Sentinel Handbook

Tips for security, safety, and crime prevention volunteers

Patrol Tips: Pickpockets 101

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First, a word of caution! Pickpockets prefer to use stealth, misdirection, and surprise to remove items of value from their victims, but do not presume for a moment that a pickpocket will hesitate to use physical force to escape when intercepted. Always assume that a pickpocket is armed if you attempt a physical intervention. Some would-be rescuers have been slashed and stabbed for their troubles without even realizing it!

Pickpockets are like coffee, they range from mild to extra bold, and come in more varieties than you can imagine. Skilled pickpockets can make easy money in nearly any community around the world. Educating yourself as to how they work and operate is your first step in protecting yourself from them, and helps you to know how to spot them easier too.

Misdirection and distraction are common ploys. Mind your valuables whenever someone stops you to ask the time, bumps into you, drops items on the ground in front of you, or generally attempts to momentarily distract you. It is not unusual for pickpockets to work in pairs/teams. One distracts while the other does the actual picking. If the target discovers something is amiss, they usually mistakenly confront the bait person who obviously doesn’t have the target’s possessions. The target can suspect the baiter is working with someone, but will have no proof. If you intervene, without reasonable proof, no citizen’s arrest can be made.

When in public, usually in an area with plenty of foot traffic or crowds, note individuals who seem to be silently signaling each other. Often they will not appear to be together. Pay attention to behavior, not appearances! One might be dressed as a business man, while another is dressed like a student. Pickpocket schemes often use women and children as part of their plans. Few people would not stop to help a lady in distress, or a child asking a question. Counting on preconceptions and assumptions about what they look like are all part of the pickpocket’s stock in trade.

If you’re on a train/subway, watch for anyone leaving the car by one door, only to re-enter by another door or car. Look for two people that enter separate cars then taking up positions where they can cover the other. Watch those who sits next to someone sleeping, or who has a bag, brief case, or other carry on, as they might get up at a stop and slip away with the other person’s property unnoticed.

Watch for two people having a conversation, split up and then later reconnect. Look for surreptitious hand offs, or quick passing motions (often mistaken for hand shakes). Observe individuals nodding to each other while texting. Generally keep an eye out for people who may be teamed up, even if they’re not side by side.

Sit in a mall, or a train, and watch.. just watch. You’ll begin to note who is watching who. Don’t watch directly, but use sunglasses, or look at reflections in windows and other reflective surfaces. These are the same tools and methods the pickpockets use, so note who is using them that way.

Related Articles:

Gene Turner (America’s Friendliest Pickpocket) Gene’s Pickpocket Prevention Tips –

Paris: Tackling the Problem of Pickpockets –

Revealed: The secret sleight of hand used by thieves to remove a watch from a victim’s wrist –


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