How to identify a pickpocket in action

Many attend events but come out with drawn faces at the end of the day. Many set out to work in the morning, but, arrive with tearful eyes, courtesy of pickpockets! How do you escape the snare of the sticky-fingered villains? FUNMI SALOME JOHNSON reports.

It was a carnival-like wedding ceremony: the daughter of a royal family was getting wed­ded, with the crème de la crème of the society present. But in the midst of the gaily dressed people were another kind of human beings: the pickpock­ets, who, at the end of the day, turned the once jolly faces of some guests into tearful ones, because they have been dis­possessed of some valuables, without their knowledge by the light-fingered, but well-dressed young men and ladies, who also came as guests.

“You find them mostly in row­dy places, like the bus stops and social parties. They also operate in the thick of traffic”, accord­ing to Alaba Oseni, a former pickpocket.

Alaba became a street boy at the age of 12, when he lost his parents and it never took him too long to become a pick­pocket: a trade by which he fed himself for some years. There is a warning, though, from him. “It is not only those who live on the streets that are pickpockets. Although, they do not have an association, they know them­selves,” Alaba added.

Hence, it would amount to absolute recklessness to think that only the filthy-clothed youths, living on the streets, with their guttural, raucous language are pickpockets. Even as many are wont to think they are, street kids, mostly, would go everywhere to beg or scavenge for food while only picking the pockets available to them.

Pickpockets come in differ­ent levels. There are the rough ones, amateurs and profession­als and they are both male and female. They dispossess people of their valuables, without us­ing force or weapons.

The professionals just move past you, before you’re aware, you have lost something! Alaba further disclosed that these ones are usually well-dressed, clean-faced and eloquent in speech. Some even drive classy cars and you will never suspect their ulterior motives. “You have all sorts of pickpockets and they have different modes of operation. Some are clean and educated and, gorgeously dressed, will go to events unin­vited looking for easy preys.

Some would even dress in the same uniform with friends and relatives of the celebrant, just to fit in and have easy picks of the crowd of prospective vic­tims.

They travel to other states or even out of the country to oper­ate, depending on their level,” explained Alaba. When asked how they get to know of these events, he disclosed to Daily Times that one of the fastest and major ways they get infor­mation is through the mass me­dia.

“I can tell you that most of these pickpockets read the newspapers and listen to the television and radio more than any other person. They know where and when any event is holding and who is hosting it. Some even go to these event ven­ues ahead of time to survey how the place is, so as to plan an easy entry and if need be, gain entry forcefully. Another thing is that most of them work in groups. They don’t work alone. Once one picks an item, he passes it on to members of his group. They also work in collaboration with the bouncers, security of­ficials and waiters at the occa­sion.

“They move very fast, and no­body, usually, notices anything until it’s too late, except the person who is knowledgeable in such things. However, for some, when there are no events to at­tend, they dress up every morn­ing and go to bus stops to oper­ate during the rush hours.”

“They always dress like a cor­porate office worker, who is set for work. They rush, like every other person trying to board a bus, but, will not, eventually, go with the bus.

“They use the rush hour to pick people’s pockets and dis­possess them of their cash, cell phones and other valuables. Some even have standby cus­tomers, who buy the items off them. The standby buyers, usu­ally, go for cell phones and that is why, cell phones and cash are usually the targets of pickpock­ets. While some will pick pock­ets during rush hours, others are daring enough to enter the commuter buses and pick pock­ets of unsuspecting passengers, Alaba added.”

He also disclosed that many youths find themselves in this habit due to circumstances be­yond their control. “Some got involved because they were introduced into it while living on the streets. Some of these street kids joined, because of the harsh conditions they faced at home, while others, like got on the streets because there was no one to cater for us, but we had to make a living and while on the streets, they teach you all kinds of bad things like pickpocketing, scavenging and others. Some graduate into full armed robbery. While others may be lucky to get away, some get caught and are mobbed and, sometimes, killed. It is a very bad way of life and I thank God for rescuing me”, he said.

For others like Umukoro, who was, reportedly, arrested by the Police in Apapa, Lagos, he said his mode of operation was to dress like a university undergraduate, complemented with a school bag. He said he would board as many commer­cial buses as possible, where he would pick the pockets of unsuspecting passengers. His loot included money and phones. He said, “I only steal Nokia phones, because you can sell them easily. I steal about three phones daily and have a buyer at Boundary bus stop in Ajegunle. I give him the phones and get paid in return. I make about N10, 000 daily.”

An Assistant Superintendent of Police, who craved anonym­ity, disclosed to Daily Times that the issue of pickpocketing is widespread, especially, dur­ing festive periods. “It is a seri­ous issue, but, the funny thing is that it is a bailable offence. We have several of such cases here and we have been trying hard to see to the security and property of the country and so­ciety as a whole.”


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