Every single summer day, one hundred tourists will be pickpocketed near the Coliseum in Rome; another hundred will be hit near the Spanish Steps, and another hundred in and around the Vatican. These three hundred individuals will report their thefts to the local police stations. Three hundred more victims will not file a report, for lack of time, late discovery, or other reasons. Florence reports similar numbers. So do London, Barcelona, Paris, Prague, and numerous other favorite tourist destinations. Multiplied by the number of days in the tourist season, dollars in currency lost, hours of vacation ruined, aggravation, humiliation, hassle, and havoc, you can see that pickpocketing is a small crime with huge repercussions.
Numbers are difficult to obtain, but as far as can be measured, they’re going up: “Among violent crimes, robbery showed the greatest increase, 3.9 percent … and larceny-theft increased 1.4 percent” says the FBI’s “Crime Trends, 2001 Preliminary Figures.” While that’s not a very impressive increase, anecdotal evidence indicates otherwise.
It’s estimated that at least half of all pickpocketing incidents are never reported at all. Of those reported, most, according to a New York cop on the pickpocket detail who wishes to remain unnamed, fall into the “lost property” category. “They don’t even realize they’ve been pickpocketed,” he said. “They think they just lost it.” Incidents reported as thefts are lumped under one of several legal descriptions. Larceny is the unlawful taking of property from the possession of a person, and includes pickpocketing, purse-snatching, shoplifting, bike theft, and theft from cars. Robbery is the same but involves the use or threat of force. The theft of a purse or wallet, therefore, may fall into either of these categories, and usually cannot be extracted for statistical purposes. Similarly, the figures collected under larceny or robbery include offenses this book does not specifically address; shoplifting, for example.
In Europe, where the theft of cell phones has skyrocketed, numbers help propel industry changes—the development of security devices in phones, for example. 11,000 cell phones were stolen in the Czech Republic in the first eight months of 2001. More than 20,000 cell phones were stolen in the city of Paris in 2000.
In September 2000, British Transport Police reported a 94.6 percent increase in pickpocketing on the London Tube, and pickpocketing on the streets rose by almost 30 percent in the same period. Spain experienced a 19.5 percent increase over the course of 2001, and street robbery was up 28 percent in England. In Paris, pickpocketing on the underground metro jumped 40 percent in 2001.
Frightening new trends are developing. What were simple snatches are lately turning into brutal grabs resulting in serious injury or death. Perhaps it’s the stiff competition from a glut of pickpockets that is turning some to violent methods. Strangulation from behind is one terrifying method. Another involves squirting flammable liquid on the back of a target’s jacket and igniting it. The victim throws down her bag and struggles to get the flaming jacket off while the thief grabs the bag and flees. Even ordinary bag snatches are becoming deadly, with victims being pulled to the ground, some cracking their heads on the pavement, or falling into traffic.
Excerpt from Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams
Chapter One: High and Dry on the Streets of Elsewhere