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How not to get scammed
June 16, 2010 4:51 AM   Subscribe

Last week the playwright Alan Bennett was "relieved" of £1,500 by one of the simplest scams about - the distraction scam. The BBC provides a helpful guide to how not to get scammed while MSN outlines the 13 scams of the summer. For a more in-depth examination of the world of scams, The Real Hustle is an invaluable resource.

One of the fathers of modern day thinking misdirection, magician John Ramsay, outlined some golden rules. Among them:

1) The eye watches the moving object
2) A larger movement conceals a smaller movement
3) If you want them to look at you, look at them. If you want them to look at 'it', look at 'it'."

Misdirection is, however, often misunderstood. Many professional magicians prefer to think of it purely as "direction." Not all misdirection is about eyes and hands - you can misdirect using only time - the time elapsed between doing the secret move and when its effect becomes clear. Be safe, people.
posted by MuffinMan (91 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
dumb. why would you carry that large an amount of money on your person?
posted by billybobtoo at 4:56 AM on June 16, 2010


I had the same exact thought, no disrespect meant to Alan Bennett. I had $300 on me the other day and I felt like the Monopoly Man.

This reminds me of that story about David Copperfield getting mugged, using prestidigitation to hide his wallet and phone.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:58 AM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I saw this story and thought: "Alan Bennet has never heard of debit cards?"
posted by vacapinta at 5:00 AM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was pick-pocketed late one night in Kings Cross - I was in awe of the simple illusion.

This girl came toward me flicking a lighter that didn't work; there were no words, just eye contact. I took the lighter from her hand and, typical of most men, attempted to get it to work (my method is to shake it quickly) - I focused on the lighter, she got my phone. It was actually worth the experience - especially given that most people in the X get stabbed for less.
posted by a non e mouse at 5:06 AM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Alan Bennet has never heard of debit cards?"

No, I'm pretty sure he only uses cash, taken as required from an old brown teapot.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 5:09 AM on June 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


Or cheques?
Plod didn't confirm the amount, so it could be less.
"Reports suggest up to £1,500 in cash was taken from his coat, although police have not confirmed the amount involved."
Oh well, he'll probably get a monologue out of it.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 5:12 AM on June 16, 2010


Insurance.
posted by a non e mouse at 5:14 AM on June 16, 2010


I thought the same about the amount but apparently he'd just been to the cashpoint (probably observed getting the money out) so it's not like he swans about town loaded down with the folding stuff as a matter of habit.
posted by Abiezer at 5:30 AM on June 16, 2010


dumb. why would you carry that large an amount of money on your person?

He was with his partner and they went from a bank machine on one side of the street to a shop on the other. They probably figured they were safe. Maybe they were going to drop a good chunk of it in that very Marks and Spencers or nearby shops and didn't figure they'd be robbed in on the high street at noon before they could spend it.

In any case, losing £1500 probably doesn't sting Alan Bennett quite the way it would you or me.
posted by pracowity at 5:30 AM on June 16, 2010


I was in awe of the simple illusion.

Two young girls came up to some colleagues in Plaza Major in Madrid with a map, asking for directions.

I was walking towards them from about 20m away. My colleagues looked like dorky tourists so I wondered why those girls would be asking them for direction. I'm watching the whole scene with curious interest cause it didn't seem right. While one girl was pointing to her map, the second girl make a lift out of the inside coat pocket of one of these guys. Clean, nice, fast. A fat American wallet filled with every plastic card imaginable. No trivial extraction mind you. I then saw her hand it off to another girl who was walking past. Teamwork. I was really impressed.

I didn't see what happened after that, but I assume it passed few more hands before it made if off the plaza.

I quickened my pace, but didn't run or call out, the crime was already done and the wallet was gone. The girls walked away casually in the general direction my colleague had pointed. They had nothing on them.

"Hi Dave, those girls just lifted your wallet" I says.

Dave pats his chest, sure enough, it's gone. Then when another guy in the group says his wallet was gone too, I was blown away. I didn't see that one at all!
posted by three blind mice at 5:35 AM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


WHOA!

What about that scam where they have about 10 sentences of information to display but they make you click through 10 to 14 pages to get to it? WOW!

Oh, wait...
posted by Drasher at 5:42 AM on June 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Clearly, girls can't be trusted!
posted by a non e mouse at 5:43 AM on June 16, 2010


I thought the same about the amount but apparently he'd just been to the cashpoint (probably observed getting the money out)...

I wasn't even sure you could withdraw that much from a cashpoint! In the US, you cant take out more than $300-400 at one time. And, I can't imagine what you buy at Marks and Spencers for £1500.
posted by vacapinta at 5:44 AM on June 16, 2010


I suspect he had just been to the bank, rather than the cashpoint. And was going into M&S, rather than spending the whole sum there.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:45 AM on June 16, 2010


my word we are keen to dissect the details of the man's shopping habits
posted by infini at 5:50 AM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


@ three blind mice, why didn't you rumble them as the grab was made?

I've been scammed a couple times like this; didn't lose more than a couple bucks and not my wallet, though.

I'm convinced that an employee at Humber College in Toronto stole my Credit Card Number off of some forms though as it was literally the only time it ever left my wallet and was so new it was still warm from the press. (this was in the mid-nineties and it was used to by 1500 dollars worth of "leather goods" from a store in Florida. I assume they used this store rather than North Bound LEather because NBL did not have a Web store at this time.

