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.