I’ve had my pocket picked. It happened a few years ago in downtown Chicago (the Loop). As I was leaving a sushi place, two men walked over to me. One stepped in front of me and one stepped behind me. The man in front paused in the doorway, dropping the smoothie he was carrying. He apologized and fumbled with the cup, as though trying to mop up the mess. The other man pressed up behind me, as though he hadn’t been paying attention, and was trying to walk through the door. He was carrying his coat over his arm, I remember. I noticed him but my attention was focused on the man in front of me. That guy apologized again, then hurried out the door. The second man pushed past me, and took off in the opposite direction. A few moments later, I realized that my wallet was missing. I hesitated, wondering if I’d left it inside the place. I looked back. By the time I decided I really had been robbed, both men were gone.
The two guys were pretty clumsy, I think (how repeatable is that M.O.?), but I was sufficiently distracted by them, and they got me easily. And this despite the fact they were memorable—I noticed them the second I entered the place, two middle-aged men in nice suits. (They were also black, and when I realized my wallet was missing, I at once chastised myself for thinking that they had stolen it—white liberal guilt in action. Hence my looking back into the place to see if I’d left my wallet on the counter.)
I was reminded of this experience because I recently read Adam Green’s excellent article on Apollo Robbins in The New Yorker. The two of them also made a wonderful short video in which Robbins demonstrates his craft. Many things described in both the article and video rang true for me. The primary tool used in robbing me was directing my attention away from my personal possessions. I also know now (from the article) that the first man was the “stall” or the “stick,” while the second was both the “shade” and the “tool.” (And there might have been even more men operating as part of that outfit, such as a “duke man,” who gets handed the wallet so the other men are clean.)
As for what happened to me and my wallet after the robbery …
As soon as I realized I’d really been robbed, I called my credit card company. I had to go look up the number, which took maybe ten minutes. (I now keep it programmed in my phone, which might prove helpful provided my phone is never stolen.) As I was talking with a representative there, he started seeing charges coming through; the card was being used to buy hundreds of dollars of merchandise at a nearby department store. I thought about going over there, but convinced myself that was crazy. A few minutes later, transactions started coming through from another another store. (There was some delay on them, presumably.) By the time the thief got to a third store, my bank had managed to cancel the card. (I was cleared of those transactions, but it took a while and a fair bit of paperwork.)
I also lost some cash, but the real hassle was losing my license and bank cards and work IDs. For instance, I had a job interview later that day at the School of the Art Institute, and without any ID, I couldn’t enter the building. I called the interviewer, who had to come down and let me in. (I did get the job, however.) Replacing those things took a not-insignificant amount of time.
I liked that wallet, too. It was made of cow leather and I bought it from a wonderfully kooky hippie in Phuket, Thailand. It had lovely floral patterns worked into it, and people always noticed it, and commented on it. (Perhaps that’s what led to my becoming a mark?) By the time it was stolen it had started falling apart, but I still cherished it, and miss it now, sometimes.
I gained from the incident some firsthand knowledge of how pickpockets work, as well as the knowledge that I could be pickpocketed. I’m also aware that, despite this knowledge, I could probably be robbed pretty easily again.