Pickpockets look like tourists

Pickpockets look like tourists, and it’s not by accident. Replete with water bottles, backpacks, camera, baseball caps, these “props” are intended to camouflage the pickpockets’ unscrupulous objective. If she looks much like you, a tourist, you won’t think twice when she, just another “tourist,” stands beside you. Her costume elicits trust.

Pickpockets look like tourists. She looks like an ordinary tourist, but she's a pickpocket! Her victim caught her and grabbed back her wallet just in time.
She looks like an ordinary tourist, but she’s a pickpocket! Her victim caught her and grabbed back her wallet just in time.
Pickpockets look like tourists. The man just witnessed this woman stealing his wife's wallet. He grabbed and held onto the pickpocket.
The man just witnessed this woman stealing his wife’s wallet. He grabbed and held onto the pickpocket.
Pickpockets look like tourists. The victim identified this woman as the pickpocket's partner.
The victim identified this woman as the pickpocket’s partner.

We travelers make subtle, unconscious snap judgments of those around us. One person may cause no reaction, no alarm bells, while another prompts a slight step away, an extra glance, without even thinking. Why? What is it?

Pickpockets in Girona

The two women you see pictured here strolled through the German Garden in Girona, Spain, just like any other visitors. They shouldn’t have raised an eyebrow. But they turned where “BJ” and her husband turned, and they paused where BJ and her husband paused. BJ made a subliminal note of that.

Still, that apparently innocent behavior wasn’t unsettling in the least. Stopping on a lookout balcony, BJ raised her camera toward the beautiful view. It was only seconds later when her husband shouted and grabbed onto one of the women that BJ realized something was amiss. In fact, what flashed though her mind in the first instant was that her husband had saved the woman from jumping.

BJ saw her own purple/pink wallet in the thief’s hand and snatched it back. She can’t recall the woman ever being close enough to touch her, let alone having enough time to open the zipper of her purse. The nearness of these ordinary women was not a threat, not a thought, not even on her radar.

Exactly the reaction, or lack of reaction, that this sort of sneak thief depends upon.

However, they were on BJ’s husband’s radar. He’d kept half an eye on the two as they followed too quickly and stopped when he and BJ stopped. He saw the blond go into BJ’s purse.

“Hubby” held onto the thief and raised a ruckus until the women’s “thug” protector arrived, all chest-thrusting-threatening, though he was a young punk and a foot shorter than Hubby.

Pickpockets look like tourists

The photo that BJ had the presence of mind to capture is wonderful. There is shouting going on, but we don’t see it. Hubby wears an expression of shock and disbelief (I was asked to blur his face.) as he holds onto the thief and looks desperately for help. Meanwhile, the thief smiles beatifically! Her posture shows no distress, no resistance. She looks straight into the camera… relaxed! She’s in the firm grip of a shouting man whose wife she’s just stolen from, and she appears amused!

She knew how this incident would conclude. Probably, she’d been in the same position many times. “You have your stuff, so what’s the problem?” she asked. Maybe she even giggled.

But to BJ and her husband, this was a serious criminal matter. They’d caught a thief in the act, had her in a vice grip, and wanted her arrested. “We didn’t back down,” BJ said, “but what do you do with them when you’ve caught them?” There were no police around.

And there was this very aggressive thug. “Eventually there was this ‘he could have a knife’ moment so hubby let the girl go and they left,” BJ told me.

Both BJ and Hubby had taken all the appropriate safe-stowing precautions. BJ’s wallet had been zipped in and attached to her purse. The wallet contained only a little cash, her driver’s license, and one credit card that could be quickly cancelled.

Unsatisfying ending

BJ and her husband thought they could make a difference. They thought they could put this one trio of thieves out of business, at least for a while.

But the pickpockets walked away, smiling. For BJ and her husband, it was not a satisfying conclusion. They never did find a police officer in Girona, and those in Barcelona were uninterested.

In the beginning of our thiefhunting many years ago, Bob Arno and I thought, like BJ and Hubby, that we could make a difference by bringing video evidence to the police. We received the same reaction our brave travelers got: a laugh, a puff of air, a confirmation that yeah, the police know who they are, what they do, even where they live. But laws are loose and pickpockets make it their business to know the laws. All over Europe thieves tell us: more than anyplace, they like to work in Spain.

All text © copyright 2008-present. All rights reserved. Bambi Vincent

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4 Comments

  • Well, I’ll double your 2¢, Fred, because I agree completely. He does not look like a city-dweller and my guess is that he doesn’t own the ensemble you describe. That’s what I meant by “you can’t make someone what they’re not”. This man can’t make himself look like a savvy city-dweller. He wouldn’t even know how. As you said, even swapping out the shoes and backpack would be an improvement and he’d stand out less as a tourist. I also agree that smart and comfortable are not mutually exclusive attributes in wardrobe. But one must first know and then one must care.

    Our efforts are twofold: teaching the traveler how to avoid becoming a victim, and teaching police how to recognize the pickpockets.

  • Thanks for the thoughts, Bambi.

    There’s a persistent myth that dressy clothes aren’t comfortable. Now sure, in the heat of the summer, a jacket & tie might be a bit warm, but I think you can dress nicely and still be comfy.

    For example, if this man were wearing linen or cotton/linen pants, and maybe some dressy Rockports or similar shoe, and if he had a shoulder bag (held in front, of course!), he’d be just as comfortable, and the target on his back would be at least a little smaller. (I know that it was his wife who got targeted, but we don’t have her picture to analyze).

    Just my 2¢ worth.

  • You’re right Fred, that this man is attractive to thieves because he looks like a tourist. But it’s impossible to make someone look like someone they’re not. And comfort seems to be the first priority nowadays, to the demise of elegance.

    Alas, elegant Europeans make fine targets too if there’s no handy tourist around. City people are savvier though, and street smarts are a security advantage.

    We recommend dressing down—not because thieves will steal your beautiful jewelry, but because it sends a message to the thief that you are wealthy (compared to him or her) and probably have a juicy wallet. And no, they can’t recognize that those glistening rocks are CZs.

  • Not that I blame the victim—how could I?—but the man’s clothes shout, “I am an American tourist!”

    If he had been wearing dressier pants and shoes—nothing fancy, mind you, but not clothes suitable for hiking in the woods—and had a shoulder bag rather than a backpack, would he and his wife been as likely to be targeted?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts, Bambi.

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