Stalking a moving target

Preface, part-a, Travel Advisory

Bob Arno films thieves, pickpockets, con artists.If Bob’s and my first priority is putting pickpockets and con artists out of business, our second is to encourage international travel. Nothing would disappoint us more than to learn that we discouraged a potential traveler’s journey. Travel opens the mind and broadens the perspective. It’s the ultimate supplement to education. Plus, it’s fun.

This book is the culmination of ten years of intensive research in the streets of the world. Our hunt has taken us through more than 80 countries on six continents, to countless islands, and through the grit and glamour of cities from Cairo to Copenhagen, from Mombasa to Mumbai. In the places people love to visit most, distract theft, con games, credit card scams, and identity theft are rampant.

Bob and I are stalking a moving target. We haunt the public frontiers where tourist and street thief collide ever so lightly, ever so frequently. We don’t go off searching among the dim, deserted corners of a city; we merely join in the tourist parade, visit the guidebook highlights, and lurk where the crowds are. There, hovering near the tourist buck, waiting for or making opportunity, can be found the thieves, swindlers, and con artists. And, very close, anonymous as sightseers in a tour group, we stand, cameras aimed.

Kharem the day we first found him in 2001.After we observe a thief in action, we usually try to interview him (or her, of course). Because Bob speaks many languages, because he has “grift sense,” that undefinable faculty for the con, and because he can absolutely prove himself to be a colleague, the thieves talk. Some remain reticent, but most seem to enjoy our chats. Some refuse to speak on camera, others don’t mind at all. Kharem, a thief we found at work several times over the course of a year, is one who spoke openly with us, demonstrated his techniques on video, and arrived promptly for a meeting scheduled a week in advance. When we finished our third interview with him, Kharem had a surprise suggestion for us.

“Now I will steal and you can film me. I want to be the star of your movie,” he offered.

“That’s impossible, Kharem. We work on stage, not on the street. We cannot be part of real stealing. We cannot be with you knowing that you’ll steal.”

“I think he smells a big payment,” our interpreter, Ana, said in English to us.

“We can split three ways,” Kharem said, dispelling that theory.

“It would be great footage…” Bob mused. “But we can’t. No way.”

I agreed.

“What if he gives it back?” Ana tried.

“I don’t think he’d understand that concept.”

“He’s going to steal anyway,” Ana said. “If not now, later. Whether you’re watching or not.” She was well aware of the crime statistics in her city.

“No. We’d be accessories. We’re treading morally murky water as it is. We have to draw a line and this is definitely it.”

Excerpt from Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams
Preface (part-a): High and Dry on the Streets of Elsewhere

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