Skip to Content
Security & privacy

Pickpockets on the rise because you’re making it easy — find out why

It seems like our smartphones are getting us into more and more trouble. Distractions are becoming commonplace as we walk around glued to our devices. We walk into telephone poles, fall off curbs and, well, you’ve seen the videos of smartphone distracted walking fails (if not, scroll down; we picked a few for you). Check out what one European city did to protect “smartphone zombies.”

We’re getting to the point where simply walking around has us thinking about our smartphone even when we’re not using it. As we grow more connected to our world through smart devices, the distractions they cause are helping pickpockets make off with your things. In fact, one report says pickpocket crimes are on the rise, thanks to smartphones.

Pickpocketing is on the rise in major cities like San Francisco, New York and Chicago, according to data collected by The Atlantic.

“Distraction theft” is on the rise, and you make it easy for them when you walk around with your eyes glued to your screen.

What should you do to help alleviate the issues of pickpockets and stay safe? We’ll cover the ways you are an easy target for those bad actors and how to avoid becoming their next victim.

How are pickpockets choosing their targets?

Distraction is the key to pickpockets’ scams. Take a moment to look around next time you’re at your favorite restaurant, waiting for a ride, or walking around the mall. Everyone’s eyes are glued to their devices.

Watch this video from Travel + Escape, as a reporter joins a group of pickpockets who target travelers in a subway in Romania. (Spoiler alert: It’s a catch-and-release-style demonstration. The pickpockets give the stolen items back to the unwitting victims, who learn a quick lesson on paying better attention to their surroundings.)

What are they stealing?

What they’re looking for is anything of value on your person, and while wallets are still prime targets, so are your electronic devices. Tablets, laptops, e-readers and smartphones can be quickly sold for cash. Smartphones have been known to net $200 and up, even if they’re disabled.

If these bad actors gain access to your smartphones and you’ve chosen not to password protect it, they could be getting much more than the device itself, including access to everything you’ve saved.

They can access your credit cards for quick pay, PayPal, your bank account information, social media accounts, photos, text messages, and other account information you’ve saved on your phone.

Even if you have chosen to password protect your smartphone, or use biometrics, some thieves are using scary tactics to force victims to unlock their phones before making off with valuable information.

Best way to avoid pickpockets

Get ready for a moment of stating the obvious: Put your smartphone away and pay attention to your surroundings. Potential pickpockets know who’s paying attention and who isn’t. And here’s a bonus: Not only does mindfulness have the potential to keep you safer, but science says it’s good for your brain.

Don’t text, video chat or talk on the phone while you walk. Stop and use your smartphone in a location where you’re not out in the open. Remember phone booths? If only we still had those!

Use your gadget in a place where you have protection — stand against a wall, in a doorway or in a place where you’re not vulnerable to “shoulder surfing.” That’s how pickpockets see your passwords before they nick your devices.

If your phone is stolen, set it up so thieves can’t hack into it and use Kim’s recommendations for tracking your lost Android device or your missing Apple phone.

Refer friends, earn rewards

Share your source of digital lifestyle news, tips and advice with friends and family, and you'll be on your way to earning awesome rewards!

Get started