The next time was a bit more serious. I was wandering around Downtown toronto with 5K in my wallet in hundreds, this was foolish but my bank wouldn't let me pay more than 500 bucks on my ATM or Checks at the time and I didn't have a credit card due to the events surrounding my time at Humber College. So I had a big wad of cash on hand to buy some appliances and stuff for my new apartment. This Bald guy (maybe 25) shoulder surfed me at Tower Records and proceeded to follow me all over Younge street and (I mean all over, I walked all the way to the Bloor/Young station from the Eaton Center and the dude followed me, I rode the subway back south and over to the wrong end and back again, dude and his friend followed me (at a distance) I got off of the train and they got off, I got on, they got on, eyes on me. Eventually at one of the stations (Eglington West) I waited until just before the doors closed and burst out of the door, they jumped for it but were too late, Just like in the movies. I could see them staring at me as they train rolled out of the station, I went back south then rode out of my way home.

Crazy. I've since been scammed out of a few bucks here and there; but I try not to carry too much cash and so on; but crime is rampant, right?
posted by NiteMayr at 5:51 AM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, the perps tried to scam me on a kind of recent trip to Italy.
We were warned about the "throw the baby at you while they go through your pockets" scam. This group came at me with a newspaper. I saw what was happening and started waving them off before they were five feet away. They taunted me, turned around and molested another man across the street. The adult shoved the newspaper in his face while the little kids went for the pockets.
The next day our tour group went to the Vatican. Out of the group of 60 people that took public transportation, six people got their wallets lifted!
posted by Drasher at 5:52 AM on June 16, 2010


So how much is £1,500 in real money? I'm staying in America where crap like this doesn't happen.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:01 AM on June 16, 2010


And, I can't imagine what you buy at Marks and Spencers for £1500.

Many, many socks.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:02 AM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


So how much is £1,500 in real money? I'm staying in America where crap like this doesn't happen.

Wow, what an obnoxious comment.

$2,218, since you ask. And if you think scams and pickpocketing don't happen in America, you're either being sarcastic or you're delusional.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:10 AM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


A few years ago Bennett was beaten up in Italy... he's not doing well

Only time anyone's ever tried to dip me was an ex school-friend who saw me walking down the high street and decided to do it for a laugh. As soon as I felt him I span round and he was inches away from getting punched before I recognised him. What's slightly worrying is it was all instinctive.

When I'm somewhere I don't know very well I do try and avoid looking like an easy mark/tourist though
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:11 AM on June 16, 2010


why didn't you rumble them as the grab was made?

Growing up in Philadelphia, I learned one valuable lesson about crime. Mind your own business when other people are engaged in it. Ain't no reason anyone should get stabbed or risk getting stabbed over a wallet being lifted. Those innocent little girls certainly had big, ugly, violent friends close by. You chase those kids around a corner and you get to meet them.
posted by three blind mice at 6:23 AM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm staying in America where crap like this doesn't happen.

Aw, that's adorable. Having live on both sides of the pond, I assure you that I'll happily take the odd pickpocket over having a gun shoved in my face every time some thug runs out of sniffin' glue.
posted by Optamystic at 6:26 AM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


What's slightly worrying is it was all instinctive.

Who has a safety deposit box full of... money and six passports and a gun? Who has a bank account number in their hip? I come in here, and the first thing I'm doing is I'm catching the sightlines and looking for an exit... I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 6:27 AM on June 16, 2010 [14 favorites]


I'm staying in America where crap like this doesn't happen.

Am I the only one who realised that was supposed to be funny?
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 6:28 AM on June 16, 2010 [8 favorites]


I'm staying in America where crap like this doesn't happen.

Actually I've seldom heard about pickpocketing or similar subtle scamming here. Mostly muggers just confront people directly with guns and demand money.
posted by octothorpe at 6:34 AM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


How can I know that and not know who I am?
posted by infini at 6:37 AM on June 16, 2010


This post is as good a place as any to link Thief Hunters in Paradise, an amusing blog by a couple who studies pickpockets in European cities. Lots of great stories there, mostly personal and funny.
posted by Nelson at 6:40 AM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm so glad someone posted this, I was running out of ideas. Such a great how to guide.
posted by Fizz at 6:41 AM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


why didn't you rumble them as the grab was made?

Growing up in Philadelphia, I learned one valuable lesson about crime. Mind your own business when other people are engaged in it. Ain't no reason anyone should get stabbed or risk getting stabbed over a wallet being lifted. Those innocent little girls certainly had big, ugly, violent friends close by. You chase those kids around a corner and you get to meet them.
posted by three blind mice at 2:23 PM on June 16 [+] [!]


Totally agree with this. Years ago when in Florence with my family a guy started to lift the phone out of my mum's bag. I was walking a couple of paces behind and in a reflex reaction grabbed his wrist to stop him. Nothing happened apart from threatening finger waving from the guy and his female accomplice, but looking back any number of ugly things could have happened.
posted by jonnyploy at 6:42 AM on June 16, 2010


Summertime, and the scamming is easy ...

Wait, "13 scams of summer"? Most of those sound like "scams of every day," and the Volcano-related scam isn't so much "summer" as it is topical. I'll take a Cracked.com Top 5/10/13 list any day over MSN's recycled information and warnings. Sure, it could help someone remember that they should be careful online, but news this is not.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:46 AM on June 16, 2010


Wow, what an obnoxious comment.

