Pocketology 101 (How pickpockets work)

How pickpockets work.

How pockets are picked.
All about pockets and those who pick them.

how pickpockets work. Luciano's fingers

What’s the safest pocket?
The tightest one in your trousers, or an inside jacket pocket.

What if I button it, or if it has a Velcro flap? Is that safe?
Safer, but not safe enough. It requires an extra step by the pickpocket, and that’s good. But if he has the extra moment or the right opportunity, your goodies are gone.

The cargo pocket, then, on the outside of the leg. Good, right?
Sorry, no. We’ve seen pickpockets who specialize in cargo pockets.

What about pockets with inner zippers?
Better. Much better.

But I’d feel it if someone stuck his hand in my pocket!
Think so? Even in a crowd, smashed against strangers? Think elevator, store sale, concert, sports event. Think you’d feel it if you were in motion? Think of a packed train, walking across a busy intersection, a revolving door.

But I’d feel it if someone stuck his hand in my pocket!
Okay, perhaps. But a pickpocket doesn’t usually stick his hand in anyway.

How pickpockets work. Inside jacket pocket theft by distraction.
Then how does he get the wallet out?
There are many methods. Do you know how pickpockets work? He might crimp the pocket lining so loose cash rises to the top. He might lift the wallet from below on the outside of the pocket. He might use a tool, like tongs. He might slice the pocket with a razor or scissors, or rip it right off the pants. Some heavyset men have front pockets so loose you can see right down to their depths. How pickpockets work… let me count the ways!

I’m hyper-aware. I don’t believe it could happen to me. I’d know it.
Yes, you might know it. But the thief might grab and run. Do you want to chase him? Want to run into a dark alley? Know who’s waiting for you around the corner?

How do these thieves know where my wallet is?
At a distance, they look for the four corners of it in your trouser pocket, or for the weight and bulk of it that ruins the fall of a nicely-cut jacket. Close up, he fans you. He, or a partner, will brush against you lightly to feel where your wallet is. He might also watch as you return your wallet to your pocket, or watch you pat your pocket to be sure it’s there.

You keep saying “him.” Are pickpockets always male?
No, and the females can be tricky to identify. But wait—we’re only talking pockets here. Female pickpockets have a few additional super-tactile methods not available to the average male thief.

How pickpockets work. Many people believe that rubber banding a wallet prohibits pickpockets. Pickpockets tell us otherwise.

Many people believe that rubber banding a wallet prohibits pickpockets. Pickpockets tell us otherwise.

Heh, heh, here’s an old trick I learned: I wrap a rubber band around my wallet!
Yeah, they know that one, and they like it. Pickpockets tell us that rubber bands make the wallet easier to grip, and keep it nicely compact so the corners are less apt to snag.

What’s the worst place?
A fat wallet protruding from a back pocket is a magnet to a pickpocket. “Like a gift,” a thief in Prague told me. “We call it … ‘the other man’s pocket,'” a Russian thief revealed; “the sucker pocket,” said another. “Tourists make it too easy,” complained one.

Any insider secrets you can reveal?
Yes, advice straight from the pickpockets! They advise us to put our wallet sideways into the back pocket, and put it in with the opening (where bills are kept) down.

Any pocket Bob Arno avoids?
Do you mean on stage? Bob won’t steal from a tight front pants pocket. Or do you mean where he keeps his own wallet? He often puts a prop wallet, that is, one containing only cut paper, in his back pocket, in his front pocket, or in his jacket pocket, and it’s been stolen from all those places. By the way, he almost always gets the wallet back, even if he has to steal it back.

One way to avoid pickpockets! How pickpockets work.

One way to avoid pickpockets!

(Exasperated:) Alright, then where should I keep my valuables?
In a pouch under your clothes. Stow it safely and you won’t have to focus on it. Especially now that you know how pickpockets work.

What should I keep in my pocket?
“Give-up money.” A small or moderate amount you can throw to the ground if you’re mugged. You can also use it for small purchases without having to dig into your pouch.

Anything I should not keep in my pocket?
Definitely not your Social Security number, but we all know that by now. Not chocolate, either.
©copyright 2000-present. All rights reserved. Bambi Vincent


  • Philip Scott says:

    This is the advise you give above: Where should I keep my valuables? In a pouch under your clothes. Stow it safely and you won’t have to focus on it. Sould like Stashitware Pocket Boxer Briefs to me.

  • Terry says:

    Will simply mention the vomiting thieves on the trains of Buenos Aires. My friend, a normally very bright guy, had his wallet stolen with everything but the passport by two guys: the vomiter and the pickpocket, nicely dressed who used the distraction of the huge, unkempt man who threw up 3 times.

    They left at the next stop and had who knows how much stuff in tow.

  • Bernard von Crab says:

    This “normally bright guy” suggests an REI ankle wallet as a safe place for cards and cash. Also, carry a conspicuous wallet containing a white powder that might give a pickpocket pause when he/she opens it.

  • dj carson says:

    Just put fresh green oregeno in some lil baggies,and make sure it sticks out and is visable.. That will keep the pickpockets away, and the cops asking questions

  • Neal says:

    I’m a little confused (not the first time). Bambi advises us to use a pouch under our clothes. Pickpockets advise us to “put our wallet sideways into the back pocket, and put it in with the opening (where bills are kept) down.” Is this better than using a pouch or a front pocket, or is this just advice for anyone who insists on putting his wallet in his back pocket?

  • Neal, a pouch under your clothing is the absolute safest place. The pickpocket advises the best way to carry a wallet if you must carry one, as you said, in your pocket. Hopefully, in your tightest pocket. A lot depends on where you are and in what situations. Crowds? Drinking? Very distracted? All things to consider…

  • Moe says:

    Yeah, I’m going to put my f-ing wallet sideways and upside down in my back pocket. Really stylish. What a joke.

    Look: Just keep your wallet in your nice snug front pocket and stay aware. When it’s crowded hang your thumb inside your pocket.

    If you are traveling and walking around a lot, get yourself a nice little single center strap utility pack that hangs over you chest. Your can then keep your wallet, phablet, tiny umbrella, a little bottle of water, and other misc. items there conveniently and safely. With one of these you are very unlikely to loose things also

  • Tim says:

    I always split my rubles into threes when I was in Russia.
    1/3 in an overhead ceiling light fixture in the hotel room. I always carry duct tape when I travel, it’s indispensable.
    1/3 in the hotel safe. + 1/3 in my billfold always in my front pocket.
    Copy of passport, emergency contact info, credit card numbers IN CODE and Embassy information laminated between the liner of my boot and my boot sole along with rubles that I hope I never use. I had a great time.

  • You’re a very cautious man, Tim!

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