Pickpocketing is a form of larceny that involves the stealing of money or other valuables from the person of a victim without their noticing the theft at the time. It requires considerable dexterity and a knack for misdirection. A thief who works in this manner is known as a pickpocket.
As an occupation
Pickpockets and other thieves, especially those working in teams, sometimes apply distraction, such as asking a question or bumping into the victim. These distractions sometimes require sleight of hand, speed, misdirection and other types of skills.
Pickpocketing can be a dangerous trade, since persons aware of the presence of pickpockets in an area may conceal such items as specially designed mousetraps, rat traps or empty decoy wallets on their person. Since pickpockets usually have no way to gauge the contents of a wallet, save by the style of dress of the victim, they must take what they find.
Pickpocket skills are employed by some magicians as a form of entertainment, either by taking an item from a spectator or returning it without their knowledge of having lost it. James Freedman, also known as "The Man of Steal", created the pickpocket sequences for the 2005 film Oliver Twist directed by Roman Polanski. Time Out magazine wrote that Freedman is "possibly the world's best pickpocket". Professional illusionist David Avadon featured pickpocketing as his trademark act for more than 30 years and promoted himself as "a daring pickpocket with dashing finesse" and "the country's premier exhibition pickpocket, one of the few masters in the world of this underground art.". Smith Journal of Australia has described America's Thomas Blacke as one of the top pickpockets in the world.
Famous fictional pickpockets include The Artful Dodger and Fagin, characters from the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist. Famous true-life historical pickpockets include the Irish prostitute Chicago May, who was profiled in books; Mary Frith, nicknamed Moll Cutpurse; the Gubbins band of highwaymen; and Cutting Ball, a notorious Elizabethan thief. George Barrington's escapades, arrests, and trials, were widely chronicled in the late 18th century London press.
- School of Seven Bells — musical group named after a mythical pickpocket academy
- ISBN 0-9744681-6-9. About the history of theatrical pickpocketing.
- Columb, Frank. Chicago May, Queen of the Blackmailers. Cambridge: Evod Academic Publishing Co., 1999.
- King, Betty Nygaard. Hell Hath No Fury: Famous Women in Crime. Ottawa: Borealis Press, 2001. ISBN 0-88887-262-3, ISBN 0-88887-264-X.
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- How Pickpockets Work (How Stuff works)