$2,218, since you ask. And if you think scams and pickpocketing don't happen in America, you're either being sarcastic or you're delusional.


It might be the wonky plugs you all use, but I think your joke meter is broken.
posted by OmieWise at 6:47 AM on June 16, 2010


One of my wife's hobbies when we travel around in Europe is to spot the pickpocket/thief in large crowds. She's not fearful or paranoid - it's just something she does for amusement. She's not always right though. Recently, she pointed out a guy who had been lingering a bit too long in one area. Turns out, he was just waiting for his employer to arrive and the shop to open so he could start his job.
posted by vacapinta at 6:47 AM on June 16, 2010


On a related tangent, here is a computer security paper that examines the TV show The Real Hustle and extracts some principles from it.

Understanding scam victims: seven principles for systems security
posted by jasonhong at 6:58 AM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


A Hong Kong variation of the old ketchup/mustard squirt was a taxi driver who would drive toward pedestrian crossings and then slam on the brakes, almost striking and of course startling the mark. Other people would come over to calm the victim down and scold the driver, all the while relieving the mark of his or her belongings.

Another common con is "Spiritual Blessings" (via the Hong Kong Police):

This scam involves two to four culprits. The targeted victims are usually elderly or poorly educated females. The first culprit approaches the victim and asks if he/she has heard of a particular prophet. A second person, who is part of the same gang, emerges to say he has heard of the prophet. The second person then leads the party to meet a third culprit who claims to be a relative of the prophet. The third culprit advises the victim that she possesses an evil spirit (bad luck) at her home and the prophet can help to expel the evil spirit provided she surrenders some valuables / money for a ritual to drive away the evil spirit or bad luck.

Following the ritual, the culprits return the victim’s valuables, which are wrapped in newspaper, claiming that this is the victim's property. However, when the victim later unwraps the package, he/she discovers the bundle only contains worthless items and the valuables are gone.

More Hong Kong cons.
posted by bwg at 7:00 AM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


And, I can't imagine what you buy at Marks and Spencers for £1500

Not as much as you'd think...

I worked in M&S as a student, and it was surprisingly (to me, at least!) common for people to pay large amounts in wads of cash. Since we weren't allowed to accept a £50 note without getting another member of staff to verify it, and since those turned up from time to time, this often wasn't any quicker than paying by card.

I once had a customer who paid for a sandwich with a £100 note, something which, until that point, I hadn't even known existed. I called over a colleague and apologised to the customer for the delay, saying something suave and professional like "gosh, sorry, I've never even seen a note like this before!" Customer - nice enough man, early 40s, wearing a suit - shrugged in a friendly way, and said "Oh, I think they've changed the design on them recently. That's probably why."

M&S paid, at the time, a fraction above minimum wage. I didn't have the heart to tell him just how unlikely it was that a £100 note of any design would ever see the inside of my wallet.
posted by Catseye at 7:02 AM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I consider myself lucky that I've never been robbed or mugged, and it's not exactly a "rite of passage" I'd like to actually ever have. As far as pickpocketing goes, I've always been curious as to how many people keep their wallet in their back pocket or coat pocket. Since the day I got my first wallet in my early teens I've always carried my wallet in my front pockets... that just seems to make so much more sense. One of the reasons, later in my life, I still do that is because I am able to casually, instinctively brush my hand down my side and feel that my wallet's still there. I've actually done this right after people have bumped into me.

I guess it's adapted from years of hearing about theft/pickpockets, or maybe the paranoia from never actually having experienced a robbery, but psychologically it's almost necessary for me now to feel the pressure of my wallet/phone to my body. I'm reading some of these stories, and again, it's not scolding but honest fascination from my end- the idea of putting a wallet in my coat pocket just blanks out my head. It's preposterous to me, like a two-headed monster or something.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:07 AM on June 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


Also, the argument over how much cash you carry seems almost irrelevant to me. I have anywhere from $30 to $100 in my wallet at all times, and if it got stolen that $70 difference would mean nothing to me compared to what I'd have to do re: credit cards, driver's license, and so forth. Hell, the biggest loss for me from a stolen wallet would be my old student ID, which i keep for discounts and couldn't ever replace since i'm not a student anymore.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:12 AM on June 16, 2010


It's nice--oh wait it's not--to have my paranoia in crowds justified.

The closest I came to being directly scammed was a dude who hung around (may still be there) the Flatiron district and would tell you this very long story about him being a costumer working on a show, and needing money for a cab to go get the costumes so he wouldn't lose his job. Interspersed with him constantly telling you (a woman) "it's ok, don't worry, I'm gay." Fairly entertaining, almost believable.

I turned him down because he set off my red flags; later a colleague got taken by him.

And two years later, he came up to me again, with the same story, and was really pissed when I laughed and told him I'd already heard it.
posted by emjaybee at 7:22 AM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I knew a junkie--long story--who would just hang out in NY Penn Station and cry, eventually some poor Samaritan would ask her what was wrong and she would launch into a spiel about not having cash to get home/getting robbed and being stranded/etc. This would invariably lead to 1) cash in hand or 2) a ticket, which she would later return for a cash refund.

Most states have emergency funds for people who are actually stranded, FYI...
posted by johnnybeggs at 7:43 AM on June 16, 2010


One of the reasons, later in my life, I still do that is because I am able to casually, instinctively brush my hand down my side and feel that my wallet's still there. I've actually done this right after people have bumped into me.

