A cautionary tale for holiday shoppers about pickpockets

  • Written by Claudia Parker


   Shoppers, be on alert this holiday season. Don’t be a target. I was recently pickpocketed!

     Yep, it happened just like in the movies. I was a distracted shopper and a man bumped into me while thumbing through merchandise. When it happened, I was trying to narrow down a pile of items I’d collected to the “one” I could afford.

    The pathetic part about this is…it was a thrift store!

Don’t judge me. My husband, Don, and I are two payments away from paying off his student loan. Let me tell you -- that educational doctoral degree didn’t come with a secondhand price tag.

    As I was saying, the person I presume stole from me worked at the establishment. He was pushing a big, industrial broom through the store. I noticed him watching me but figured it was because I was in the path he wanted to sweep. As I lifted my selected item for final examination, he bumped me. “Excuse me,” he said, continuing down the aisle shuffling debris.

   I sensed something wasn’t right about him and immediately felt for my wallet, which was inside my front jacket pocket. It was there. Relief set in, but briefly. He didn’t get my wallet, it was my cellphone. I’d made a call to Don just minutes earlier. It was clipped to my hip.

I felt a rush of panic. The store was about to close. The store manager kept repeating, “15 minutes, the store will be closing in 15 minutes!” She broadcasted every remaining minute down to the last one. I know because I refused to leave the store until they started locking the doors.

And yes, I confronted the man but I didn’t overtly accuse him. I had no proof. I was subtle. “Sir, did you happen to see my phone fall when you bumped me a moment ago,” I asked?

   He looked at me as though he didn’t comprehend. I stared back. It was as if we were sizing each other up, trying to gauge how much the other “really” knew.

“No. I didn’t see your phone,” he said after what seemed like five minutes. “Trace your steps. Want me to call your number,” he asked?

It just so happened my phone was on vibrate with only a sliver of battery life. Trying to call it served no purpose.

“It’s an old, beat up, Blackberry and the face is cracked,” I said to the alleged thief. “It has no resale value. It isn’t useful to anyone but me.”

Don had been riding me to replace that phone. “Babe. Seriously? Don’t pull that thing out in front of anybody! It’s an embarrassment to your profession,” he’d tell me.

Completely undeterred by his disapproval, “Who would actually care,” I wondered? Yes, it was old, cracked, with minimal functionality but it served its purpose.

After not being able to reason with “the swiping sweeper,” I urged help from the store manager. She was of little assistance. “Leave your name and number. If it turns up, we’ll call you,” she said.

She barely even looked at me. She was busy trying to balance the register while barking orders to the staff. I was the only customer left.

“How? This is my only source of communication. Just call my husband,” I replied, while writing Don’s number on the paper.

One of the workers noticed my pitiful demeanor.

   “People lose their phones in here a lot. We clean good at night, we’ll find it,” she assured me. “A lady called the police on us the other night. She swore our guy who sweeps the floor stole her phone. She ended up apologizing because he’s the one who helped her find it. It was on a shelf near where she’d been shopping.”

   That little tidbit of information didn’t put me at ease, it solidified my suspicion. I went back over to him, “Please help me find my phone,” I begged.

He did that glazed eye stare again. “Tomorrow, maybe tomorrow we’ll find it. Come back then,” he suggested.

   Tomorrow came and went. I revisited and called the store and was told it hadn’t been found. I had my brand new phone all of three hours when Don announced, “I just got a call from a lady who has your phone.”

   It was retrieved from a private residence who claimed they weren’t affiliated with the thrift store. The interesting thing here is that I’d already ceased the service to that line. Only someone who worked there would’ve known to call Don. However, I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. I had the best scenario of a bad situation -- a new, modern phone without having to grieve the loss of the information stored in my dusty, cracked, old phone.

A few tips to consider:

   *   Back pockets leave you most vulnerable, which is where my phone was clipped. Store valuables in front pockets.

*         Don’t fiddle where your belongings are, it can tip off the perpetrator.

*       Don’t count cash in public.

*         Avoid pulling your wallet out in front of panhandlers.

*         Shorten straps on purses or bags and keep them closest to your person, near the front.

*         Leave nothing unattended.