, but with evaluation, you cut your losses.

Excerpt from Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams
Chapter Three: Hotels: Have a Nice Stay

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

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Why pickpockets are not afraid of police http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/why-pickpockets-are-not-afraid-of-police/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/why-pickpockets-are-not-afraid-of-police/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 17:21:23 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6729 With a million and a half views, our 50-minute National Geographic documentary “Pickpocket King” continues to raise questions. Here, Bob Arno addresses the frequently...

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Actual, working pickpockets discuss their demonstrations in Bob Arno's National Geographic documentary "Pickpocket King"

Actual, working pickpockets discuss their demonstrations in Bob Arno’s National Geographic documentary “Pickpocket King”

With a million and a half views, our 50-minute National Geographic documentary “Pickpocket King” continues to raise questions. Here, Bob Arno addresses the frequently discussed issues of why the active pickpockets showed themselves in the film, and how they feel about it now.

Few people realize that pickpockets can roam across most of Europe with impunity, not getting caught if they work in a team. Since pickpocketing is a non-violent crime a judge will seldom mete out a prison sentence when they are caught, unless a victim testifies in court and a police officer observed the act. In Italy, victims seldom testify, and certainly not in Naples. Mess with the Camorra and you stand the chance of much worse happening to you than losing a wallet.

When pickpockets work in teams one member of the troupe makes sure there are no undercover police officers nearby to witness the theft. They can usually spot the cops before the cops recognize the pickpockets—a cat-and-mouse game in extreme. Each member in the pickpocket crew has a specific duty or position during the set-up and extraction. This was not detailed clearly in our National Geographic documentary, Pickpocket King.

Most of the pickpockets in Naples are already well-known to the police (and most have served time). So those thieves who showed themselves in the film were not afraid of becoming known to the police or damaging their reputations. Maybe, just maybe, their participation in the film in fact helped them with an argument that they cooperated in spreading useful information on how people might avoid becoming victims. For the pickpockets who were on parole, their participation may even have helped convince a judge that they were trying to go straight. Yes—Naples is a charming city but also a very cynical one.

But in retrospect, all the pickpockets are unhappy today that they were featured in our film. Not because of law enforcement, but because the global success of the film on Youtube makes their work harder. Tourists know now to beware. But the pickpockets never expected the viral success of the Pickpocket King documentary.

The film teaches a traveler’s best defense against pickpocketing: know in advance what to expect and take proper precautions, especially on crowded public transportation. And then enjoy the charm of Naples and its surroundings. Bambi and I feel it is one of the greatest tourist destinations on earth because of the diversity, unique charm, fabulous food, and true warmth of the people.

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

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Psychic Schools or Scam Schools? http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/psychic-schools-scam-school/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/psychic-schools-scam-school/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 00:13:58 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6721 A year ago, psychic swindler Rose Marks was sentenced to more than ten years in federal prison for fleecing clients of her fortune-telling business...

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Psychic schools. Suitably spooky site for a psychic school: Arthur Findlay College in Essex, England.

Suitably spooky site for a psychic school: Arthur Findlay College in Essex, England.

A year ago, psychic swindler Rose Marks was sentenced to more than ten years in federal prison for fleecing clients of her fortune-telling business out of more than $17.8 million. She was 62 years old; she and her family had built a network of psychics, many of whom worked under the professional name Joyce Michael in Ft. Lauderdale and New York City.

One of Rose Marks’s best scams was to “see” the awful (and outrageously convoluted) future of a client, then solicit millions of dollars from the client, bit by bit, in order to perform rituals over the money before returning it. Except, the money was never returned.

At trial, victims testified that Marks “exploited them during vulnerable times in their lives. Victims said the women of the psychic’s family were masterful in their ability to use people’s spiritual or religious beliefs to get them to hand over money and other valuables.”

I always thought psychics had a “gift.”

Turns out, no. They just go to psychic schools. Or seance schools. Or clairvoyant colleges. These institutions have complete curricula of course study in, uh… conning. Courses called Unfoldment into Mediumship, Using Past Life Information in Present Time, Applying Clairvoyant Tools in the Psychic Playground, Trance: How to Sit for its Development, and So You Want to be a Medium are a small sampling from the few psychic schools I surveyed.