This reaction is why pickpockets will often bump into people to figure out which pocket the wallet is in. Another trick is to loudly whisper (if you know what I mean) the word "pickpocket." People will automatically check their wallets and the pickpocket can take note. I love that one.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:43 AM on June 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


dumb. why would you carry that large an amount of money on your person?

Yeah, I saw this story and thought: "Alan Bennet has never heard of debit cards?"

Even if you use debit or credit cards, it's probably a good idea to always have some cash on your person for emergencies.

In Japan, I've heard it said you should always have [your age] X [1,000 yen] (about $10 US) as emergency cash (in addition to whatever you plan on spending). If you are in your twenties, you should have at least 20,000 yen ($200) of emergency cash on you, thirties at least 30,000 yen ($300), forties 40,000 yen ($400) and so on.

Fifteen hundred pounds on a successful septuagenarian going shopping? Doesn't sound that unreasonable (but then again the chances of you being mugged in Japan are so much lower).

Debit cards and credit cards are great but they won't do you much good if a large earthquake takes out the power or if you're the victim of puchi-botta (petit bottakuri or small bottakuri).

Note for the TL;DR crowd: bottakuri bars are drinking establishments in Japan that charge exorbitant prices for ordinary drinks. There are many variations of this scam (maid cafes, massage parlors, hostess clubs). They're usually operated by organized criminals so failure to pay can lead to pain. There's a similar scam in China: The Chinese Tea Ceremony Scam.
posted by stringbean at 7:47 AM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I usually travel with two wallets - the one with $40, obsolete student ID and an expired credit card is the one that would get handed over if I'm ever mugged.
posted by CynicalKnight at 7:50 AM on June 16, 2010


It might be the wonky plugs you all use, but I think your joke meter is broken.

Nah, it's the different voltages. Plus that I'm awful at spotting sarcasm in text form.

Sorry cjorgenson.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:57 AM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Even if you use debit or credit cards, it's probably a good idea to always have some cash on your person for emergencies.

What kind of emergency takes cash? The only things that take cash these days are street vendors and the Amish at the farmer's market.
posted by octothorpe at 8:03 AM on June 16, 2010


What kind of emergency takes cash? The only things that take cash these days are street vendors and the Amish at the farmer's market.

Cabs, train fares, food, drink. Not sure I've ever come across a business that doesn't accept cash.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:14 AM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


cash just makes more sense as its more flexible and not really dependent on electricity, otoh, that does make me think about the future of it though and how that would work
posted by infini at 8:16 AM on June 16, 2010


Some years ago I walking down the street in Mexico City when I was accosted by a group of street urchins who swarmed around me waving signs in my face and trying to get me to buy Chiclets. I was paranoid about being pickpocketed and put my hand in my pocket, holding onto my wallet until they went away.

Later in the day I put my hand in my other pants pocket and discovered a dirty springloaded plastic clothespin, which I can only assume was being used by them to try to extract my belongings. It's incredible how effective pickpockets can be- they can get away with it even when you're aware there's a scam taking place.
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 8:19 AM on June 16, 2010


When we were in Europe in 2008, I saw one ruse quite frequently in the touristy areas of Paris.

A person would surreptitiously drop a 'gold' ring some ways in front of you, then they or another person would exclaim, pick it up and then ask you if you dropped this. The next step is to give it to you as a gift. I don't know what exactly transpires after that, cos we always refused, but I imagine it was some sort of request to share in the windfall, and the ring is likely worthless.

It happened 3 or 4 times in one day, and we learned to stop it even before the ring got placed.

I'm thrilled to say that's as close as we got to crime or loss when we were in Europe. We did take precautions in terms of not carrying lots of cash, we tried to stay aware of our surroundings, small purses and shoulder bags instead of knapsacks when going out, and for heaven's sakes have a clue about clothing. Hint - Europeans do not often wear camo shorts and NASCAR t-shirts.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:21 AM on June 16, 2010


A person would surreptitiously drop a 'gold' ring some ways in front of you, then they or another person would exclaim, pick it up and then ask you if you dropped this. The next step is to give it to you as a gift. I don't know what exactly transpires after that, cos we always refused, but I imagine it was some sort of request to share in the windfall, and the ring is likely worthless.

Yeah, I've waved away a few folk trying this in Paris myself. What happens next is they demand payment for helping you 'find' the ring. Just keep walking.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:24 AM on June 16, 2010


and for heaven's sakes have a clue about clothing. Hint - Europeans do not often wear camo shorts and NASCAR t-shirts.

I know, I try to wear a more European wardrobe.
posted by geoff. at 8:26 AM on June 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


A person would surreptitiously drop a 'gold' ring some ways in front of you, then they or another person would exclaim, pick it up and then ask you if you dropped this. The next step is to give it to you as a gift. I don't know what exactly transpires after that, cos we always refused, but I imagine it was some sort of request to share in the windfall, and the ring is likely worthless.

