“Hey! Hey! Hey! Get your fucking hand out of my pocket! You try to steal my wallet again and I’ll kill you!” The would-be victim slapped away the comforting hand of a middle-aged local. “No, you’re with him! I’m gonna call the cops.”
The victim, an American man, vocalized his outrage as the tram lurched and squealed along its track. His opponents melted into the crowd, impossible to discern from the legitimate passengers. Despite the team’s intricate choreography and precise techniques, they’d seemed as innocent and invisible as a white rabbit in a cotton harvest: beyond suspicion, even as they surrounded their mark. No one would detect the four functionaries of this tactical unit: the dip, his two blockers, and his controller. Not derelict losers, they looked like businessmen, like students, like men with respectable jobs.
Get your hand out of my pocket!
The dip carried a jacket. His thieving hand worked concealed beneath it, first fanning the tourist, a feather-like pat-down designed to locate the leather, the wallet. The blockers positioned the mark, turning him, impeding his progress, expertly taking advantage of the physical contact natural in any tight crowd. Leaning into him, they caused his distraction, subtly directing his attention away from the dip’s delicate work. A few steps away, the controller watched for cops and overly alert bystanders. Of the four, he alone was shifty-eyed. When the victim exploded, it was the controller who stepped in to defuse the situation. If it hadn’t been for a sudden sway of the tram, the team would have succeeded, as they do in thirty-five percent of their efforts.
Now, busted, they pushed through the standing crowd toward the doors at the other end of the tram. At the first stop, the thieves made their escape. Bob and I hopped off after them.
This scene, in endless permutations, is repeated thousands of times every day. The victim of choice is the tourist, rich beyond reason in the eyes of thieves, who employ methods as subtle as stealth and as brutal as mugging to effect the transfer of wealth. Theft from tourists is on the rise and, unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly violent, more and more organized, and harder than ever to fight.
Excerpt from High and Dry on the Streets of Elsewhere
Chapter One, part-a, Travel Advisory