Rose Marks is infamous enough to have her own Wikipedia page, and lucky enough to have been trained by her own mother in the Gypsy tradition. She began her psychic career by age nine and later trained her own daughter.

If you don’t have the benefit of maternal training, there are psychic schools. All of them offer comprehensive instruction from beginner to advanced levels.

Psychic Schools

In the class called Stepping into Mediumship at MontClair Metaphysical School in New Jersey, the focus is learning how to “contact someone on the Other Side and to provide proof of their identity, personality and proof of life.”

Proof of life? The “Other Side” means the dead, right? So they’re teaching students how to contact the dead. And they must really teach that—otherwise the school is a sham.

Next, the students are taught how to prove they’ve contacted the correct dead person. Hmmm… mistakes can happen. Kind of like getting your neighbor’s mail in your box. Oops. But it’s the last bit that confuses me most: students are taught how to provide “proof of life.” Of a dead person? Is there life on the “Other Side”? From my perspective then, as an afterlife-nonbeliever, the school teaches how to scam. It is a school of scams, a college of cons, if I comprehend the concept correctly.

Or perhaps I need spiritual help.

Just last month, Psychic Gina was arrested in Fort Collins, Colorado, for bilking $37,000 from a client, with the collusion of her accomplice husband. Psychic Gina Marks is a member of another Marks family’s fortune-telling business; if and how they are related to Rose Marks is unknown.

Who would pay a psychic thousands of dollars for aura-cleansing, curse-lifting, love-finding, or to get through the ordinary difficulties of life? Usually those desperate in the areas of love, loss, health, or career. In the usual progression, the victim visits a psychic storefront for an inexpensive palm reading. Talented fortune-tellers assign homework to their clients, and persuade them to return repeatedly for convoluted rituals that escalate in price. Often, the psychic promises that the funds will be returned when the client’s problems are solved. Countering the failure of promised results, psychics convince clients to return by threatening certain catastrophe, calamity, and misfortune.

It is these advanced fortune-making skills I’d like to read about in the psychic schools’ syllabus: the inveigling, up-selling, cold-reading, deceit, and trickery. Which classes teach those vital skills? What about marketing, costuming, decor, and special effects?

The Psychic School in northern California offers many classes, all by telephone. One is Create Magic and Miracles. Is that the one in which you learn how to make teacups tip over and tables float? Most classes are $200, or you can take the two-year Teachers Program for $4,800. The Psychic School’s site carefully describes each course as self-healing, self-improvement, self-knowledge, and self-awareness. You study to be a psychic in order to read only your own chakra, energy, and dead people, right?

See your money-making abilities skyrocket

However, the Psychic School does point out that “with the development of your clairvoyant abilities, the decisions through which you create your life come with ease, your creativity and money-making abilities skyrocket….” I take that to mean that as a graduated “psychic” (the Teachers Program ends with a “Psychic School Certificate of Graduationg” [sic], there’s no end to the creativity you can use and fees you can charge to scam your clients. Becoming a clairvoyant, you will “create a life filled with insight, creativity, and miracles.” Sounds great!

Let’s have a look at the Berkeley Psychic Institute’s Clairvoyant Training Program, which the institute also refers to as “psychic kindergarten.” It must be child’s play! But no. It’s a two-year, four-phase program of intensive learning and “hands on training from high caliber gifted psychics,” and concludes with “Uncovering your deepest challenges, moving through the fire and slaying the dragons.”

Berkeley Psychic Institute operates the DejaVu Psychic Hotline, where graduates can get instant employment doing telephone and email readings. Email readings? Yes, for $25, one can order an “Email Trance Medium Channeled Healing.”

“We do not consider ourselves as fortune tellers. We are fortune creators,” says the DejaVu Psychic Hotline website. Whose fortunes are being created?

Arthur Findlay College, pictured above and about an hour north of London, calls itself “The Worlds Foremost College for the Advancement of Spiritualism and Psychic Sciences.” Not only can one study mediumship, but also trance mediumship, in which “you will be connected to spirit working with spirit and supported by spirit.” Sounds complicated. And that is the clearest line in the entire course description. Is that an example of the obfuscation taught in the institute? Vital skill for a clairvoyant.

