A woman is sitting in her favorite coffee shop on Michigan Avenue when a man who appears to be lost asks where a specific store is. Meanwhile, his partner creeps behind her with her laptop in hand. She didn’t even know what had happened.
This is just one of the scenarios Chicago police officers are warning the public about, with the official holiday shopping season beginning next week.[pullquote]Avoid these pickpocket tricks[/pullquote]
“Don’t make yourself a target,” Chicago Police Lt. Thomas J. Clark said. He added that many victims are often too distracted on their electronic devices to be aware of their surroundings.
“Pickpockets are opportunists,” Clark said.
Police officers offered tips for shoppers to prevent theft during the holidays Wednesday at the District 1 headquarters. They said many pickpockets work in groups. Sgt. Michael Jones demonstrated different scenarios in which a victim is distracted while another grabs the victim’s personal items.
“It could be from two to six people working in a group of thieves,” Jones said. “They very seldom work alone.”
Clark also warns that tourists are more often victims of theft than locals because they are unaware and unfamiliar with their surroundings.
Chelsey Villarmarze, 20, a student at Harold Washington College, is originally from Miami and has only lived in Chicago for five months. She is staying in Chicago over the holidays and admits to being paranoid while doing her Christmas shopping. She tries to she keep her items close to her, she said, describing herself as “usually really anxious.”
Anthropologist Abigail Conrad, a resident visiting from Washington, D.C., said she hadn’t heard anything particular about thefts in Chicago prior to her arrival for a conference this week.
“I think it’s a risk that happens everywhere,” Conrad said.
Dvera Saxton, a visiting anthropologist from Boston, said people often overact. She said her mixed income neighborhood in Boston receives the same concern as Chicago does in regards to safety.
“I never feel unsafe,” Saxton said.
Isabel Corriea, a promoter for The Holiday Hub at the shopping center Block Thirty Seven on State Street, uses an Apple iPad to show visitors events happening in the center. In order to keep her belongings safe, she attaches the power cord to the wall as extra security.
“I’m sitting here as well,” Corriea said. “I’m trying to avoid someone taking the iPad.”
Clark said that pickpocket numbers are down from last year. Robberies in Chicago are down by 2 percent from last year and 7 percent from 2011, according to Chicago Police. However, specific data for tracking items stolen is not documented. He said that the public should still always be aware no matter the situation.
“Situational awareness will get you through everything,” Clark said.
Sylvia Obén and Christa Smith contributed to this story.