Separating the Weak from the Herd
Updated: Jan 6
I have no qualifications in psychology whatsoever - I thought it best to make that clear from the outset! However, a lifetime of identifying people's frailties and weaknesses has given me a useful insight into how I can create and develop situations from which I can ultimately scam people and make money. That said, I do my darnedest not to come into physical contact with any of my victims.
A few weeks ago (in a brief lull between lockdowns) 'a friend' was sitting in a coffee shop just off Oxford Street in the West End of London waiting for someone to bring him a stack of 50 cloned debit cards.He was going to hit the ATMs with a vengeance and as each ordinarily allows the owner to draw out a maximum of £300 per day, he was hoping to net somewhere between £10,000 and £15,000. Some of the less well off and legitimate owners of the cards might have less than £300 in their accounts so he might get considerably less in some cases. Then again, who is he to moan??
Sitting in the opposite corner was a swarthy looking guy in a well worn leather jacket, tee shirt, jeans and trainers. He was surrounded by 3 younger guys all casually dressed and clearly in awe of the older guy. From the way in which he was observing people at the bus stop less than 15 yards away, he had to be either an undercover ticket inspector (highly unlikely) or a thief (very likely). Every so often, the older guy would point to either a pedestrian walking by or at someone in the bus queue. He would then say something to his rapt audience and they would nod enthusiastically in return. This continued for about 15 minutes until my friend's delivery arrived and he left. He had a reasonable day at the ATMs and took home a disappointing £9,000 of other people’s money. Quite a few of the cards related to accounts which had no money at all. Have people lost the ability to budget? How do these people survive? It makes his job very difficult at times.
Last week he went to the same coffee shop to await another delivery of cloned cards. He got there early and noticed the same guy in the leather jacket sitting in the same seat. Once again he was surrounded by younger guys and this time there was also a young girl. He received a text advising him that his delivery was going to be late due to a problem with the Underground so he decided to watch this little group who were clearly up to no good.
Things followed much the same format as last time and his acolytes appeared to hang on his every word. After about 30 minutes his delivery arrived and this coincided with an exodus of the group - other than the older guy. My friend stood up to leave whereupon the guy in the leather jacket smiled at him and said, ‘If there is anything else you need, speak to me first’ he feigned a puzzled expression which clearly did nothing to put him off as he then said ‘ We are in a similar line of work, but I have now retired from doing things myself - so now I only teach’ My friend's curiosity got the better of him so he smiled and agreed to have another coffee with his new friend.
He told him that his name was ‘Dave’ which was surprising given his heavy Eastern European accent but he was very relaxed. He peeled off a £20 not from a thick wad to pay for the coffee and they sat back down in his usual spot. He explained that at 34 he was too old and too well known to be going into people’s pockets and handbags but he was happy to pass on the benefit of his experience to his younger ‘apprentice’s' for £50 for a 30 minute ‘masterclass’ He also acted as a handler for some of the stolen items; apparently jewellery is his specialty.
He was clearly proud of his knowledge and abilities and was happy to boast of previous successes. He knew only too well that the dedicated police pickpocket teams recognised him and made his life a misery, constantly stopping and searching him whenever he was seen in the West End or on the Underground. Have these people never heard of civil liberties?? He added that Police Officers were often just as easy to spot as they were the only ones who made direct eye contact with him and his team. Everyone else does the typically British thing of looking away or sticking their head in a book.
My friend asked him how he advises his trainees to select their victims, however, he turned the question around and asked him how (as a fellow ‘entrepreneur’) he would advise his own son or daughter to behave to avoid becoming one of his victims. He laughed and told him to imagine I was watching a wildlife program on television. The pedestrians and passengers were the herd of antelope at the watering hole and his trainees were the big cats stalking them. He advised his trainees to look out for those who might as well have a sign on their foreheads saying ‘victim’ He pushed him to explain things further, and like any good teacher he produced his training aid - a napkin with 5 letter ‘P’s on it.
P - Perception Some people’s perception is really well developed, others wander around oblivious to the threats life in general poses. If someone naively thinks they are perfectly safe, nothing you can do will persuade them otherwise. These people make great targets. The opposite is also true, those who are clearly switched on are a waste of time as they will work out whats going on and take steps to avoid becoming a victim.
P - Pay attention Whilst not a big fan of music, ‘Dave’ loves headphones as they distract the user from what is going on around them. If you are not paying attention your opportunity to recognise the threat is hugely diminished.
P - Plan ahead We all know those who deal with things as they arise. In Dave’s world, someone who is clearly lost is a great target. They are out of their comfort zone and have failed to think things through. They can be befriended by a ‘helpful’ fellow tourist whilst their partner gently unzips their bag to remove their wallet/purse.
P - Put away your valuables With some mobile phones costing over £1,000 you do not have to have a load of bling on show to make you a worthwhile target. Apparently youngsters are the worst as they can’t resist showing off their sparkles.
P - Purposeful Walk According to Dave, you can tell a great deal about someone from the way in which they walk. A gangly nervous walk suggests that you are unsure of yourself and if they actually noticed someone attempting to steal from them they would not resist. Conversely, those who had a strong and determined stride were likely to be strong willed and ‘on point’ as Dave put it. Dave advises his trainees to avoid these people like the plague.
Dave is clearly an accomplished albeit retired thief. He is not only willing and able to pass on the benefit of his experience like some latter-day Fagin, he uses training materials to explain support his thinking. Like all good businessmen, he has seen a gap in the market - and filled it. Perhaps I’m missing a trick myself?