Do most pickpockets really make a viable living off of their crimes?
January 14, 2011 3:04 PM   Subscribe

How much do you think the average pickpocket makes per week?

I recently came across this interesting article about an organized gang of Bulgarian pickpockets in London who reportedly stole upwards of £100,000 over the course of year from city commuters. As disturbingly impressive as that is, I can't imagine that most run-of-the-mill pickpockets get away with this much money. What do you guys think? How much do you suppose the average, petty-criminal brand of pickpocket would "make" per week on the streets of cities like London or Paris?
posted by baronessa to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
So ten pickpockets' takings over a year added up to 100,000 pounds, per that article. That's not lavish. Which strikes me as about right for pickpocketing--it doesn't pay as well as a real job, but the people who do it aren't people with a lot of employment options.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:12 PM on January 14, 2011

Doing the math, one pickpocket makes:

£10,000 per year, or $15,869
£192 per week, or $304
£27 per day, or $42
posted by ella wren at 3:19 PM on January 14, 2011

Doing the math, one pickpocket makes:

£10,000 per year, or $15,869
£192 per week, or $304
£27 per day, or $42

posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:28 PM on January 14, 2011


That doesn't make as much a difference as you might think because £10,000 is so close to the personal allowance of £6,475. £10,000 per year tax-free is roughly equivalent to £10,880 taxed normally. And of course Britain has a fairly high VAT, so a lot of tax will still come out of it unless the pickpockets are also shoplifters.
posted by jedicus at 3:35 PM on January 14, 2011

Hmm...I did leave out the National Insurance contribution, which would bring it up a bit. Something like £11,580.
posted by jedicus at 3:38 PM on January 14, 2011

I once stumbled across a website,, that seemed to chronicle the adventures of a petty thief/pickpocket -- he had lots of updates about how/what to steal, different scams and such, and his first-hand accounts of stealing wallets from unattended purses in stores and such ("Got $82 from the first purse, thanks Jessica..."). Assuming it wasn't entirely made up, I think a skilled pickpocket in the right carefully-chosen environment could make a lot more than $42/day.

Real or not, the site was sort of intriguing, and has since vanished completely from the web.
posted by Jinkeez at 3:56 PM on January 14, 2011

How much do you suppose the average, petty-criminal brand of pickpocket would "make" per week on the streets of cities like London or Paris?

Consider that pickpocketing is, shall we say, a hit-driven business. You can size up your mark for a long time and still make only a few dollars/pounds/euros. Occasionally you score big. You may go days or weeks between making a good score.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:21 PM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Pickpockets are like gamblers: they only remember their big scores and they live in hope of one day scoring off the Great Whale.
posted by Mo Nickels at 5:15 PM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

The article linked actually says 2 years, not one.

Police linked similar transfers of between £1,140 and £7,160 to the other six members of the gang, and uncovered a total of at least £100,000 that was sent over the previous two years.

That said, the number is wholly meaningless. There is really no way of telling by the dollars sent back to Bulgaria what this gang actually gained. Credit fraud would strike me as the biggest take from this kind of predation. As is almost always true with most criminal enterprises, the chances are that it's very difficult to measure this. A quick Google search revealed this; which gibes with my gut instinct about this kind of thing.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:52 PM on January 14, 2011

I would guess you COULD make a lot more per day than the average pickpocket ACTUALLY makes. For one thing, most people with so few career options as to turn to pickpocketing probably don't have the world's greatest work ethic. For another, the more you steal, the higher risk you are at of being caught. So you'd presumably steal the minimum you need (either to survive on, or to score whatever drug you are after, or to satisfy your gang boss.)

(I made all that stuff up because I know nothing about crime - organised or disorganised. But it still strikes me as common sense.)
posted by lollusc at 10:02 PM on January 14, 2011

Hi again! I've known streetside beggars who could make £80-£100/day. One fellow in particular hung around outside the game store I worked in about 15 years ago and at the end of maybe 5-6 hours he'd come inside a drop £45 on a Playstation game*. That was a lot of money - more than I got paid at the time!

Organised groups of criminal pickpockets (who are funnily enough always described in the news as foreign - like it matters!) can make a lot of money a lot quicker than this. I've read about instances of gangs targeting high end clothing stores and making £10K/day from a combination of stolen phones, credit cards, clothing theft/false returns etc. This is the sort of thing that gets you noticed very quickly however. Most criminal enterprises will want to maximise income whilst minimising risk.

What you might see in a lot of instances are individuals working together (doing handoffs and so on) for a ringleader, in many respects a modern day Fagin. They may also be coercing the "dips" with the threat of deportation, rape or violence. A lot of the Eastern European gangs that have made their way to the UK have a lot of connections with existing criminal enterprises and plenty of "horizontal stratification" allowing them to make money from stolen phones, identity and credit cards as well as stolen jewellery.

So far as making a living - yes you can make a living, but not a very good one. This will probably be just one aspect of the criminal groups activities. I am aware that several gangs that act as organised pickpockets are also involved with prostitution, drugs, fencing goods and so on. Just another part of the loose connections that underworld figures often share.

Individuals can probably make more than a gang but it's a lot harder without a team to work with. Without the ability to hand-off to a partner and without a team member for distraction you risk being easily identified as the pickpocket and being caught with the items in question is bad form. Ideally you want a spotter or two, a distraction (or two), a dip and at least one hand-off.

The spotters watch the target and assess the value and risk then take over looking out for the law. The distraction can be a bump or jossling or a full fledged fight. The dip is the one person that takes the item and the hand off is the person the items are passed to. This individual will then hand off to a third person who will then scarper. The team then exits, stage-left - hopefully with the gull no wiser to the dip**.

This same thing has gone on since time immemorial (I'm currently reading Gamini Salgado's "The Elizabethan Underworld" and "Bartholomew Fair" by Ben Jonson) and the tricks used, the criminals and the "gulls" are much the same.

**I love Elizabethan terminology for stealing stuff. Clearly :)
posted by longbaugh at 1:06 PM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

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