Five Things I Learned From Being A Pickpocket Victim

Yesterday afternoon, while boarding a train at Circular Quay station, a stranger plucked my wallet straight out of my back pocket. I never felt a thing. Within ten minutes, they had already used my credit card to make a fraudulent transaction. Here are five hard lessons that the experience taught me.

Pickpocket image from Shutterstock

#1 It Pays To Be Suspicious

When a pickpocket strikes, there's a pretty good chance you'll remain completely oblivious throughout. You might be aware that someone briefly brushed against you, but this is something that barely registers.

The fact is, nobody expects to be robbed in broad daylight when plenty of other people are around. I was no exception. On a subconscious level, I knew something odd had transpired, but it wasn't enough to make me check my valuables or properly appraise the situation. More fool me. Like most pedestrians, I was too preoccupied with my own thoughts to notice anything awry.

While it probably isn't healthy to be constantly on guard, living in a world of your own is equally problematic. In fact, it could cause pickpockets to specifically target you; especially if you appear visibly aloof or distracted. In short, don't be a daydreaming dawdler like me.

#2 Thieves Are Masters Of Distraction

Like most pickpocket victims, my recollection of the robbery is a little hazy as I didn't realise what was happening at the time. The incident occurred at the train station's ticket barrier, which provided the thief with a perfect excuse to get close to me.

As I passed through the barrier, I noticed that several of my bag's flaps had mysteriously come undone. Perplexed, I leant to refasten and zip them. While all this was happening, I was vaguely aware of a presence lurking behind me but paid it no mind (it was a public train station after all.) I'm 99 per cent sure that the pickpocket pounced at this moment.

It would appear I fell for one of the oldest tricks in the book. By diverting my attention elsewhere, the thief was free to move in on the the real target — namely, my wallet

In hindsight, it's easy to say that my unzipped bag should have been a huge red flag. But rationalisation is a funny thing. "Maybe I didn't zip it properly," I thought to myself, even though it was clearly unfastened in several places. "Maybe it came undone by itself."

Implausible as it sounds, this is where my brain went when I noticed my bag had been tampered with. As mentioned above, you're just not expecting to get robbed in broad daylight — instead of accepting reality, you make weird leaps of logic.

#3 Don't Use Your Smartphone While Walking

This is basically like painting a big target on your back — nobody is easier to pickpocket than a phone addict who's tweeting on the hoof. It's also stupidly dangerous. Nevertheless, most of us still do it.

#4 PayPass kind of sucks

It used to be that credit card thieves needed to convincingly forge your signature to steal money from your bank account. Sure, nine cashiers out of ten never bothered to check the signature properly, but it was still enough to deter thieves from making multiple transactions. Each and every purchase was a huge risk.

These days, pickpockets are free to go on unchecked spending sprees thanks to the modern wonder of contactless payments. They might be limited to a maximum spend of $100 per transaction, but this can add up to thousands of dollars in a matter of hours. Imagine if you didn't notice your card was missing for an entire day?

Part of me wonders whether PayPass and its ilk are worth the security risk. Is tapping your card really that much more convenient than swiping and typing in your PIN? I'm not so sure. Plus, they encourage you to use bank credit instead of your own savings, which can be dangerous if you're bad at managing your budget. But I digress...

#5 Non-Thieves Can Be Garbage Too

When I discovered my wallet had been stolen en route to the Blue Mountains, it was a truly awful feeling. But the worst part was actually caused by a fellow commuter.

As you'd expect, I immediately called my bank to report the stolen cards as soon as I realised what had happened. To my horror, the bank informed me there was recent activity on the card from a street I'd never been to. It had already been a stressful day before any of this happened and at this point I was visibly upset.

As I was finishing up the procedure of canceling my cards, someone roughly shoved me in the shoulder from behind. I turned around to be confronted by the frowning face of a dude wearing oversized headphones. You know what's coming...

"This is the QUIET CARRIAGE!"

Oh do fuck off.

I get it: the rules apply to everyone. My problems are no more important than anyone else's. And so on and so forth.

But come on.

I'd just been the victim of a serious crime. Thousands of dollars were potentially being stolen from my bank account at that very moment. I think given the circumstances, Mr. Muso could have cut me some slack.

In any event, I dutifully removed myself to call the police and my wife. As it turned out, the adjoining carriage had a busted air conditioner. Worst. Day. Ever.


Comments

    #6 Don't use the back pocket.

      It amazes me when seeing people carrying their phones in their back pockets. You want to place your $900 hardware and identity in the least secure place on your body?

      1000x this.
      "But where else would I put it?"
      Get better pants.

        Yes. I will refuse to buy jeans or shorts that do not have decent side pockets. Unfortunately this is becoming increasingly difficult as all manufactures seem to be going after the 'hipster small pocket' market.

          Baggy Dickies shorts are your friend and I'm sure will be fashionable again someday.

      I totally scrolled down to say this exact thing.

        Me too! I have no idea how people can sit on a wallet all damn day, it must cause spinal problems in the wealthy. Deep front pockets are the way to go. as you walk/sit the pocket is closed up, not presented for easy access.