Perhaps the most important course for a psychic medium is Mediumship – Polish Your Performance. Since mediumship is learned—not an innate gift—one must study and practice to become convincing when channeling a spirit from the Other Side. This is “essential for customers not only to return but recommend you to others,” the Arthur Findlay College site says. I’m guessing there’s some overlap with trance mediumship. Arthur Findlay College is international and holds week-long sessions in a multitude of languages including Japanese, Swedish, Italian, Norwegian, German, French, and Finnish. It even markets a course especially for senior citizens.

What do Psychic Schools cost?

What does it cost to become a clairvoyant? A basic week-long course at Arthur Findlay College, say Mediumship & Spiritual Development, costs £570 (about $845) with room and board, double occupancy. Add £9 per person if you want a room with your own bathroom. With more than 80 courses available, a wannabe-psychic can spend a pretty penny.

But everyone knows that a solid education leads to a solid career. Just a few years ago, Psychic Michelle Morgan, of Tarzana, California, raked in almost a million from a single client, a young man whom she determined was suffering from a love curse. Psychic Michelle was patient; she kept her 25-year-old mark dependent on her rituals for two years, urging him to borrow more and more money to fund his psychic sessions. The skills she honed allowed her to entrap and ensnare her victims and exploit them for much more than they were worth. Like all those in her field, silver-tongued Psychic Michelle’s talent was unctuous smooth-talk, glib persuasion, and creative conning. Presumably, the 25-year-old million-dollar-client wasn’t Psychic Michelle’s only client.

So what does a clairvoyant college curriculum really teach? How does an institute prepare a student medium for a career in clairvoyance? Does it really teach curse-lifting, money-purifying, and soul-swapping? Are the students taught how to scam and con their clients? Or are the students themselves scammed by the schools?

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

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Car scam. Sellers beware! http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/car-scam-sellers-beware/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/car-scam-sellers-beware/#comments Sun, 22 Feb 2015 22:58:18 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6709 Closing up our Stockholm house, I’ve been selling things on the local version of Craig’sList. Many items sell in the first day, even in...

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Car scam. car scam online. car scam craigslist

Saab for sale. Any scammers out there?

Closing up our Stockholm house, I’ve been selling things on the local version of Craig’sList. Many items sell in the first day, even in the first hour after an ad goes live. Most buyers don’t try to bargain; they simply pay the asking price. Sure, that’s partly the Swedish character. Pricing items low has a lot to do with it, too.

After success with many items, I decide to list our car, a 15-year-old Saab in almost-new condition with only 83,000 miles and not a thing wrong with it.

The phone rings a few minutes after the ad is posted. The caller wants the car! He makes a half-hearted attempt to lower the price and Bob, who has taken the call, agrees to the little discount. The caller says he’s in Uppsala, a nearby university town, and it will take him a little more than an hour to drive down with a friend. Okay. The caller asks for explicit driving directions, and Bob gives it. The caller tells us to take the ad offline, since he’s coming to get the car. Bob says sure and finally hangs up.

Car Scam!

Bob relates all this to me and I become a little testy. What do you mean you agreed to a discount? Of course I’m not going to take the ad down! Not until I’ve actually sold the car. And who calls to say they’ll buy the car sight-unseen, instead of saying they’ll come take a look at it?

Several minutes later, I get an email from “Joel,” who writes that it sounds like a good deal, when can he come see the car? I tell Joel that we have buyers on the way, but come tomorrow morning unless I write that it’s been sold.

Car scam. car scam online. car scam craigslist

The scammer kept his car idling the entire 40 minutes he tried to rip us off.

Uppsala guy calls again. He’s driving, and in a chatty mood. He asks Bob endless personal questions. Overhearing Bob’s replies, alarm bells begin to toll in my head. The guy asks for driving directions again. Bob gives him turn-by-turn instructions. It sounds as if they’re close, since Bob is naming nearby streets and landmarks. They couldn’t be here already, all the way from Uppsala.

Anyway, what kind of people don’t have GPS nowadays, I’m wondering. Why are they asking for the same simple directions over and over? It occurs to me that they’re simply tying up the phone line, trying to prevent competing buyers from getting through.

The Uppsala guy and his friend arrive. They couldn’t have driven all the way from Uppsala so quickly. Bob goes outside to show them the car. I observe from the upstairs window like a suspicious witch.

