Interview with an expert on pickpockets

Merry Christmas to everyone celebrating today.

1. I wrote about a friend of mine in Barcelona who was surrounded by women in Barcelona, and as they put their hands all over him, lost his wallet. This leads to a couple of questions:

Before you get to your questions, I have to mention that Barcelona has a well-deserved reputation for pickpocketing, and although we love the city, it’s one of our best laboratories for the study of street crime.

a) what can you do when literally surrounded by pickpockets?

Hold onto your valuables and shout for police. You never know when there’s an undercover cop nearby, or even a helpful stranger. But why not get a jumpstart on the thieves, and stow your stuff safely from the get-go? Use under-clothes pouches and well-fastened bags held properly.

b) is pickpocketing such a problem in Barcelona (or another city) that it’s worth avoiding?

Pickpocketing IS a big problem in Barcelona, but it would be a terrible shame to stay away. On one hand, the city needs a strong message from stay-away tourists to spur it into clean-up mode. On the other hand, it’s too great of a destination to miss. Just practice maximum care there. Dress down. Carry little. Stow safely. And ask your hotel staff about danger zones.

2. When I was in college and heading to Mardi Gras I kept my money in a sock. When it came time to buy a young woman a drink it was a bit embarrassing but otherwise would you say that’s a good idea?

Not really. I tried it as part of my research, and found that one of my credit cards had worked itself up and fallen out. Unless you mean all the way in your sock under your foot (which sounds uncomfortable!), I don’t recommend putting cash or credit cards in your sock. Try an ankle holster if you like to store your valuables on a lowdown extremity. It’s also a good idea to keep the price of a drink or two handy in your pocket, to avoid the sort of embarrassment you describe. You don’t want to reveal your secret stash for every little purchase. You want easy money for the small stuff: taxi, coffee, a drink… And if you’re ever mugged, you’ve got “give-up-money” ready to hand over.

3. Is having your wallet in the front pocket better or worse than having your wallet in your back pocket?

Men should keep their wallet in their TIGHTEST pocket. For added snugness, lay it sideways. But in general, pants pockets are not safe. If you’re in a crowd or an unfamiliar area, I’d choose another method for carrying valuables. You’re really playing a game of odds. How many pickpockets are in the vicinity? Do you look like a perfect mark? Appear wealthy (compared to the thief)? As if you’d have a high credit limit on your card? Is your wallet easy to access? It all has to come together for the pickpocket. How much chance do you want to take? How obsessed do you want to be about it? We each have to find our own balance between risk and comfort.

4. Should tourists try to hide their cameras? If so, how?

Depends on the camera. Everybody’s got a little pocket camera–they don’t need hiding. But a hefty high-end camera is more than a grabbable treasure; it sends signals about you to the thief. You’ve got means. Probably a thick wallet with limitless credit cards and wads of cash. A purse worth snatching. You’re a mark worth tailing for any opportunity, for the moment you relax your vigilance. I’m almost always carrying high-end equipment (for my research). I keep it in an unmarked shoulder bag until I need it. And then–well, I have to live life. I have to use it, no matter who sees it. That’s MY balance point between risk and comfort.

Don’t forget about smartphones. They’re also highly desirable grabbables. Not only for their high value as hardware, but for all that potential data that could lead to ID theft. Don’t leave them loose on your cafè table.

5. I’ve seen money belts that people wear inside their pants. They look uncomfortable but secure. Is that right?

I think they’re a great way to carry stuff, and there are so many styles and materials that there’s bound to be one you can find tolerable. But my favorite under-clothing pouch hangs from your belt on a loop and is worn inside the pants. You just flip it out when you need it. I have them in nylon, cotton, and leather, in all sizes. Recommended!

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Bob Arno is both a comedy stage pickpocket and a criminologist who specializes in street crime against travelers. His live presentations combine the tragedy and comedy of pickpocketing. His blog, Thiefhunters in Paradise, is about street thievery around the world. His website is The original press release follows


Los Angeles, CA – Following the ratings success of Bob Arno’s National Geographic “Pickpocket King” the master of the scam is offering travelers his insights on how to avoid being the victim of the scam.

As he’s done for law enforcement agencies globally, Arno is keen to make world a safer place and the traveler better prepared in the U.S. and abroad.

“For the traveler it can happen anywhere: a crowded sidewalk, a busy shopping mall, an airport terminal, public transportaion, says Bob Arno. “Clever crooks use the latest techniques to snatch your wallet, pocketbook and even your mobile phone to get valuable information to steal your identity and drain your bank account.”

Arno offers these vital tips to stay safe for both the business and pleasure traveler:

Get Informed: “If you don’t know the area you’re going to; ask someone, like a hotel clerk, about coming home late at night alone or with your wife. Call a cab if you don’t know how to get back to your hotel.”

Leave the Rolex at home or the hotel safe: “If you’re going to the market place, like the Ramblas in Barcelona or the Quartieri Espagnoli in Naples, leave the Rolex at home. In fact its always a good idea to leave it at home. Thieves notice them. To believe you can wear one because there are so many fakes around is to give yourself a false sense of security. The thief doesn’t know it’s a fake when he’s going for it and these aren’t brain

surgeons, they won’t know until they try to fence it. Today’s fakes are so good you have to be a jeweler to tell the difference.”

Don’t put cash in your front pocket: “It’s so terribly easy to take cash from a front pocket you wouldn’t believe it, especially in public transportation.” While usually the territory of the adept, the fabled two fingered grab is wide spread and very effective.

Never put your purse down: There is an old French proverb which goes: “Ne pauser pas votre sac parterre, ca fait couler l’argent.” (“Don’t put your purse on the ground, the money will leak out.”) but Arno is less romantic: “Leaving your purse anywhere, on the back of your chair in a restaurant, on the floor of a disco, or beneath the seat at the theater or Opera is a really good way of paying your Stupidity Tax. 90% of all streets type thefts are from women, and most of those from their purses.”

Forget fancy and organized: “Pickpockets love money clips. They keep the cash so organized. Slim tall wallets are also favorites, especially the ones that stick up about a centimeter out of the back pocket and have nice sharp corners to grab. A short, fat wallet stuffed into a back pocket may be more visible, but it’s almost impossible to steal without the person becoming aware of it.”

Cover yourself – literally: “Keep your hand over your cash or wallet when you’re in a crowd. If you have a button on your pocket, button it, if your pockets have flaps, close them. Anything to slow down the pickpocket. If your purse has a flap or a closing strap, close it. Never put cash, identity documents credit cards or other valuables in a back-pack, they’re too easy to steal from.”

Walk with determination: “A person who looks like they know where they’re going, walks quickly, and is attentive to their surroundings will be avoided by pickpockets like the plague.”

Carry some money you can afford to lose: “If you’re in unfamiliar surroundings, it’s always a good idea to have a small wallet with say, €10.00 in it. If you’re mugged, throw it on the sidewalk away from you and run. The thieves will go for the money and chances are they won’t run after you.”

Make noise: ” hese guys don’t want to attract attention. If you think someone’s lifted your wallet confront them loudly. If you’re in a train, chances are the guy will drop your wallet on the floor.”

Filed Under: Press releases and publicity

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