physical barriers to pickpocketing
February 19, 2012 5:57 PM   Subscribe

What can I do to my existing pairs of jeans to prevent pick-pocketing?

I'd like to feel less vulnerable to pickpocketing while traversing busy cities, public transit, airports, and nightclubs. I'm particularly concerned with protecting my wallet, keys, and smart phone in my pants pockets. I've never had any incidents, but I think it's time I start actively planning to keep it that way.

Are there modifications I can make to the front pockets of my existing jeans to deter pickpocketing? A discreet zipper might be nice, except for when I have to actually reach in and retrieve something without injuring my hand. I just saw this article about tactical jeans, but I like the jeans I already have. There's the option of putting additional things in the way of my pocketed valuables, but my pockets are full enough already. A cheap approach (in both cost and appearance) would be to close off pockets with safety pins. A money belt doesn't effectively solve the problem for my keychain or my smart phone, and sounds uncomfortable.

A lot of other "prevent pickpocketing" advice I've read is situational, which is helpful and worth reviewing, but I'm seeking an effective physical barrier to make me a poor target.

Do you have any suggestions?
posted by germdisco to Grab Bag (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I keep things in diffrent places: pants, bag, coat.

I would say don't carry anything in your back pockets and be super aware of your surroundings while you are out.
posted by brujita at 6:03 PM on February 19, 2012

Big, huge 'prop' wallet sticking out of your back pocket filled with monopoly money.
posted by marimeko at 6:03 PM on February 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Pocket buttons! At the top of the pockets, to be precise. Pick buttons you like (or cannibalise them off older garments), and make hand-finished buttonholes on the outer layer of fabric.
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:05 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sewing strips velcro to the inside of the pockets right at the opening? Makes a bit of noise that can either be good or bad.
posted by tipsyBumblebee at 6:09 PM on February 19, 2012

Sew in internal (that is, inside-the-waist) pockets.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:10 PM on February 19, 2012

I have heard, anecdotally, that wrapping a rubber band around your wallet will add enough friction to keep it from being easily picked. I know from experience that putting a silicone-type skin on my iPhone makes it nearly impossible to casually slip out of a pocket.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:13 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Add snaps.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:16 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I understand pickpockets target rear pockets primarily. Nothing in your rear pockets? You may not have outrun the bear, but you have outrun everyone else.
posted by pmb at 6:28 PM on February 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

+1 to putting everything in the front pockets. And after a while, you realize just how uncomfortable it really is to have a bulky wallet in your back pocket, especially when sitting down.
posted by johnstein at 6:38 PM on February 19, 2012

Response by poster: Yep, I keep valuables in my front pockets already.
posted by germdisco at 6:41 PM on February 19, 2012

If your valuables are in your front pockets the only way you are going to be pick pocketed is if it is proceeded by an assault. In which neither snaps, tactical jeans, nor any other hack is going to help anyway.
posted by COD at 6:54 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Those magnetic snaps may cause your smartphone to go into car mode or otherwise fool with magnetic stuff. Better to use for realz snaps.
posted by fake at 7:07 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I definitely like the idea of snaps. I think I'll hit up some craft stores sometime soon to try it out on a pair of jeans. Even though the need for the physical deterrent might be minimal, it'll bring me more peace of mind for a tiny investment.
posted by germdisco at 7:10 PM on February 19, 2012

I would not do the "prop" wallet suggested above. I would put the real wallet in the front pocket (or in a tactical shirt) and a decoy wallet containing $12 or so in the back pocket.
posted by megatherium at 8:07 PM on February 19, 2012

You keep your valuables in your front pockets and you're worried someone is going to take them without you noticing? That's what pickpocketing is. If you're worried about some other way of someone taking your stuff, COD's comment has you covered.
posted by cardioid at 8:35 PM on February 19, 2012

If your valuables are in your front pockets the only way you are going to be pick pocketed is if it is proceeded by an assault. In which neither snaps, tactical jeans, nor any other hack is going to help anyway.

That's not really true.

The TV & movie trope of pickpocketing is a super-light-fingered stealth approach where you don't even notice anything happening, but my experience of (attempted) pickpocketing in Indonesia, Morocco & Ethiopia is that it's normally a "distraction" approach - somebody gets all up in your face doing something "jokey" or perhaps wiping you down after "accidentally" spilling something on you, while his/her partner in crime sneaks in from another angle, swipes your wallet & disappears. By the time you notice (relatively quickly) that something happened, you don't know who did it. Well, that's the theory anyway.

