Beware of Pickpockets

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* Beware of pickpockets
* Pickpockets love tourists
* Pickpockets could be nicely dressed men,
* … women, or
* … children.

We got together with some friends over the Christmas holidays, and one couple shared what happened to them to remind us to be careful of pickpockets when we travel. They were vacationing in Barcelona. As it was their custom to travel light, they took the subway from the airport to the hotel instead of taking a limo. The wife had her purse strapped to her front and pulled her luggage behind her, while her husband followed one step behind her with his own luggage.

The station was very crowded when the subway train arrived. They waited for the passengers to get off first, and then quickly tried to get in. Two gypsies, a man and a woman, were beside them. The man saw the wife trying to lift her luggage onto the train, so he took hold of the luggage and lifted it high up saying, “Let me help you”. Since he was much taller than her, and her hands were still hanging onto her luggage, her arms were lifted high above her head. At the same time, the gypsy woman tried to squeeze in between the husband and the wife. The husband saw that his wife needed help, so he reached out his arm to grab the luggage, inadvertently pushing the gypsy woman aside.

The woman turned around, and angrily pointed her finger in the husband’s face, saying something in Spanish which our friend did not understand. She did that three times, leaving the husband wondering what he had done that’s so wrong to merit such angry gesture. Meanwhile the gypsy man was still struggling with the husband for the luggage and would not let go. Then a nicely dressed, older passenger seated in the train shouted for the gypsy man to back off. He finally let go of the luggage, gave our friends a dirty look, and both he and the woman got out of the train before the doors closed to leave the station. All this took place within the space of 30 seconds, with hundreds of people around.

After the train pulled out of the station, the nicely dressed man said to the wife, “There are many pickpockets here. Why don’t you check your purse to see if everything is still there?” The wife thought that was a good idea, quickly opened her purse to check, before her husband quietly told her to wait till they get back to the hotel. Everything was still intact, so they thanked the older gentleman for shouting to chase the gypsy man away.

It wasn’t until they settled down in the hotel that the husband, who is a lawyer, realized what might be happening. The two gypsies and the older gentleman were actually a gang working together, with the older man as the ringleader. Since most tourists have been warned to carry their purse/waist-pouch in front of them for maximum security, the only way pickpockets can get at them is for the tourists to raise their arms leaving their purse unprotected. The thieves also need a distraction so that the tourists’ attention is diverted away from their valuables. The gypsy man offering to lift the luggage gave them the golden opportunity. If the wife let go of her luggage, the man will simply grab it and run. If she hanged on to it, the gypsy woman could steal from her purse without being noticed. But because the husband pushed the gypsy woman aside and foiled her attempt, she got angry and swore at the husband. Her threatening finger-pointing was to show the ringleader that she was unsuccessful because the husband disrupted their plan, and that she did not pocket the loot for herself.

The older man was supervising the whole operation, and shouted the gypsy man to back off when he realized they would not succeed this time. But just to make sure that the gypsy woman did not cheat him, he pretended to be helpful by suggesting our friends check everything was there. He will just get off at the next station and wait for another turn to part some unwary tourists from their belongings.

Do not judge people by their appearance. The husband said he would never have suspected the older man because of his business attire and friendly manner. It’s only when he recalled the gypsies glancing at the gentleman as if to seek approval that our friend started to put the pieces together. Thieves are getting more sophisticated. They work in teams and put on a show such that you would not know you have just been robbed. Sometimes several ladies would sell you scarves/jewelry and help you try them on, praising how beautiful you look, while their accomplice would steal from you right under your nose as you are mesmerized by their merchandise. The watchword is still “beware”. It’s the same in the spiritual realm. Jesus said in Mt. 7:15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” Paul echoed the same, 2 Co. 11:14 “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” Many look good on the outside, but are rotten on the inside. Be careful.

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