Scams

Take My Wallet, Please

Bob Arno of Las Vegas makes a living studying pickpockets.

How do you track down pickpockets?
I stuff my wallet with paper and keep it in my pants pocket. Then I linger in prime tourist spots in foreign cities. Sooner or later, someone steals the wallet, and I try to steal it back.

Really?
Yeah. If I successfully steal the wallet back -- and I often do -- the thief is usually willing to share the latest techniques.

What's a classic ploy?
A pickpocket squirts mustard on you unawares. He approaches you, points at the stain and starts to clean it. While he distracts you with one hand, he robs you with his free hand.

Why don't you study pickpockets in the U.S.?
Pickpockets are rare here because we train our cops well, we use security cameras and the consequences are too severe.

How do you make money?
I serve as a consultant to government officials in about ten countries, studying legal systems that fail to stop crime. I also educate tourists on luxury cruise ships.

Are tourists easy prey?
You bet. In my demonstrations, I steal wallets and watches of some passengers. (I return the items, of course.) In big European tourist destinations, such as Rome, there are 100 to 200 incidents a day.

What's the profile of a typical pickpocket?
In Europe, it's a gentleman in his fifties. Or else it's an immigrant, often of Romanian descent, usually a woman surrounded by children. In Latin America, it's often a teenager.

What's your advice for travelers?
Stash most of your money in a security pouch that you wear over your shoulder, around your neck or around your waist. A good pouch costs about $15.

Are you a former thief?
No! (Laughs.) When I was a teenager in my native Sweden, I read everything about con games that I could. Later, when I traveled in Asia, I got tired of seeing travelers get duped, so I began leading workshops on the topic.

-- Interview by Sean O'Neill

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