With Christmas less than a month away, new research from Nationwide FlexPlus1 reveals Britain’s high streets are a pickpocketing paradise, with thieves pocketing £190 worth of valuables each time they strike.
There were 442,000 theft from the person offences in the year ending June 2015 in England and Wales alone2. Based on the average amount taken, this equates to a potential £84 million stolen each year.
Britain’s biggest building society, which polled just over 2,000 street theft victims, is reminding shoppers to be on their guard during the festive season, particularly as the survey shows thieves seek out items like mobile phones. Handset theft accounts for 15 per cent of all incidents and the average value of each loss is £221. Apple’s iPhone tops the thieves’ wish list, followed by other brands, such as Samsung.
But despite the risk of becoming a target, more than half of pickpocket victims (51%) cover the cost of replacing stolen items themselves because they are uninsured, while only around a fifth of people (22%) maintained they had protected themselves against all potential losses.
The average pickpocket makes away with around £190 worth of valuables each time, according to the poll. However, nearly a third (30%) of victims are stripped of more than £200, while around a fifth (19%) have items worth over £300 stolen. Eight per cent have possessions worth £500 or more taken.
And despite mobile phones, cash and cards being the most sought after items, opportunist pickpockets will take anything they can lay their hands on. The Nationwide FlexPlus survey uncovered a bizarre list of things stolen. These included: shoes, a comb, a snooker cue, insulin, a briefcase full of regimental ties, Pokémon trading cards, a bag of sweets and even a contraceptive.
UK pickpocket trends highlighted by the survey shows:
• Trouser and coat pockets (34%) are the most common place to steal from, followed by theft from a bag worn over the shoulder or on the back (26%) and theft from a bag on the floor or table (18%).
• Three quarters (75%) of victims didn’t realise they were being pickpocketed when it happened.
• Two thirds of victims (66%) were with someone else or a group; a third (32%) were on their own.
• Just 19% of culprits were caught, with four in ten victims (40%) not going to the police because they either didn’t think the thief would be caught (25%) or couldn’t be bothered to report it (9%).
• More men (56%) have items stolen from their coat or trouser pockets than women (15%), while more women have items stolen from their bag (63%) than men (22%).
Top pickpocket locations highlighted by the survey:
• London is by far the most common place for pickpockets to ply their trade according to those that have been a victim of theft, Manchester was second and Birmingham third, while in joint fourth place is Glasgow and Leeds.
• 20% of thefts happen on the high street, while 27% occur in a busy area.
• More than a fifth happen in the daytime (22%) and less than one in eight (12%) take place at night.
• A further 9% of incidents are recorded in a pub, compared to one in twenty (5%) in a club.
Dan King, Nationwide’s Head of the FlexPlus Current Account, said: “Christmas and sales events like Black Friday are a perfect opportunity for criminals to fill their festive wishlist. At this time of year people tend to carry more cash on them, making it really easy and lucrative for pickpockets to operate. Mobile phone thefts make up a large pecentage of all property stolen on the streets and it’s not just the phone itself that is valuable, but also the personal data it contains.
“There are a few simple things people can do to protect themselves if they become a victim of theft, such as installing some easy-to-use apps like ‘find my phone’. It’s also worth considering taking a good quality mobile phone insurance, like that offered as part of the Nationwide FlexPlus current account, to avoid ending up out of pocket.”
Expert pickpocket and entertainer Lee Thompson, who advises the police on street theft techniques, said: “Unfortunately pickpocketing is very common, especially in areas where crowds gather and people are distracted. A good pickpocket understands human psychology and knows people can only direct their attention to one or two things at a time.
“There are ways to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of theft, such as being extra vigilant – if you expect you are being followed, go into a shop or change direction. Be aware of the helpful stranger or group of children who are experts in making conversation to distract you. Don’t look like a tourist, as pickpockets know day-trippers carry lump sums of money, get lost and are distracted easily. Finally, don’t advertise your valuables; keep them out of sight and keep the bare minimum cash and cards in your wallet.”