A strategist thief is one who creates his own opportunity, one who operates on a specific plan, one who steals with malice aforethought. The lowest strata of these are not much more than glorified opportunists. To me, though (and these are my definitions), an opportunist with a clever enough scheme gets a strategist rating.
Take Yacine, a north African illegal immigrant thief who works in Athens, Greece.
“I have a favorite technique to use in restaurants,” he told us, “but it only works in winter, when men hang their jackets on the backs of their chairs. I could show you, but I don’t have a jacket, and you don’t have a jacket. No one has a jacket in Athens in the summer.” He hunched his shoulders, raised his palms.
“We’ll go buy one,” Bob Arno said, and we had Yacine lead us to a men’s shop. There followed a hilarious scene in which a pickpocket selects a sport coat based on an analysis of its array of pockets. When a suitable jacket was purchased, Yacine chose a quiet café for our demonstration. Two of his colleagues joined us for lunch first, during which a cell phone rang.
Harik, 28, illegally visiting from Albania, pulled a phone out of his pocket and put it on the table. Then another, and another. He had half a dozen cell phones on the table before he found the ringing one. It had been a lucrative morning for Harik. He opened the back of the phone and pulled out its SIM card. The ringing stopped. Harik tore the tiny chip into shreds.
(An aside: want to buy a cell phone in Athens? Hundreds of men stand packed in a pedestrian shopping lane in the Plaka area, each displaying a phone or two. If you show interest in a man’s wares, he’ll pull from his pockets his other offerings, up to a dozen phones.)
“The new jacket is yours, but I need a jacket also, for this method,” Yacine said as he set the scene. “I’ll use a shirt for the demonstration.”
Pickpocket steals from jacket on cafe chair
He arranged Bob and me in bentwood chairs at a café table and ordered Greek coffee for us. He settled himself at the next table. Then, back to back with Bob, hand behind his back but hidden between the jackets, he snagged the wallet. I was facing him and saw nothing suspicious.
“You be the victim, Bob. Here’s the jacket. Put some euros in your wallet, empty is no good. Now put it in the new jacket. I don’t care which pocket! That is never something I decide. Now hang the jacket on the back of your chair. Perfect. Now, please. Have a seat. Drink your coffee.
“I will take the seat behind you so we are back to back. I have this shirt in my backpack, which I can use to simulate a jacket. I’ll hang it on the back of my chair. Now Bob, here is the secret: I will readjust the chairs so they are not exactly back to back. I’ll slide mine a little left or a little right. It doesn’t matter which way.
“Look now. I’m sitting right behind you. Our jackets are back to back on our chairs. I just slip my hand behind me and into your jacket. I don’t turn around. I can feel the pockets and quickly remove the wallet. See?
“You think that’s good? Thank you. Put the wallet back and I’ll show you something better. This is my best take. I will get the money only. I will not take the wallet. Just the money from it. It’s the same technique, but it takes a few seconds longer. Look now, I’ve got it!
“When I do this, the man never even knows. He thinks he spent the money somewhere. Very good, no?”
Yacine is an opportunist because he needs a fool for a mark, someone who’s left himself open. But he works with a strategy that gives him an advantage over the ordinary opportunist, so he has a wider field of potential victims. He’s more dangerous than his lesser fellows because he succeeds within the perceived shelter of upscale commercial establishments. He also has grander conceits. Yacine’s ultimate goal is America.
Excerpt from Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams
Chapter Seven: Scams—By the Devious Strategist