    This podcast about banking security, with chip&pin, paypass fraud is very enlightening.
    http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/saturday/audio/201780647/ross-anderson-banking-security

    I also commend subscribing to Kim Hill's Radio NZ podcasts - she's a great interviewer with many interesting guests. Reminds me a lot of the late great Alan Saunders on ABC RN.

    Pro Tip, don't have money, If you spend it all no one can take it.

      Pro Tip, spending your money involves someone taking it. :P

    Most people don't just accidentally bump into you. There's only a handful of countries where the crowding is so bad that this happens regularly and even then people try to maintain an inch of personal space around them. Think of all the times in a crowded situation that someone has bumped into you.. not actually that often.. you have near misses, you might get hit with a bag or two but generally, people do a good job of not bumping physically into one another..

    And yeah.. you should be aware of what's around you, always. You felt/aware of a presence, but you didn't act on it? What can be said about that? Hrmm? :)

    As for PayWave.. A lot of institutions not only limit the per transaction but also the daily cap as well. For most of the ones that do, it is capped at $1,000 a day (ie. 10 transactions of $100). They also have reasonably sophisticated high-velocity fraud prevention monitoring tools in place. And you're covered for the loss, your bank wears the loss.. if they felt it was such a big security hole, they wouldn't issue cards with the feature because it is they, not you, that are suffering the financial loss.

    stolen on-route to the Blue Mountains

    Shouldn't journalists know that it's 'en-route'?

    It used to be that credit card thieves needed to convincingly forge your signature to steal money from your bank account.

    Nope. Much more fraud was having your card cloned, rather than stolen - easier to steal your card details than your physical card, and much easier to steal from you before you deactivate the card since you aren't aware it's been cloned.

    Also, PayPass accounts for the tiniest fraction of card fraud. Try getting a call to say someone purchased $4,000 worth of Chinese iTunes vouchers - I've been there, it's less than pleasant, but the bank will refund you, just like they will refund the funds you got stolen through contactless theft. Thieves would need to be doing some serious leg work to nick 4 grand from you via contactless, but I had that much pinched in an hour online.

    I think given the circumstances, Mr. Muso could have cut me some slack.

    You're right, the onus should totally have been on him to first figure out why you were loudly talking on the phone in the quiet carriage instead of you just moving somewhere else. How rude of him - he should know that journalists are above the law.

      You're right, the onus should totally have been on him to first figure out why you were loudly talking on the phone in the quiet carriage instead of you just moving somewhere else. How rude of him - he should know that journalists are above the law.

      I dunno. You see someone freaking out and making a call whereupon they say into their phone, "Hello? Yes, I've discovered that I've been robbed..." maybe you try to unshrivel your heart a little and cut them some slack.

      Shouldn't journalists know that it's 'en-route'?

      Really?

      en route - Wiktionary
      https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/en_route
      Etymology[edit]. Borrowing from French en route, from en (“on”) + route (“route”) ... en route (comparative more en route, superlative most en route). On the way.

      So 'en-route' means 'on-route'... Fancy that.

      Last edited 11/02/16 11:12 pm

        The English form is 'in-route'. People write 'on-route' because that's how 'en-route' sounds when spoken, but it isn't technically correct.

        I get that not everyone would know that, but I'd expect a professional writer to.

    I walked and bussed and trained all around South-East Asia where numerous locals all warned me about pickpockets, and I thought I'd be all clever and buy a decoy wallet with a rude note inside, and - most importantly - no money.

    Nice, easily-pilfered thing, stuck in my back pocket.

    No takers. Not one.
    I've tried this in other countries since and no-one will nick my god damn decoy wallet. Why not? I'm foreign! I'm a rube! ROB ME YOU BASTARDS

    (Edit: Er. Maybe not at gunpoint, though. In that case, a rude note might kind of backfire. Yeah... that should probably go.)

    Last edited 11/02/16 6:38 pm

      This is brilliant. Can I steal this suggestion for Evil Week?

        Well, uh... sure, but... but... it's not evil!

        Last edited 11/02/16 10:44 pm

          It is if you use a Mr. Nanny wallet!

          https://youtu.be/WBHFoMUush8?t=181

      A good decoy wallet should have a pointlessly small amount of money in it otherwise if you are held up with weapons they may cotton on pretty quickly that it's a decoy wallet.

    just want to offer my condolences, Chris, for a really crappy day :( No fun at all.

    While this is very frustrating, not least the "violated" feeling from being robbed, you did the right thing in reporting this as soon as you discovered it.

    All credit card issuers carry insurance against fraudulent transactions. There are usually some T&C around customer notification (time frames, etc) but typically these transactions will be refunded or not registered against your account.

    For the really paranoid, there are additional insurance packages for more protection against fraudulent use. These shouldn't really be necessary within Aus (easy enough to report) but might be worth considering for overseas trips especially if phone/internet access won't be readily available.

    P.S. this is one example of my complete lack of fashion sense and fondness for cargo pants coming in useful. While certainly not foolproof, it wouldn't be quite so easy to remove a wallet from a zipped up pocket without the wearer noticing.

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