When travelling, I often wear pants with a zippered wallet pocket. I still remember the look of "WTF?!??" on a guys' face in Ethiopia, when his young teenaged companions started "sparring" with me in mock kung fu playing, whereupon he slipped his hand past the zippered pocket & into an outer unzippered one...came away with nothing except "But how? I felt that wallet right there!!!"
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:34 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've been approached by pickpockets three times. The first two in New Orleans, and the third in Naples, Italy. All three were thwarted.

Pickpockets are either friendly or fast. None of them were skilled enough to put their fingers in my pocket without noticing, so that may be an urban legend.

One of the New Orleans pick-pockets was a pretty woman who, ahh, felt me up as she declared, "You look cool!" I am a nerd in a hawaiian shirt, I do not look cool. This put me on alert, as a split second later, I felt her fingertips dip into my back pockets. She was gone in a flash, dissolved into the crowd. If I kept my wallet back there, it would have been gone.

The other two actually tried for my wallet up front. One was a friendly happy guy, and to my later shock, actually charmed his way out of a serious situation with me. Pure charisma, and if I wasn't paranoid, I would have shrugged off his hand in my pocket until it was too late. I caught him, tho, and he turned it into a buddy-buddy bonding moment. Amazing. I don't think snaps or a zipper would have helped, here. Only awareness, and even then, barely just.

The woman in Italy was blonde and fit and well-dressed and bumped me idly in passing. The tour guides all tell you to look out for Gypsy pick-pockets. Well, I saw a few Roma buskers, but it was the nordic looking lady who tried to take my wallet, her hand was insanely quick, in and out, and she ducked into a crowded fast-food place before I could even turn around. I think she was checking to see if I used a large, european sized billfold she could fish out without any trouble. Too bad for her I use a "taxi wallet" which is small and nestles deep into the front pocket.

I think if you use a small wallet, and keep it up front, you'll be OK. I use a small-ish smartphone (first gen Droid), and that lives in the front pocket with the wallet. The other pocket has the keys and the Opinel pocket knife. All of my stuff is too deep to snag on the fly.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:38 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

How about a money belt?
posted by Carol Anne at 6:17 AM on February 20, 2012

Response by poster: "A money belt doesn't effectively solve the problem for my keychain or my smart phone, and sounds uncomfortable."
posted by germdisco at 8:52 AM on February 20, 2012

I've done a lot of travelling in places where pickpocketing is a big thing. There is some preparation involved, but awareness is really the key.

I got a neck wallet for the really important stuff, but that's not convenient for things you're going to be pulling out and using frequently. Just put that stuff in front pockets, never in inside or outside (unbuttoned) jacket pockets. That's the easiest for a pickpocket. Most importantly, though, be aware of their tricks.

Pickpocketing isn't done by wizards. They can distract you tactilely with the old, "oops, I bumped into you excuse me," routine, which works for watches or rings sometimes if they're really good and jacket pockets, purses or maybe something hanging out of your pocket. This can be almost completely prevented by keeping things in your front pockets.

They can do it in a crowd situation where they have time to work something out of your pocket, but that's still much harder to do from a front pocket. Is someone closer to you than they need to be? Turn to face them and/or say quietly and not really particularly in their direction, "nope," or "I see you," or just give a meaningful look, and they'll disappear. This can be almost completely prevented by situational awareness.

There's also the snatch, which can really only be defended against by awareness. Fortunately, it's the easiest to spot and I think the least common in the US unless we're talking bag snatching. I've run into this in the form of a crowd of kids surrounding you and you find a bunch of hands in your pockets, they they scatter and run with whatever they got. You look at them and say, "no, no, no!" or smile and shake your head as if to say, "I know what you're up to!" and shove your hands in your pockets. Again, situational awareness.

The first, you'll never know whether you've prevented an occurrence or not, but the second two are very easy to spot and, really, kind of fun to foil. I've actually gotten a little nod from someone who'd been trying to crowd too close for a minute or two after I indicated I knew what he was doing and before he left to find another mark. In the handfull of situations where I had to deflect a crowd of kids, they all giggled and changed course. It's a little spy-like or something. Like being in on the game and winning.

I've never had anything pickpocketed from me, though I did have a roller bag snatched once on a train platform in China. I chased him down and he tried to get me to tip him when I cornered him.
posted by cmoj at 11:10 AM on February 20, 2012

Oh, and I also sometimes wore cargo type pants with snap, zipper, or button closures on front pockets. Those are deterrents, but no one is effective against all kinds. The bump-into will defeat a snap. The sidle-up can defeat any of them, as can the crowd.
posted by cmoj at 11:13 AM on February 20, 2012

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