How do you deal with pickpockets on your event? Who could answer this question more effectively than a thief himself? Dominik Messiaen knows the trade and explains how pickpockets do their business, and how you can combat them.
Hi Dominic, welcome to our studio.
I still have my wallet and my watch.
Yes, you do.
You're a professional thief?
Yep, I work as a pickpocket entertainer at corporate events, mostly.
Before we start in how we can prevent pickpockets, maybe it's interesting you explain us how they work.
Yes, that's a good idea. Pickpockets in events mainly work in gangs. And each team member has a specific role. There is a blocker, that's the person who blocks the path of the victim, and who provides distraction. Then you have the cannon or the pickpocket, who steals the wallet and who hands it immediately to a shade. That's the person who hides the wallet under the coat, or in a newspaper, or in a bag. And immediately after that they split up and go into different directions. They disappear. Now very crucial for pickpockets is misdirection. And a pickpocket entertainer can use whatever pretense. He can be a security agents, or he can use magic.But a street or event pickpocket needs natural misdirection, where there is a lot of bumping. And that's why they love large crowds and crowds where people are pressed together. Like with bottlenecks, where they have to squeeze to get through an opening, through an entrance.
And can you recognize them?
Well, at first sight you can't, because they look like you and me. They are normal people. But you can recognize them by their tools and mostly by their behavior. With tools, I mean they need to hide their actions. That means mostly they have a long coat with them, or a newspaper, or a menu card, depending on the circumstances, or a bag.
But that can still be anyone.
Yep. And that's why you have to look at the behavior of the people. At events most people are relaxed, or having a good time, or laughing. And pickpockets not. They are working, they are focused. They are scanning the crowd for a good target, and you can recognize them by that. And there is also specific behavior at events. For instance, if you have a line up for an entrance to get in and someone seems never to get through that entrance, then he is working the crowd. He is stealing. Or if you have a shuttle bus that brings people to event locations, then pickpockets often get on the bus at the front side they work their way through the bus to the back, and at the next stop, as soon as they have hit the target, as they have stolen they get off the bus and disappear.
And as an event organizer, what can you do?
There it's very important that you first realize that as long as people don't pay attention to their stuff, then pickpockets will steal. That's why you first have to inform the people. You must work on prevention. And maybe the best way is to make them experience how easily they can get robbed. So you can hire a pickpocket entertainer who at the entrance as a security staff looks if there are no weapons. In the meantime he steals, he hands back the stuff and then he gives some pieces of advice. And only then, when people are well informed, it then makes sense to take measures to prevent pick pockets.
And informing them, what's the best way to do that?
Well you can best send an email shortly before the event, one or two days before. And in that mail you warn that there might be pickpockets. And you give some pieces of advice. You can also include video links with the most common techniques. Now to describe each technique here, that would take far too much time. That's why I made a special page where you find all the tips and pieces of advice.
We will put a link below the video.
Yep, yep. So that's what you best can do shortly before the event, you send an email.
So you've informed your guests. Is there anything else you can do?
Yeah, you can use modern technology and there are several ways to do so. Unfortunately, there are no event apps as far as I know, that focus on security features.But some, like the one offered by CrowdCompass, can be used as such.
And that's because they offer the possibility to use push messages and beacons. And beacons are smart devices that you can put on a door or on a wall and using Bluetooth. Those smart devices, those beacons, can determine the exact location of people and objects. And if you would combine that with a protag, that's something I will explain in a second, then you can even determine the exact position of stolen objects. The protag, that's an idea, that's not realized for the moment so we must wait for an app builder who...
And what is a protag exactly?
I will show you, I have one for my keys. A protag is a smart device that was devised to find back lost keys. But you can also use it to find back stolen items. You attach it on your keys, you put it in the handbag at the bottom, or in your wallet. And it works together with your smartphone. And it uses Bluetooth to communicate and when they are separated at about ten meters then they both give away a signal. When a pickpocket has a wallet in his hands and it starts to buzz or to give away a signal, he will immediately leave it. He won't take the risk to get caught red handed. So that's very practical. And if you feel immediately that you were robbed, you can also actively make the protag or the phone buzz. Here with the button and here with the app.
And should you also ask your visitors to inform you whenever something happens, because that's going to help?
Yep, indeed, that's a very good idea. An idea that's also used by the police to prevent home theft, and that's to create a WhatsApp security group.
And when you send the email, with a warning, you invite the people to join the group and you insist on using it only for security alerts. Otherwise they get lost between the messages. So only for security alerts. And you also ask the victims that they specify the date or the time and the location of the theft, the modus operandi. And if they recognize the thief, that they give a description.
So the organizer can act on it, and the security people. -Yep, and the victims too.
That's the big advantage of WhatsApp. It's free, and it works in both directions, what saves time.
But then they need to subscribe to the group, of course.
Yep, that's best. But that doesn't take a lot of time.
You gave some tips on what we could do, are there things we shouldn't do?
Yep. You should avoid bottlenecks, as I said, but you can't always do that. If you have an escalator, or if you...
Or an entrance.
An entrance, yeah.
Sometimes, if it's outside, you can make the entrance larger. Or make several rows. But indeed, sometimes you can't. If it is a building and the door is there, you can't do it. But then it's a good idea to place a security agent in uniform there. That's to discourage the pickpockets. And in addition, you can also ask a volunteer or someone from the organization who is not too much like a bodybuilder...
Are they afraid of bodybuilders?
Yeah, pickpockets... If you have a police agent, for instance, or a security agent and he looks like a bodybuilder, and he has the eyes of a hawk, then a pickpocket won't take the risk. But if you have a thin, fragile man or a woman who has a wallet, plain of paper and a protag that sticks out of the hip pocket, then he's an easy target. And if he goes in the crowd he will be stolen, normally. And then he can alert the security staff that helps with the intervention. And there is maybe one final tip that is very important, that a lot of people do: don't place warning signals on the location.
That's a strange tip. I would think that would be a good thing.
No. Because when people see a warning sign, they will feel where is their wallet. And pickpockets stand there and then they signal to their other thieves where is the wallet and they know where to go.
Dominic, thank you very much for coming over to the studio.
It was my pleasure.
And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.