The pickpockets' tricks, and how to beat them

British Transport Police poster

Smartphones and other expensive gadgets are fueling a boom in pickpocketing and theft on trains and in stations. Organised criminal gangs are hitting the public transport network, and using a variety of techniques to steal valuables from unsuspecting passengers. In total these thefts have soared 16% in a year.

So what are their tricks, and how can you beat them?


Chief Superintendent Paul Brogden, says: "Thefts on the rail network are very rarely opportunistic; they are committed by determined thieves whose sole intention is to steal from other passengers. While crime on the rail network is down for the ninth successive year, theft of passenger property has been a real challenge for us this year, particularly with the rise in thefts of smartphones and other high-tech devices."

As a result the British Transport Police have launched Operation Magnum, to help us protect ourselves, revealing 13 common tricks the thieves use. They have also produced 13 films demonstrating the techniques thieves use to pick pockets, grab gadgets, and steal luggage.

1. The Stall

Two pickpockets work together. The first will stall the passenger as they go through a ticket barrier or onto a bus by finding a pretext to stop in front of them. The second one will come up behind the victim while they are stationary and distracted, and take their wallet from a back pocket.

2. The concealed hand

The pickpocket will use a newspaper or item of clothing to conceal their hand while they dip into a victim's pocket or bag on a packed bus or train.

3. The easy dip

The pickpocket will follow the victim as they are about to get onto public transport, and as they step on, they'll dip into an open bag for their valuables.

4. The helpful stranger

At the station, the pickpocket will tell you that you have something on your coat and will start to brush it off. They'll use this as a distraction to reach into coat pockets for valuables.

5. The distraction

Two pickpockets work together at stations. The first will use a map or another item to ask for help, and while the victim is distracted a second pickpocket will take their valuables.

6. The diversion

Thieves may create a diversion by deliberately dropping coins on the floor in the station, while you help them pick them up, a second thief can take your belongings from an unattended bag.

7. The grabber

When you're getting on a train, if you put a bag or gadget down while you stow other bags away, thieves will grab your valuables and get off the train before it leaves.

8. The snatcher

The thief will hang around by train doors next to people who are not guarding their valuables carefully. They'll snatch gadgets while the doors are closing and leave before the victim has a chance to follow them.

9. The plucker

On a train thieves will look out for anyone who has fallen asleep with gadgets on the table and will pluck the gadgets away before their victim wakes.

10. The early bird

While a train is waiting in the starting station, the thief will identify luggage that has been stowed out of sight, and take it just before the train leaves.

11. The sleeper

If you sleep on the train and do not keep your bag in close contact, thieves will take your bag from under your seat or overhead just before the train arrives at a station.

12. The blind spot

On the train, if your belongings aren't in view, a thief may take your luggage at the next station, and leave the train before you have a chance to notice it is missing.

13. The wait-lifter

At the station, if you leave your luggage unattended in a shop or cafe, they can take your luggage and blend into a crowd.

Watch the attempts to pickpocket in the video below:

So how can you protect your property?

Top tips include keeping your luggage close by and checking on it regularly, keeping your valuables hidden if you're going to sleep and always zipping up any hand or shoulder bags. Unsurprisingly, mobile phones are a popular target for thieves, so try to keep yours hidden. Installing a tracker application on your smartphone could help trace your device if it's stolen.

The police have issued tips for keeping your property safe on trains:
  • Keep purses secure and carry wallets in an inside pocket
  • Zip up hand and shoulder bags
  • Carry bags in front of you, with flaps against your body
  • Keep straps short and bags tucked under your arm
  • Don't display jewellery, mobile phones and MP3 players
  • Don't show your money - keep it safely in your pocket
  • Stay alert and aware of what's going on around you when using your phone in public
  • Keep your luggage close by and check it regularly
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