Watch Your Wallet! Watch Your Purse!
IT HAS been estimated that fifty thousand New Yorkers will have their wallets snatched by pickpockets in the coming year! And yet few of the thieves will be caught. In 1969 there were only 1,400 arrests for pickpocketing in New York city. In other population centers of the world the percentage of arrests is often far less. So, if victimized, your chances of recovering your purse are very slim.
What can you do about it? Well, if you know a few “tricks of the trade” you can do a lot to protect your purse.
Regarding the picking of pockets, one police official observed: “It’s a family trade. Fathers pass it on to their sons.” Pickpockets actually train for it the same as do members of any other profession. They take lessons and practice until they are experts. Some practice on a dummy that has a lot of bells attached to it. The idea is to go through all its pockets without causing any of the little bells to tinkle!
What they learn to do is well described in Whiz Mob, a book about pickpockets and their language, by David W. Maurer: (1) They learn to adopt a certain attitude toward their “mark” or victim, a conviction that they can succeed because he is the right type. (2) They acquire a certain way of approaching their job, a casualness that will not arouse alarm. (3) They develop an extreme delicacy of touch. (4) Lightning speed in their movements is acquired. (5) They become skilled at concealing their movements from others. (6) And they learn to melt away into the crowd without attracting attention after having picked a pocket.
Pickpockets usually work in pairs, although sometimes in troupes of three or four or more. So their allies are usually close at hand. An item in the New York Times, April 28, 1970, told of the police breaking up an eighty-member ring of pickpockets operating on New York subways. Its members had come largely from South American countries and were each said to realize from $600 to $800 weekly.
Those who have made picking pockets their profession usually have a keen understanding of human nature and are very good at judging who is likely to be a good “mark” or victim—those who daydream or who are so intensely involved in what they are doing that they become oblivious to what is going on around them. The professionals even seem to have a “nose” for money, and some will garner more than $1,000 a day. The elite among them make a yearly circuit of the leading racing events in the United States and Europe where large crowds of the rich gather.
Pickpockets are a proud lot. Because their profession does take considerable skill, each one likes to think that he is among the best there is. In fact, so much is this the case that some of them are most crestfallen when they are caught plying their trade. They have even been known to ask their victims how it was that they noticed when their pockets were being picked!
That picking pockets takes considerable skill can be appreciated when we note how entertainers have trained themselves in this matter. They are skilled at removing not only wallets but rings, wristwatches, stickpins and all manner of other jewelry from men and women at parties without their being made aware of it. They even have been known to remove the suspenders from men without their noticing it until their trousers began to fall down! One such Swedish entertainer currently earns $100,000 a year.
Professional pickpockets, like specialists in other trades, have their own language or argot. There is the “stall,” whose job it is to distract the “mark” or victim so that the “tool,” “wire,” “hook” or “mechanic” can take the wallet without a “rumble,” that is, without being detected. “Fall dough” refers to a mob’s total capital, held in reserve to pay for “fixes” with the police.
You Can Protect Yourself from the Pickpocket
Now, what can you do to lessen the likelihood of having your wallet stolen? One way to discourage pickpockets is to have a determined and wide-awake look; just the opposite of the daydreaming, naïve and trustful mien when among strangers. Be alert to what is happening around you. Never make a display of how much money you have and, if convenient, keep your money inside your coat pocket rather than in a hip pocket. Also, your carrying traveler’s checks when traveling away from home, and never carrying more money than you have reason to spend on any one day, will reduce your loss if victimized.
Pickpockets themselves admit, “You cannot steal a man’s money so long as he has his mind on it.” When carrying a considerable sum it might be well to do just that. And should you be brushed up against or jostled in a subway or an elevator, or when standing in line at a food market, a cafeteria or at the theater box office, then what? Then it would be well to have not only your mind on your wallet but also your hand and to keep it there until all danger of having your wallet lifted is over.
Today there is also much bold-faced and violent robbery. Many thieves, operating by two’s or three’s, threaten victims with knives or at gunpoint. The best safeguard against this is to avoid traveling alone in large cities, and especially at night.
Protecting Yourself from Purse Snatchers
Women’s purses are also a prime target of thieves. Muggings, that is, robberies accompanied by physical assault, are becoming ever more frequent. Others simply snatch women’s pocketbooks and make off with them.
What can women do to protect themselves from having their pocketbooks snatched? They, too, do well to avoid traveling alone in many localities. For another thing, they can always carry their purses between their upper arm and their body, with a hand over the clasp. It will take a bold thief to try to snatch a purse being carried in this way. Women should also avoid leaving their purses lying on counters in stores, on seats next to them in theaters, or on their desks when going for a coffee break.
Some men carry their money hidden in their clothes; for example, in special money belts, under the arches of the feet inside their socks, or in special pockets inside their coats or pants. Women also often hide their money on their person so that the purse-snatching thief gets little except some cosmetics and a handkerchief. Women wearing suits or two-piece dresses sometimes slip their billfold under the top of their girdles; others hide money in their bosom. Even as men must be alert to keep their wallets from being stolen, so women must be alert to keep from having their purses stolen.
According to one veteran pickpocket, now in prison because of his profession: “The danger of purse snatching can virtually be eliminated by little more than awareness of the problem and willingness to take simple precautions.”