Yeah, I've waved away a few folk trying this in Paris myself. What happens next is they demand payment for helping you 'find' the ring. Just keep walking.
posted by Happy Dave


This happened in Paris and my father-in-law happily forked over 10 euros. He knew it was a scam. But he was happy to have the ring as a souvenir. Turns out later, he discovered the ring was worth more than that. So, stolen goods I guess?
posted by vacapinta at 8:30 AM on June 16, 2010


May I just say that I feel that this thread would not have been complete without a comment from Artful Codger.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:36 AM on June 16, 2010


My favorite Japanese scam is ore-ore sagi; it relies on a level of trust that I simply never place in phones. But I was taken in by a far stupider scam once, so I shouldn't brag.
posted by shii at 8:45 AM on June 16, 2010


I was in Prague about 10 years back, and you'd see this at the old town square near the fancy clock thingy. Nothing but tourists, distracted, all looking up at the clock about to chime on the hour, with their cameras out. Probably the easiest targets around.
posted by Kirk Grim at 8:56 AM on June 16, 2010


The misdirection thing is fascinating. As others have said, even if you know to look for it, you can still miss it. The brother of a good friend is a sleight-of hand artist/coin magician (this guy). I have sat across the dining room table from him and seen him do things that really do look like magic. I always think that I'm watching carefully for the misdirection, and I never, ever see it.
posted by rtha at 8:57 AM on June 16, 2010


We have a very French Riviera version of the Good Samaritan scam - guy drives up in a rental car, pretends to be a fashion director from Milan, just flew in for a show a few days ago, "got lost trying to get back to the airport and need money for gas." Oh and, since they're a "fashion director", they offer to give you a free leather jacket in exchange for whatever cash you offer. I recently dealt with one and called the cops on him (once he was out of range, of course - you really don't want to face off with these people, there are Italian and Russian mafias here, as well as regular riff-raff, you never know quite what you're dealing with).

Only once had my wallet stolen, and that was due to my own absent-mindedness, no scam needed: I forgot to zip shut my purse, also forgot to snap closed the flap that covered the unzipped opening, and put it behind me rather than walking with it in front. Duh.
posted by fraula at 9:07 AM on June 16, 2010


The last time I went to Paris I wondered what all those sad looking young girls who asked if you spoke English were up to. I always pretended to be German so I never found out.

I assumed it was going to be "I just got out of the hospital and I need money to buy a bus ticket to go home to my mother." Which is the usual story I would hear in Philly. Every day from the same guy.
posted by interplanetjanet at 9:11 AM on June 16, 2010


I spent a bit of time in Rome when I was younger.
I didn't look like a tourist so much as an Eastern European tradesman.
My wallet was worn on a chain and kept inside my waistband in the front.
I never lost a dime (lire?).

I did however keep my handkerchief in my back pocket and (after I lost the first one) constantly felt it to make sure it was there. Over the span of a month I lost maybe a dozen handkerchiefs. Old, dirty, used handkerchiefs. It always happened on the bus. I never felt the extraction and I never saw the handkerchiefs on the floor of the bus afterward. That's dedication to hiding your tracks. I almost feel bad for the pickpockets.
posted by Seamus at 9:21 AM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The last time I went to Paris I wondered what all those sad looking young girls who asked if you spoke English were up to. I always pretended to be German so I never found out.

Yeah, I have seen them as well, especially around the train stations. I once did admit to one I spoke a little English and she told me a curiously well-rehearsed sob story and spoke of her urgent need to get home to her family. Her accent struck me from somewhere in the former Yugoslavia but when I asked where she had to get to, she -- possibly gambling on a remote place that I was unlikely to know anything about -- said "Latvia."

The gamble, if a gamble it was, went poorly for her; when I was young I was married to a Latvian. I said, "Hei, es runāju latviski. Man žēl, bet es nevaru ievietot savu akcentu ... Jūs no Liepājas?" ("Hey, I speak Latvian. I am sorry, but I cannot place your accent... are you from Liepaja?") She blanched and excused herself from the conversation very quickly without having spoken a word of Latvian.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:30 AM on June 16, 2010 [9 favorites]


Still happening in Paris, that “found ring” one.

In Japan, I've heard it said you should always have [your age] X [1,000 yen] (about $10 US) as emergency cash

What’s appropriate for Japan really isn’t generalizable elsewhere, given both Japan's particular issues with off-hours/out-of-prefecture banking and the incredibly different experience of crime.

As noted above, do not reflexively pat your "wallet pocket". If you must, put it somewhere you can use a non-distinctive movement to check its presence. on preview: love the kerchief misdirection.

Amsterdam police played a fun game of misdirection with me the first time I was there long ago -- one gave me a talking to while another lifted my camera -- to show me it could be done and how to watch out for it. That was a fun lesson.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:36 AM on June 16, 2010


Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco: I keep a fat wallet in a tight pocket so that it is obvious where it is but can't be lifted easily, and if some random person tries to strike up a conversation I avoid eye contact, refuse to engage and keep moving -- but if I see someone coming that I think might be a threat, I make eye contact from a distance and they've usually dropped it by the time they get close. Haven't been a victim yet.

and if this were a movie, a coworker would have lifted my wallet as I typed this
posted by davejay at 10:18 AM on June 16, 2010


I keep a fat wallet in a tight pocket so that it is obvious where it is but can't be lifted easily,

For a pickpocket, the solution to this is a razor blade.

Why, yes, studying pickpocket techniques is a hobby of mine.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:34 AM on June 16, 2010


What pickpockets really steal is not money; what they steal is fellow-feeling, well-wishing, the common human willingness to give aid, to treat others like people and not potential attackers. That lady who needs a light, that stranger offering help, that person who needs roadside assistance; what are you to them, human being or treasure box? To avoid being taken advantage of, what must they become to you? To counter their possibility, it is necessary for everyone to be a bit more of a bastard. Their existence is like acid on the gears of our lives.
posted by JHarris at 10:36 AM on June 16, 2010 [28 favorites]


The most brazen pickpockets I ever saw were poor Roma children in Russia. I was there with my mom and uncle. They swarmed my mom, who had her hands in her pockets to hold onto her wallet. Apparently, they tried to pry it out of her hand.

