My experience with pickpocketing

The New York Times did a piece on tales of pickpocketers. It told the story of Wilfred Rose, a notorious pickpocketer, and some of the methods he used to steal money in New York City. Wilfred would pull wallets out by using both his middle finger and his forefinger to create homemade pliers.

The story mentions how most pickpocketing has gone high-tech now involving hacking and credit card skimming and that a lot of people aren’t carrying around cash.

I’ve had two experiences with pickpocketing. The first was on a Moscow subway.

Moscow, my first pickpocketing experience

Moscow, my first pickpocketing experience

I was rushing to catch a subway and as the doors closed I was reaching out to grab a hold of the harness on the roof. As I was doing this, the person I was traveling with yelled out, “your wallet!”. Right then, I put my right hand on my back pocket and my wallet was halfway out of my pants. I immediately moved to the other side and looked back at four men leaning up against the door. The person I was with yelled some things at them in Russian and they just sneered back. I had always played this scenario out in my mind that I would rush my assailants, arms flailing, creating quite the ruckus and defending my space. However, I figured that four on one on a Moscow subway was probably not going to be in my favor and I didn’t do anything.

The second time happened on a bus in Rome. My wife and I were on our way to one of the sites and I saw two men, facing me, standing right by a woman. One of them was reaching their hand into the woman’s purse attempting to extract money. The woman was completely oblivious to what was going on as she was engrossed in a conversation with her friend. The right thing to do in this moment would have been to yell out “Hey stop that” or “What’s going on?” or in some way alert the woman. Instead I was frozen with fear thinking that perhaps these two Italian pickpocketers would have weapons of some sort on them and it would have been bad news for me. So I sat there like an idiot and they both jumped off the bus at the next stop. I’m not sure if they actually succeeded in stealing any money or not.

Looking back, I wish I would have said something to stop it or done something rather than just sitting there.

Due to this experience of pickpocketing, I always keep my passport on my person when traveling on a plane so that someone can’t nick it out of my carry on. Secondly, I take only some of my credit cards and cash with me in public and keep it anywhere but my back pocket.

Have you had any experiences with pickpocketing and were you braver than I?



  2. I didn’t understand your first pickpocketing experience in Moscow. So you were running to catch the subway and once inside, took hold of one of the harneses from the roof. Your wallet was halfway out of your backpocket because of the running? Or did one of hte 4 guys steal it? Confused here sorry.

    I’ve only had 1 experience with pickpocketing and that was in Prague in front of the Astronomical clock. I just overheard someone yell out PICKPOCKET!!! Everyone else pointed to the guy and the guy just left. Most pickpocket folks choose to pickpocket because it’s not a violent crime (meaning the likelihood of them having a gun or knife is low.)

  3. Naples.

    Sitting at a cafe for 3-4 hours. During that time, saw a few things. It started off with noticing that the souvenir stand next door to the cafe was openly trying to sell what were so obviously stolen items such as iPads, phones, etc..

    It progressed to other things like after having sat at the cafe for a few hours, I saw a random man, let’s call him Man A, with a purse in his hands running like he was being chased, all the way down the street towards Man B, who was ten feet away from me waiting for Man A besides his scooter. Man A gave Man B the purse, Man B quickly stuffed it into the open waiting compartment of his scooter and closed it. Man A continues on running. This is where I saw another man, Man C, running from the same direction that Man A came from, yelling at Man A to come back with the purse. They both turn a corner, and I lost sight of both of them. Meanwhile Man B pretends to be a bystander the whole time, watching this whole commotion.

    Also, just before I left the cafe, my travel buddy decided to buy a shot glass from the aforementioned souvenir stand, where they pulled the switcheroo trick, replacing the item he had chosen to purchase with a broken version of another item wrapped up. My friend checked, and the souvenir guy reluctantly gave him the original shot glass he purchased.

    I pretty much realized right then, that that particular souvenir stand ran the illegal business of those entire few blocks. They had at least 6-8 people strategically working for them doing all sorts of pickpocketing, selling of pick pocketed goods, and scamming. They also had an understanding with the cafe, to at least not target cafe customers while they are still around cafe vicinity.

    Been to more than 30 countries and countless cities but Naples is the only place where I saw so much petty crime in the short span of time I was there (4 hours). Makes it difficult for me to want to revisit it again.

  4. @Joey – sorry I wasn’t clearer. The four guys were hanging around the first door and so when I went to grab a harness on the ceiling, one of them was in the process of pulling my wallet out of my back pocket.

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