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Mike Maddock, General Manager
2005-12-16 / Travel

Under the Tuscan Spell

Part 25: Gypsy pickpockets

When we began our tour of the Roman Forum, the guide warned us against pickpockets. “Rome is like any city full of tourists,” she said. “There are people who try to steal from you. Here we have many gypsy pickpockets. They are usually young girls, some with babies, some begging. Be careful. Keep your purses and wallets secure. Don’t be led astray by people dropping things or pushing against you.”

Having been an adventure traveler for over 40 years, I have witnessed many pickpockets at work, though I have never fallen victim myself. One of our writers lost a camera in a train station in Madrid. Two friends lost their money in a Paris subway. I am always alert in a crowd, especially when wealthy unsuspecting tourists are around.

Pickpockets are highly skilled magicians who rely on stealth, distraction, and quick fingers. Most are so good the victim doesn’t realize what happened until it is too late. Pickpockets don’t carry weapons, seldom get caught, and, if arrested, serve little jail time. Most pickpockets work in teams to identify the “mark,” cause a distraction or create a “sandwich,” grab the valuables with the least amount of physical contact possible, and slip away quickly.

Step #1: They picked out a “mark,” an Anglo–Saxon–looking man and woman walking slowly, holding hands, looking at the sites. Sticking out of the man’s front left pocket was what might have been an envelope of money or valuable papers.Step #1: They picked out a “mark,” an Anglo–Saxon–looking man and woman walking slowly, holding hands, looking at the sites. Sticking out of the man’s front left pocket was what might have been an envelope of money or valuable papers. As we moved up the walkway into the Forum, I noticed a group of five young girls in jeans, one holding a baby, sitting on a bench, eyeing the crowd of tourists moving by. I stopped Linda and we photographed the thieves in action.


Step #2: Three girls, one with the baby, moved to the woman pushing the baby up against her and forcing her away from her man. The two other girls darted quickly to the man and started panhandling, begging for money. The girl in the black T–shirt had a purse swinging from her shoulder and a sheet of cardboard in her hand. The girl in the pink T–shirt pushed against the woman and separated her from the man. Step #2: Three girls, one with the baby, moved to the woman pushing the baby up against her and forcing her away from her man. The two other girls darted quickly to the man and started panhandling, begging for money. The girl in the black T–shirt had a purse swinging from her shoulder and a sheet of cardboard in her hand. The girl in the pink T–shirt pushed against the woman and separated her from the man. Step #3: The girl in black put the cardboard against the man’s side and reached for his front pocket while the girl in pink grabbed his arm. Realizing what was happening, the man jerked his arm away and yelled at the girl in black.  Step #3: The girl in black put the cardboard against the man’s side and reached for his front pocket while the girl in pink grabbed his arm. Realizing what was happening, the man jerked his arm away and yelled at the girl in black. Step #4: While the man was focused on the girl in black, the girl in pink went for the envelope in his front pocket. The man took a swing at the girl in pink. The girls retreated quickly to the other side of the walkway and regrouped with their fellow thieves who had also been thwarted by their “mark.”
The Anglo–Saxon couple was satisfied they had not lost anything when I informed them I had photographed the incident. I aimed my camera at the five thieves lurking across the way, and they fled down the hill, only to steal another day. 

(Next week: The Vatican)Step #4: While the man was focused on the girl in black, the girl in pink went for the envelope in his front pocket. The man took a swing at the girl in pink. The girls retreated quickly to the other side of the walkway and regrouped with their fellow thieves who had also been thwarted by their “mark.” The Anglo–Saxon couple was satisfied they had not lost anything when I informed them I had photographed the incident. I aimed my camera at the five thieves lurking across the way, and they fled down the hill, only to steal another day. (Next week: The Vatican)

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