Pickpocket ploy

As an avid traveler and ITN reader, I thought I was familiar with most of the means by which people were separated from their money, but the following was a new one to me.

In fall 2003, following disembarkation from our ship in Barcelona, Spain, our group was taken on a brief tour of the city while our hotel rooms were being prepared. The tour guide, while passing out pertinent information, also warned us about pickpockets. The “good news” was that the thieves are now very good at it and seldom resort to physically harming their victims!

Later that day, my companion made the mistake of not closing her bag while we were waiting for a bus in the very heart of the tourist section of town. On feeling that someone was touching her bag, she turned around and confronted two pretty, young teenage girls and accused them of taking her purse, which they denied (in Spanish). They offered a search of their backpacks, which were empty. Their tight-fitting clothes could not have hidden the thick purse.

Obviously, they no longer had the goods, so we reluctantly walked a few feet away and sat on a bench to plan our next move. Within seconds the young girls approached us with the purse, saying that they had “found it.” To our surprise, on opening it, all the contents appeared to still be there, including several large bills (euros and dollars). In shock, we offered them a reward, but it was refused politely. We thanked them again and again they refused the offer of money.

As you have no doubt guessed, we found later that they had taken a credit card that was tucked away and seldom used. The first purchase was for about $149 and a second around $100; their third attempt was blocked. By not taking the cash, the thieves allayed our suspicions at the time and gave themselves more time to use the credit card.

Two others in our group experienced more conventional methods. One had a cigarette lighter dropped in front of him (this ploy was not successful) and the other was wedged in the doorway of the subway car (successful). The subway victim was able to spot a helpful policeman near the station who immediately assisted the person in calling credit card companies. When thieves take credit cards, they know they don’t have much time to use them, except in our case!

In all my travels, I have never encountered an episode that had me more puzzled than that one did.

San Diego, CA