Sunday, March 02, 2008

Picked Clean at Pier 39

Last night I went down to Fisherman’s Wharf. I wanted to see my buddy’s band play, so I ventured down there. I normally don’t ever visit this part of San Francisco. It’s a tourist trap and pretty tacky.
It’s the kind of place where they sell those cheap t-shirts that say “I Did Time at Alcatraz” and “I’m With Stupid.” Last night I saw a very fat lady wearing a t-shirt that said “I Conquered Anorexia.” Fisherman’s Wharf is where you’ll find portrait artists who will draw a cartoonish picture of you for $12; street musicians; break dancers; a guy dressed like a bush who jumps out and scares people; all amongst the Hooter’s and In ‘N Out Burger and over-priced seafood restaurants. It’s a freak show, essentially. Bobby Joe and Billy Jean from Iowa will like it. But, people who live here stay away like the plague.
Last night I also found out who else frequents Fisherman’s Wharf. And that would be pickpockets. I know because I was a victim. At least for about five minutes. Let me explain.
I was walking at Pier 39 on a crowded sidewalk when a little girl who I figured to be about seven or eight years old was walking toward me holding two shopping bags. She ran right into me and dropped her stuff. When everything went flying, I bent over to help her pick up her things. And while I was bent over, someone came up behind me and lifted my wallet.
And they would have succeeded, except for the fact that I felt them take it. By the time I had turned around, the person who picked my pocket was long gone, lost in the crowd. Thinking fast, I grabbed the little girl’s arm. I realized immediately that she was in on the scam and that if I had any hope of getting my wallet back, I couldn’t let her out of my sight.
The little girl started crying and yelling, “Hey, let go of me, you’re hurting me!” She was a good little actress; I have to give her that. Pretty soon, a group of people were gathering around me with accusing stares. One man said. “Hey, let her go!” I told him to mind his own business. Luckily, there were two cops one block away. Otherwise, I would have had to choose between letting the little girl go and losing my wallet forever or getting my ass kicked by a couple of hicks from North Carolina wearing NASCAR hats.
The policemen knew instantly what was going on and had seen this little girl in action before. They took the both of us off the street and into a side alley. Within no time, the little girl came clean and said, “My daddy makes me do this stuff.” I don’t know if she was being sincere or if it was all part of her act.
Anyway, within no time a guy showed up and handed me my wallet. The cops retained him and got my name and phone number. They asked me if I wanted to press charges and at the time I said yes. But, now I don’t know it I want to – I actually feel bad for the little girl and I also found out that nothing will happen to them anyway.
The cops told me that pickpocketing is a big problem on Fisherman’s Wharf. They told me to put my wallet either in the front pocket of my pants or in my inside jacket pocket to avoid getting pickpocketed in the future. I left relieved and a little wiser. I also called my bank and cancelled all my credit cards.
Here is what says about pickpocketing:
Pickpocketing is one of the oldest and most widespread crimes in the world. The appeal is its relative safety: A skilled pickpocket can make off with just as much money as an armed robber, without much danger of confrontation or risk of being identified in a line-up. By the time the victim even realizes what has happened, the pickpocket is long gone. And since no weapons are involved, pickpockets who do get caught face minimal jail time.
All of this is bad news for the rest of us. When you're travelling, a pickpocket can easily ruin your trip, lifting your money charge cards and identification in a few seconds. And there's very little hope of getting any of your stuff back.
In this article, we'll see how these thieves can rob people blind without them even knowing it. We'll also find out what you can do to avoid being a "mark" (a con or pickpocket target) and what you should do if your wallet is stolen.
Just as in a magic show, the major method at work here is distraction. Human beings usually focus their attention on one thing, so if you give them anything interesting to focus on, they won't pay attention to their money and valuables.
In the pickpocketing world, distraction can get pretty elaborate. Two members of a team might stage a fight while the third member takes advantage of the inattentive crowd. Child pickpockets may try to show something to a mark, like a drawing or a toy, while other children sneak up from behind. Another common trick is to surreptitiously spray someone with bird droppings, or a convincing facsimile, and then offer to help clean it off.
One of the most effective distractions is sex: An attractive woman, usually pretending to be intoxicated will touch an unsuspecting man affectionately, and lift his wallet or watch while he's distracted.
Some pickpockets play on compassion in their distractions. They "accidentally" drop change or shopping bags on the ground so that someone will stop to help them. While the mark is kneeling on the ground with the first pickpocket, another member of the team steals his or her wallet. At the beach, one member of the team may pretend to be in trouble in the water. When the mark runs in to help out, another member of the team walks off with whatever the mark has left on the beach.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The link to howitworks is not quite what I think you want it to be. That link goes to someplace that's got a placeholder about digital media.

interesting article though.