'Tis the season for pickpockets: protect yourself

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A friend of mine recently had his pocket picked in Brussels, which reminded me that the economic downturn and Christmas shopping are a perfect storm setting the stage for a sharp increase in pocket picking. How vulnerable are you to a polished thief? What can you do to minimize your risk?

First, take a few moments to watch this video about how one common pickpocket scheme, the three-way lift, is executed by a polished team of crooks.

Scary, isn't it? How many times during the holiday season do you brush up against someone in line, on the street, in the elevator, or at a restaurant? Every contact, no matter how brief, is an opportunity. And since pickpockets thrive on distraction, the frantic nature of the season provides plenty of opportunity.

Even if you think your wallet is secure in your pocket or a closely-held purse, a thief with a scalpel-sharp knife can slash his way to it without you noticing until it's too late. Other items you carry are also appealing to a thief, such as your cell phone, camera, GPS unit, and check book. So how can you protect yourself from pickpockets?

Take a three-pronged approach.

1. Secure your valuables. Back pockets, fanny packs, purses and the inside pocket of a unfastened jacket are not secure. Start by leaving at home what you don't need. A money belt, worn under your clothing, while awkward, is a good bet. Carry your purse clasped under your arm. Wear a top that can be zipped or buttoned closed and keep it closed over pockets where your valuables reside.

2. Don't act like a chump. The seemingly lost, addled, or drunk attract pickpockets like ants to a picnic. Keep your eyes on the crowd around you and move to create separation from them if possible. If you're with a friend, share your concern and make a pact to look out for one another.

3. Preplan for a loss. Sometimes even the most astute shoppers falls prey to pickpockets. At that point, knowing how to respond quickly can save you a world of headaches. What is your credit card number, and the phone number to report its loss? What about your checking account? Your cell phone account? Did you lose passwords, a house key, a company I.D. badge? Don't delay; the thieves won't.

Make your holiday cheerier by keeping the underworld's fingers out of YOUR pocket.

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