My uncle had his wallet lifted much more professionally that same trip. He had a neck wallet, so not too much was stolen, but he did have to replace at least one credit card.

I always, no matter where I'm going, wear a neck wallet when I'm out of the US. Keep my passport in there and a hundred bucks. Figure that it's enough to get me to a phone and make a call in emergency situations.
posted by Hactar at 10:39 AM on June 16, 2010


I keep a fat wallet in a tight pocket
Is that your wallet or are you just happy to see me?
posted by binturong at 10:45 AM on June 16, 2010


What pickpockets really steal is not money; what they steal is fellow-feeling, well-wishing, the common human willingness to give aid, to treat others like people and not potential attackers.

leading to systemic mistrust in highly dense not equally well off societies
posted by infini at 10:45 AM on June 16, 2010


Carry nothing but a debit card and a little cash in something around your neck. Leave the rest in your room or the hotel safe. Assume you will be robbed and have little to lose.
posted by pracowity at 11:02 AM on June 16, 2010


I've travelled all over, and never had anything pickpocketed or been subject to a scam. I don't flatter myself that it's anything but a whole lotta luck. That said, simple precautions are having a wallet around your neck and well secured, never engaging any street person, and generally having a look of "don't fuck with me" about you.

However, this is what I find interesting: I behave differently depending on whether I live in a place or am only visiting. Here in the U.S. I take no special precautions. When I lived in Sweden I took no special precautions. When I lived in Paris, I took no special precautions, same with Prague. BUT, these days, when I merely visit Paris, or Prague or whatever, I go into my protective mode of wallet around the neck etc. - it's as if I need to acclimate myself to the rhythms of a place, and then know what's safe and what not, but if it's a place I merely visit, I'm on full alert at all times, even if I've actually lived there before.
posted by VikingSword at 11:32 AM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was having dinner with some friends at a place in Santa Monica where magicians would wander around and work the various tables. One guy stopped, did his bit - he was really good with coins. At the the end of it, he says he works for tips, but if he didn't get tipped he would just keep...this watch. My watch, taken off my left wrist. Buckle type. I never felt a thing. Upon reflection I realized when he took it off me, using part of the routine as an excuse to hold my left wrist. Able to recall that distinctly, I still never felt anything. He was good.

Unfortunately, we were kids just out of college and didn't have a lot of extra money to tip him properly, though we gave what we could. He must have mistaken us for USC or Pepperdine types.
posted by Xoebe at 11:40 AM on June 16, 2010


What pickpockets really steal is not money; what they steal is fellow-feeling, well-wishing, the common human willingness to give aid, to treat others like people and not potential attackers.

So true. The depressing message I'm taking away from this is never help a stranger and god help me if I ever need help somewhere where I don't know anyone.
posted by Jess the Mess at 12:23 PM on June 16, 2010


[your age] X [1,000 yen]

Just out of curiosity, what does age have to do with it?
posted by tangerine at 12:27 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I was joking about £1,500 not being real money. In fact, if anyone what to send me 100 times that I think I could probably pay off all my debts even after exchange fees. I also know crime occurs pretty much anywhere people gather.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:51 PM on June 16, 2010


Several years ago my Dad was walking along a busy road in Italy. A car pulls up and some guys try to sell him a leather jacket. The traffic is building up, and the way he tells it, there was obviously urgency and time pressure -- my thinking is they wanted him to produce his wallet, so they could grab it and drive off.

Unfortunately for them my Dad is a solid, stolid New Zealander, a bit deaf, and absolutely not flappable, but in this situation he was completely non-plussed. Other people started yelling at these dudes and they drove off. Leaving Dad with the jacket. It's quite nice.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:05 PM on June 16, 2010


About targeting tourists: tourists have a big dose of sensory overload, maybe jetlag as well, and they are on the back foot from the very beginning. Even if there are well-heeled locals around, why would you bother? Tourists are much easier to work with. Plus if you avoid locals, you won't bring down so much heat.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:11 PM on June 16, 2010


What kind of emergency takes cash?

Tow trucks. A lot of towing (when your car breaks down, not for illegal parking) gets done off the books and they refuse to take credit cards, and if they take a check it's for "Cash". The upside of that is that you can sometimes negotiate a lower rate if you do the "this is all I've got" bit.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:48 PM on June 16, 2010


Tow trucks.

That's why I keep a AAA membership.
posted by octothorpe at 2:42 PM on June 16, 2010


[your age] X [1,000 yen]

Just out of curiosity, what does age have to do with it?


Good question, tangerine. Unfortunately, I didn't think to ask.

Wild guesses?

Let's say:

1) You meet someone and hit it off. You decide to take them out for dinner and drinks. The establishments a guy in his twenties would go to cost a lot less than those a person in his forties or fifties would go to.

2) You live way outside Tokyo and miss the last train home. A guy in his twenties would have no problems with a capsule hotel, all-night bath-house, karaoke box or similarly spartan accommodations. A guy in his fifties would probably prefer to stay in a nice room with a decent bed or take a very expensive cab ride home.

3) Someone spills coffee all over your clothes at lunch. For someone in their early twenties it would mean buying $20 pants and a $10 shirt at UNIQLO. A businessman in his forties would probably need a suit, shirt and tie.