The man is about 26, I’m guessing, and my first thought: he’s the son or husband of one of the hundreds of beggars parked on the pavements of Stockholm. Nope, I have no evidence of that; it just pops into my head.

Car scam. car scam online. car scam craigslist

The car scammer showed a “database” on his phone that proved how bad our car actually was.

It’s dark and below freezing outside. An icy wind numbs my face at the open window. They’re speaking Swedish below. Long conversations. Wild gesticulating. Brief looks inside the car and under the hood. The guy from Uppsala starts the engine and complains about the look of the exhaust, but he never asks to drive the car. Meanwhile, the friend’s SUV is idling.

Bob tramps upstairs. “The car has a ton of problems! It’s a year older than you claim in your ad. The odometer has been rolled back. It’s had ten owners before us. And there’s water in the oil. He made a low offer, but I think we should take it.”

I explode. “Why do you believe him? He’s a scammer!”

“He showed me the car’s history on a website.”

“Right—on his smartphone! His phone with internet and GPS and maps. Why do you think he kept you on the phone for 20 minutes asking excruciating details about how to get here? He just wanted to keep the phone busy so you couldn’t take any other calls!”

“Let’s take it. Saab’s bankrupt, the car might not sell at all.”

“It’s the first day! The first hour! And I already have another interested person. A guy who wants to see the car before he buys it.”

“I’ll try to get the price up a little then…”

“No. In fact, forget that discount you agreed to on the phone. For this guy, the price has just gone up. Full price in cash, or nothing.” I am a witch.

Car scam. car scam online. car scam craigslist

Don’t sell your car to this guy? He’s a scammer, a fraudster, and a con artist.

Bob goes back downstairs disappointed. The witch put in the ad, photographed the car, and therefore gets final word on the sale. The SUV has been idling all this time. Ready for a quick get-away? Foul fumes float into my face at the window. The scammer persists and keeps Bob in negotiation for another 15 minutes before he finally speeds off.

I email Joel and tell him the sale didn’t go through. He comes over immediately to look at the car, test drives it, asks to see its “besiktiningar,” an official document showing any work done prior to the car’s last registration. Joel tells me the car is a great deal at the asking price, and buys it. He pays cash.

Sold, in under two hours.

And the next day Joel returns to help us with an errand for which we need a car. We did not expect the car to sell so quickly. Nice guy, Joel.

I wonder how Uppsala guy would have paid, had we made a deal. Just guessing: he’d flash cash, but not enough—oh, sorry, that’s all I could get from the cash machine—then offer to pay more than the agreed price via PayPal—a phony account. Or… no. Why then, bother to negotiate at all? Because by then, we’d be convinced we’d never sell the car, it’s such a mess. Or is he a “short-changer” who knows how to fold cash to make it look like more than it is? This part, we’ll never know.

Most interesting: what happened to Bob’s scam-sensor? Why did he fall for this con artist’s story? Okay, the scammer must have been smooth. (They all are.) He was prepared with fake “evidence.” And we’d dealt with so many honest buyers before this one. And Swedes are pretty decent, on the whole. Bob’s guard was down. Yeah. Excuses, excuses. Reminder: we can all be taken. Stay alert!

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

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Hotel oddity #49 – Bedside control http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/hotel-oddity-49-bedside-control/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/hotel-oddity-49-bedside-control/#comments Sun, 15 Feb 2015 15:04:01 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6657 Can you read this? I love bedside controls, but this one was tricky. The buttons were small, the text tiny, icons obscure. Who designed...

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Bedside control - hotel oddity

Bedside control

Can you read this?
I love bedside controls, but this one was tricky. The buttons were small, the text tiny, icons obscure. Who designed this remote?

Bedside control

Did they think about the fact that my contacts might be out? My glasses off? Reading glasses out of reach?

Otherwise, we love the Shangri-la in Singapore. We even appreciate the idea of this remote.

Great convenience in theory!

In practice… needs work!

Shangri-La is better at delightful room surprises.

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

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Hamidovic Pickpocket Network—Fagin is alive! http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/hamidovic-pickpocket-network-fagin-alive/ http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/hamidovic-pickpocket-network-fagin-alive/#comments Mon, 02 Feb 2015 11:35:59 +0000 http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/?p=6687 Fagin—heard of him? An 1837 fiction. Hamidovic—know that name? He’s an actual, living, pickpocket kingpin. Reality. Hamidovic, arrested in late 2010, ran a network...

