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Gene’s pickpocket prevention tips

One second is all a pickpocket needs. A brief diversion, a quick move and before you can take a breath, your wallet is gone.

The greatest advantage that pickpockets have is that most people think it can’t happen to them.

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times:

"I know you lifted his/her watch and other valuables, but I would feel it if someone tried to take my things."

Personally, I get "caught" maybe once out of a thousand times when I’m lifting a watch. And usually it’s either a really difficult watch or I'm taking it from the same person for the third or fourth time.

I have always said a good pickpocket could pick me clean and I would never feel it. Even the best multi-tasker can be distracted and it only takes a split second of distraction to become a victim. I have lifted watches from and put watches on many magicians, security people and yes, even other pickpockets, without their knowledge.

There are some things you can do to reduce the odds of becoming a pickpocket’s victim. These are just tips and ideas that can give you a better advantage -- there are no guarantees. But you can make yourself less of a target if you take some precautions and become alert and aware of your surroundings. I hope they help.

Here's hoping that if you bump into a pickpocket at the airport or elsewhere someday that it will be me!

General Tips

Be wary of signs that read "Pickpockets About" or someone yelling, "There's a pickpocket in the crowd." They aren’t always what they seem.

I use this ploy a lot in my show. When people find out that I can pick pockets, the men check for their wallets and the women will check for their jewelry in the order of value – most expensive first. Their actions clue me as to exactly where the wallets and valuable jewelry are located. A man in a business suit has four pants pockets and six to eight pockets in the jacket. The wallet, cash and credit cards could be in any one of 10 or more pockets. A pickpocket doesn't usually have time to search all 10, but when they see you check your pocket when you see the sign, they now know the exact location. It saves a lot of time in committing your crime. If you think there are pickpockets around or you see a sign, don't be obvious about checking for your wallet or valuables.

Don't show money or valuables in public

Flashing your money will get you more attention than you want. Pickpockets will notice where you stash the cash and one bump later, you’ll be left with an empty pocket.

Be aware of your surroundings -- especially in crowded places

Bumps, commotions, aggressive people – these are the typical distractions pickpockets use to cover. Sometimes a person will fall down, drop something or look ill and we rush in to help. That's great and I recommend it, but it may be a diversion. If you’re helping, make sure someone you trust is watching your valuables. Sidewalks, malls, bus terminals, airports, train stations -- anywhere you are in a crowd -- it is extremely important to be aware of your surroundings. Pickpockets are counting on you paying more attention to everything else except for your wallet or purse.

Don't carry valuables in a backpack or fanny pack

Anyone can reach into a backpack without you seeing or feeling. Fanny packs, if worn, should only be worn in front. Keep in mind that will not protect you from a thief undoing it or slashing the belt and getting away with it. If you do have a fanny pack, make sure the buckle is near the pouch in front so a pickpocket would have a more difficult time getting to the latch without your knowledge.

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Pickpocket Prevention Techniques

Don't wear or carry expensive jewelry if you are going to be in a crowd or an unfamiliar place.

Wear a money belt.

Split your cash up into several pockets -- if a man has 10 pockets and divides $200 into each, the pickpocket may only get to one or two pockets and thus gets only $20-40 of the $200.

Don't carry large sums of cash with you -- and if you must -- then always keep most of it in a money belt under your clothing.

Use credit cards or traveler's checks.

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Travel Tips

Shield your calling card from prying eyes. Many thieves “shoulder surf” at airports and busy locations – watching people as they key in their card numbers at payphones. Some go so far as to videotape “family” in front of pay phones so they have a record of each person at the phone.

Keep your eye on your luggage at all times – even as it goes through the scanner. Thieves can partner watching for preoccupied travelers as they go through the security check. Once your attention is on your loose change and pocket valuables, the thief quickly and quietly stows your bag into his garment bag and walks away.

Leave your bags in front of you, not at your side. When they are at your side, you can be distracted in one direction as your bag disappears in the other.

Be aware of your surroundings. Act confident, walk with purpose and look people in the eyes. Thieves want to blend in with the crowd and do not want to be identified.

Don’t let “new friends” carry or watch your luggage. And don’t carry theirs — too often trusting travelers are duped into holding stolen merchandise.  

Carry your money in a money belt or safety pouch.

Limit the amount of cash you carry and take one credit card.

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Wallet Tips

Avoid the back pockets -- many men feel if they have the pocket buttoned they are safe. A good pickpocket can get it and some who aren't as good will use a razorblade to slit the bottom of the pocket so the wallet will fall into their waiting hands.

Put your wallet in sideways.

Put wide rubber bands around your wallet. It will make it more difficult for a pickpocket to get the wallet out of your pocket (note that I wrote "more difficult," not "impossible").

Know where your credit card is at all times.

After use, put your credit card back into your wallet or purse -- don't place it in a pocket.

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Purse Tips

Don’t hang your purse on the hook on the bathroom stall door and don’t sit it on the floor within arm's reach. Set your purse at your feet or on a shelf that is midway up the stall wall.

Don’t hang your purse on the back of your chair at restaurants. Keep it between your feet.

Don’t leave your purse in your grocery cart as you shop.

Use handbags that have a zipper or a flap that latches. Carry it with the flap side towards you.

Carry your purse in front of you.

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