Again, these are just wild guesses. I don't know.
posted by stringbean at 3:17 PM on June 16, 2010


Years ago when in Florence with my family a guy started to lift the phone out of my mum's bag. I was walking a couple of paces behind and in a reflex reaction grabbed his wrist to stop him.

My first day visiting London, some friends and I were walking down a crowded Tottenham Court Road when a middle-aged woman insinuated herself between us (obviously not knowing we were friends) and I saw her slip her hand under the flap of my friend's bag. I slapped her arm hard and shouted 'OI!'; she immediately stopped walking and dropped back in the crowd. I am absolutely not a confrontational person and the slap was pure instinct; I wasn't even conscious of doing it. My friend was completely oblivious and didn't realise it had happened till I told her, I suppose because of the noise and jostling of the crowd which also made it a good place to pickpocket.

We never got targeted again on that trip although we did end up falling for the "give me your finger" bracelet-making guys at Sacré-Cœur. You live and learn.

My wallet got swiped from my bag 20 years ago when I was a student and since then I've been paranoid about every bag I buy; it must zip up completely, I never put it down away from my person even for a second, if I have it over my shoulder I also keep a hand on it, and if sitting in a public place I keep it on my lap or loop the strap over my knee and tuck the bag between my feet. Friends think I'm overly cautious. I figure, why make it easier for them?
posted by andraste at 3:54 PM on June 16, 2010


Which is the usual story I would hear in Philly. Every day from the same guy.

There's a dude like this in my neighborhood, too. I don't mind getting scammed, but at least have the decency to remember that you see me every day.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:58 PM on June 16, 2010


Heading home through Manhattan one college break, my friend Christopher had a man dressed in a business suit approach him and give him the "lost-my-wallet-need-busfare" spiel. Chris looked at him, and in his gruff Yonkers accent asked him "Do I *look* like a fuckin' tourist?"

The man apologized for his mistake.
posted by fings at 6:18 PM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Another approach is carrying a decoy wallet in an easily accesible pocket, and keeping your real wallet hidden away. Great while travelling - I got the idea from carrying a separate pack of cigarettes with only one in it at all time, to keep away the crack heads in my neighborhood.
posted by mannequito at 7:40 PM on June 16, 2010


Here's how I lost a metrocard in NYC a few years ago. I went in to the uptown entrance to the F train on 16th Street on a Sunday. All the turnstiles had some kind of tape in front of them, either the pink stuff you see with stations that are closed for maintenance, or maybe it was just masking tape. I then see that there are a couple of fellows who appear to be MTA employees letting people through the emergency exit door. I gratefully follow someone else through, but one of the MTA people tells me he needs to swipe my card. I give him my card, he reaches back through the turnstile, swipes it, and holds it out for me to take. I accept it and get on the next subway. When I try to use the card (a monthly pass) later in the day, I discover that it's expired, and realize the "MTA employee" must have switched it.

It was an excellent learning experience. I was impatient to get on the subway, and I was easily funneled into a trap and didn't even realize it. I'm happy it just cost me a card.
posted by A dead Quaker at 8:08 PM on June 16, 2010


The "do you speak English?" women in Paris are also thick around tourist sites.

I wish NYC would employ something like London's Oystercard, which is the same thickness as a credit card and can't be bent to fool the scanner.
posted by brujita at 10:49 PM on June 16, 2010


I sometimes give money if the story's good enough. There was one chap who stopped me outside the Imperial War Museum who had an astonishingly long and complicated story, and an armful of yachting magazines as proof that he was a poor confused, temporarily impecunious type. Two weeks later he tried it again. I regret not asking whether he had his yachting magazines. I didn't even know there were such things.

On the other hand there's a young woman around Elephant & Castle who, realistically bruised, tells people she's been beaten up by her boyfriend and needs money to get home. The first time I encountered her, another, less skilful woman had tried a similar routine five minutes before. When I told her I didn't have any cash, she immediately said "there's a cash machine there", and pointed, and I thought "hang on a moment" - I've seen people in varying states of shock a few times, and I was surprised that her first thought was the money - and at the first flicker of doubt her face dropped and she wandered away. Seen her a few times since then, and usually just brush her off with an "Again?" It was a good act, though, I suppose. I wonder if the bruising is self-inflicted or painted on. Probably painted on.

Occasionally I need to go to somewhere near Barcelona. I used to visit the city, but recently have found it too wearing and not worth the stress. I tell people that it's an extraordinary coincidence that the Catalan for "I am a thief and wish to relieve you of your money" sounds just like "Do you speak English"? Luckily, living in London for twenty years, I've got the knack of being rude to complete strangers.

The oddest one was walking through Akihabera, a Japanese woman confronted me and asked if I (a) spoke English and (b) had five minutes, and I immediately said no and ambled on. In Japan, even!

People complain a lot that people from big cities are cold and uncommunicative, but there is a good reason for that.
posted by Grangousier at 11:48 PM on June 16, 2010


Just thought that next time it might be funny to answer "Do you speak English?" with "No, I'm sorry, I'm from Norway, do you speak Norwegian?". In English. But I suspect that thieves don't have a sense of humour. A simple "Go away" will have to suffice.
posted by Grangousier at 11:51 PM on June 16, 2010


What pickpockets really steal is not money; what they steal is fellow-feeling, well-wishing, the common human willingness to give aid, to treat others like people and not potential attackers.

