Art of the Steal: Trade Secrets of Professional Pickpockets
By Daniel Ferszt
A well-known, if not often discussed fact in Hollywood is that former purveyors of extreme professions, be it law enforcement officials, skip tracers, federal spies, or even criminals, give their careers a second wind by selling the secrets of their trade. Producers, searching for an esoteric perspective into society’s hushed underbelly, eagerly snatch up these individuals’ compelling stories.
Part of the folklore surrounding The Godfather emanates from supposed deals Paramount Studios cut with the mafia to get permission to film, which led to further familial authenticity measures. Later, the first season of The Sopranos would feature a restless Christopher Moltisanti complaining to Tony Soprano that he could be sitting pretty in Southern California relating all that he’d seen. We know how that turned out…
Your are watching Clutch, Episode 3, “Pick A Pocket or Two”
KoldCast TV has another law-breaking type on its hands. Elista Bako plays sexy, streetwise pickpocket Kylie in Clutch, a thrilling eight-part mini-series about a girl who gets in way over her head with some more organized criminals. Kylie survives continuous ordeals using her looks, charm, and five-finger discounts, leading us to ask where one would turn for the skills to steal the bills.
Enter James Freedman. Crowned “possibly the world’s best pickpocket” by Time Out magazine, the man has hands insured for $1,600,000. Yet, he prefers not to pick a pocket for profit (say that three times fast). Freedman makes his living, in large part, as a film consultant, and has worked on movies featuring cutpurses such as Oliver Twist, The Illusionist, and The Brothers Bloom.
A game of sleight of hand and misdirection, pickpocketing is a craft that has been around for centuries. A savvy pickpocket can get away with just as much loot as an armed robber, all the while maintaining their anonymity. First, the three basics of the handiwork as employed by Kylie:
1. Don’t Play the Part
The number one rule in pickpocketing is: do not look suspicious. No one expects a petite female like Kylie to make off with their money, so the odds of success are stacked in her favor. We see this play out when Kylie crosses paths with her neighbor, a local prostitute who works from home. Kylie finds the young hooker haggling for her well-deserved $100 in the hallway. When she sheepishly intervenes, the big sweaty John scoffs and thrusts Kylie against the wall, warning her to “mind her own.” After he struts away, chest puffed, Kylie casually presents Bridgette with the John’s wallet and phone before snidely advising her to call his wife.
2. Improvisation is Key
Things don’t always go as planned, so a prudent pickpocket needs to plan for Plan B. Kylie immediately marks an unsuspecting gentleman purchasing lunch from a nearby hotdog stand. Her plan is foiled just as quickly when an old classmate recognizes her from a few feet away.
Kylie is clearly irritated by this woman, but she composes herself. Her patience is well rewarded when, during the “it’s been so long!” embraces, Kylie lands a new iPod Touch. Looks like there’s more than one way to share music…
3. The busier, the better
A skilled pickpocket thrives in the daily hustle and bustle of downtown. People walk with a purpose, too concerned with their business to notice a swipe. When Kylie sights an approaching “Joe Hollywood” type yapping on his phone, she knows it’s time to make her move. The man in shades hoofs it in her direction and she “accidently” collides with him, while swiftly sliding her hand into his blazer. Aggravated with the interruption, he angrily calls her a naughty word, but like a true professional, Kylie eloquently excuses herself and saunters off with his wallet.
Pickpocketing, like any skill or craft, can be refined to near-perfection. With the basics now elucidated, here are some more advanced considerations and techniques.
Click to play Episode 4 of Clutch, “A Mentor”
It’s an up close and personal crime. The encounters need to be unassuming, and, if you’re especially skilled, the mark should never feel a thing. Some pickpockets carry a newspaper or a jacket to conceal what their happy hands are up to. Pros familiarize themselves with crowded areas such as busses, subways, and shopping malls – anywhere you can clumsily bump into someone or carefully sandwich yourself without being noticed.
“Stall & Pick”
This time-tested scam involves two partners in crime. The “Stall” kneels down in front of the mark, who is caught off-guard and collides with the Stall, then apologizes for their clumsiness. The “Pick” then swoops in during the collision to snatch the mark’s wallet while they’re distracted being disoriented and exchanging consolations.
Ditch the Leather
Skilled thieves keep their mind on the money and the money on their mind. Once the snatch is made, they search for the nearest trashcan, toilet, or if they’re kind, a sidewalk. Whatever the means, they ditch that wallet. It’s incriminating paraphernalia and these days debit and credit cards are instantly traceable after a transaction is made, if they’re even still active.
Finally, a true professional does not lose their sanity if they get pinched (that’s “caught” in thievery lingo). Because there are no weapons involved, jail time for pickpocketing is a breeze – a few days, tops. Just last summer, a man from Coimbatore, India celebrated his 100th arrest for pickpocketing. He regards the police and jail as a second family and home.
That’s somewhat touching, but not a very high selling point for a career as a petty criminal. We’ll stick to watching the pros pickpocket their way through life on TV and in the movies.
Daniel Ferszt is a working screenwriter and copywriter for web and print. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he is recognized as a leading authority in raising kids with brown hair.