How Not to Get Snookered by a Geriatric Pickpocket

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New York City pickpockets might be an endangered species, but straphangers shouldn't rest easy -- the Daily News, apparently still nostalgic for the days when getting robbed on the subway was a common (yet whimsical) occurrence, has a profile today on Sherman "O.T." Powell, a 63-year-old "retired" thief who spills some pickpocket tips and says riders and tourists should be particularly alert during the holiday season. Thievery! Festive!

So what should New Yorkers and tourists watch out for, exactly? Your guide, after the jump.

Subways.
A subway train banging and rocking through a dark tunnel, shifting its human cargo as it screeches around curves, creates near-perfect conditions for a deft thief.

Literacy. iPods.
Riders almost universally are lost in thought or distracted -- reading, sleeping, listening to music or daydreaming.

Literate people.
Sometimes in a crowd, Powell would hold a newspaper about waist high with one hand, pretending to read while his other hand, shielded by the newspaper, reached toward a pocket.

Guys who knee you on the subway
Sometimes, Powell would gently push his kneecap into the back of a guy's knee -- his fingertips pinching the top of the man's wallet. The man would buckle slightly then quickly straighten up, his wallet practically lifting itself up and out to Powell's hand.

Line cutters.
And then there was the "sandwich" maneuver. Powell would get behind someone boarding a bus. An accomplice would cut in front of the target and suddenly stop near the farebox. During a brief period of confusion, Powell would take something of value.

Also worth watching out for: old people, street waifs in britches and newsboy caps, and metro reporters with a nostalgic romanticism about the Subway Crimes of Yesteryear. Noted!

[shernandez@villagevoice.com]


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