So true. The depressing message I'm taking away from this is never help a stranger and god help me if I ever need help somewhere where I don't know anyone.



I've been developing this feeling over the last week or two as well because I've been playing Red Dead Redemption, which instills the same attitude, plus murdering people.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:31 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


The oddest one was walking through Akihabera, a Japanese woman confronted me and asked if I (a) spoke English and (b) had five minutes, and I immediately said no and ambled on. In Japan, even!

Grangousier, was she carrying a clipboard? A lot of them are.

They're organized scam rings that take advantage of catastrophic events and prey on human goodness.

Any time there's a disaster or event anywhere in the world that deserves sympathy/help from the rest of the world (major earthquake, flood, famine, etc.), these people throw a picture of the affected area/people/whatever on a clipboard and ask for donations. Of course, the scam rings keep all of the money for themselves and the intended recipients get nothing.

Sometimes they dress up as people from the Red Cross and other legitimate charities. In some cases, the person with the clipboard distracts you while other members of the group pickpocket you.

They received a lot of negative media attention in 2003 so the average Japanese person rightly avoids them. That's why they appear in tourist areas and target non-Japanese people.

Some of the people with the clipboard are being scammed, too. They actually believe they're helping people. The organized scam ring sets up a fake charity and hires part-time workers to do the dirty work. The part-time workers are students or people from outside Tokyo who truly believe they are working for a charity.

Around 2007, the intended recipient changed to a sick child who needs a transplant or other expensive surgery. In one case, it was a legally registered charity that actually sent a token amount of money to the child but kept the lion's share of the money for themselves to cover "expenses."

The bastards who run these scams are truly despicable.

Now...

If she wasn't carrying a clipboard, there's a good chance she would have offered to pray for your happiness or good fortune. She would ask you to close your eyes while she holds her hand a few centimeters from your face and prays. Of course, the only thing she is praying for is your valuables. While she distracts you, her accomplices lift your wallet, cell phone, etc. A variation is that she prays and then asks for a small donation.

It's been over a decade since I've seen the "pray for your happiness" scam rings. They were quite common in Shibuya and other stations with lots of young people.

The "help the earthquake victims" scam can be found in Akihabara even to this day.

It gets worse.

If you give them money, they'll ask for your name, address and other contact information (so they can send you a receipt or under some other pretense). A variation is that they ask you to sign a petition to protest war, nuclear proliferation, US bases in Okinawa, whatever. Your contact info will then be added to a kamorisuto (kamo list or duck list).

In Japan, a "mark" (the target of the scam) is known as a "duck" (after the bird). Ducks are relatively easy to catch so you can get a decent reward for little effort, hence the application of the term "ducks" to "marks" as we know them in English.

Once on the duck list, you'll be contacted for appointment sales (to buy worthless land, vitamins, herbal products, expensive home improvements, etc.), money making scams (work-at-home or multilevel marketing schemes), fraudulent billing (usually for adult websites), dating scams, medical fraud (alternative health, homeopathy, applied kinesiology scams like the O-ring test, etc), investment scams (mostly your garden variety Ponzi schemes), religious cults, etc. Essentially, anything and everything that preys on gullible people.

On Tatooine, the wretched scum and villains will be in the Mos Eisley spaceport telling you they don't like you. In Tokyo, they'll be standing in front of the train station with a clipboard asking you if you speak English.
posted by stringbean at 6:05 AM on June 17, 2010


I've lived and traveled all over the USA, including LA and NYC. I'ved lived in Germany, UK, South Africa, and Switzerland, and traveled much around Europe.

The ONLY place I've had pick-pocket action was Madrid. The ONLY place I've been mugged was in Flint, Michigan (home city). I'll allow I was lucky in South Africa, and damn careful. Never a hint of anything untoward in Paris, London, Lisbon, Budapest, Prague, Vienna, Amsterdam, etc (or I saw it too fast and dismissed it without paying any mind), or any other place. Only Madrid.

Oh, one guy tried a scam on me in Istanbul, kind of a cross between the ring scam and the tea ceremony. I was amused enough I gave him some small amount of dough and parted company.

In Naples, I was 17, without fear, and immortal. With a tour group comprised of American military and/or family members, we were shown about Naples. I got a kick out of hanging at the back of the group and staring down the men that were clearly looking to make a grab of some kind. They didn't like it, but they didn't dare try anything.
posted by Goofyy at 8:04 AM on June 17, 2010


When I lived in Longsight, a fairly dodgy area of Manchester, a woman would sometimes come knocking on the door to ask for money for a taxi so she could take her husband a ham sandwich at the hospital.

The first time this happened I asked her which hospital. 'Oh, St Mary's! You don't need a taxi at all! You can just get the number 50 over there, and it will drop you right outside...it's about £1 which is much cheaper than a taxi...' I was just about to get her a bus pass as mine was due to be replaced the next day anyway when I saw the expression on her face. An expression that said 'This isn't working, and I'm starting to feel guilty.'

I'd been stopped a million times by people who had just been attacked and just got out of the hospital and just got mugged and needed £1.58 to get their train home to see their mum who had just been run over by a steamroller, but there was something odd and innocuous about an older lady coming door to door. I wonder from time to time whether i was being cynical, or whether the money was really needed for cigarettes or an electric bill.
posted by mippy at 6:34 AM on June 18, 2010


Related: The Crying Girl Con Artist.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:03 PM on June 22, 2010


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