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Fehim Hamidovic, convicted chief of the Hamidovic pickpocket network

Fehim Hamidovic, convicted chief of the Hamidovic pickpocket network

Fagin—heard of him? An 1837 fiction.

Hamidovic—know that name? He’s an actual, living, pickpocket kingpin. Reality.

Hamidovic, arrested in late 2010, ran a network of hundreds, possibly thousands, of child pickpockets across Europe. He rounded up the underage kids, mostly Eastern European girls, and forced them to steal.

Hamidovic Pickpocket Gang

Forced! They were threatened with violence (including rape and cigarette burns) if they failed to bring in 300-1,000 euros each day. Not angels to begin with and already used to a rough life, once under Hamidovic’s leadership their treatment was brutal.

The children are all under 13, or so they claim—too young to be held by police. Their actual ages are unknown. When arrested, the young thieves all have the same answers. Name? Hamidovic. Age? 12. Police have no choice but to release them.

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

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

300-1,000 euros each day. That explains the persistence and brazenness of the child pickpockets in Paris we observed and spoke with a few months ago. And it explains the 1.3 million euros Hamidovic is said to have netted in just one year. Not to mention his fancy houses, Porsche, and six-figure casino visits. And perhaps it explains why Hamidovic, living the luxe life, reported no income. (“Occupation: organized crime boss.”)

Hamidovic and his underthugs in the Hamidovic pickpocket network trained their little criminals to target Asians when possible, because Hamidovic believed Asians carried more cash and were easy victims. But anyone is fair game in the steal business. In the Paris Metro, we watch clusters of 8-12 child pickpockets fan out and flit from target to target, fast, fleet, unapologetic when noticed.

Fehim Hamidovic, from former Yugoslavia, was 58 when he was arrested along with his wife and two sons. He was 60 when sentenced to seven years in prison. Believing that the Hamidovic pickpocket network was responsible for two-thirds or more of thefts on the country’s Metro, French authorities breathed a sigh of relief. They had dismantled the network. They’d taken down the boss.

“This ‘beast’ will soon have a new head,” said The Mysterious Monsieur F., our official source in Paris, when Hamidovic was finally caught. “The arrest of the chief of the Hamidovic pickpocket network did not change anything, they are always there. And they make a carnage!

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

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

“Nobody sees these ‘clouds’ of pickpockets, even though they are not especially discreet. The Hamidovic ‘work’ very well but they are not wary. It is not a problem—there is no risk of prison for them.”

So—the head of the pickpocket gang, this modern-day Fagin, is finally off the streets. Yet, the Hamidovic pickpocket network is alive and well.

A brother, a sister, a nephew, and others have stepped in to perpetuate the gang that authorities call a well-oiled machine and “a powerful entity, perennial, professional”, and “vast network of human trafficking,” “an underground economy, with earnings and protection.” As well as Paris, the vast network operated throughout France, in Belgium, Spain, and Italy.

The Hamidovic pickpocket network grabs headlines, to the exclusion of their also-numerous competitors. The Mysterious Monsieur F. laments:

“The French news reports show only the Hamidovic, causing many people to think that all France’s pickpockets are girls of 12 or 14 years. When announcements are made in the subway stations, the travelers look only for the Hamidovic!

“France’s pickpocket situation is under-estimated. I am ashamed for my country when visitors become victims as of their first steps in France. The Hamidovic can become violent. If a person shouts “pickpocket!” they spit. It is dangerous because many claim to have pneumonia.

“The judgment of Fehim Hamidovic did not change the situation of the thefts in the subway. They are still numerous and sometimes violent.”

In 2013, the Hamidovic pickpocket network opened a branch in the South of France run by Goran Hamidovic, son of the imprisoned Fehim Hamidovic. Pickpocket reports went from 80 per month to 580. Soon Goran Hamidovic, his wife, son, and daughter-in-law were arrested.

Do you think there is any less pickpocketing in France today? In January 2015, The Mysterious Monsieur F. writes “There are still many pickpocketing…”

The Hamidovic pickpocket gang lives on!

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

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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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