Fagin, a "paternal" figure, encourages these scamps to scour the streets of London and "pick" the pockets of those pitiful top-hatted rich people. We quietly root for these wee tykes and hum the songs of the award-winnning musical based on Dickens' book in hopes their plight may improve. That is how the story made me feel until three weeks ago--until I got pickpocketed--wallet and mobile phone picked right out of my purse.
Anyone who has experienced the loss of their wallet knows the extent of the nuisance and violation. I humbly confessed my story to friends and colleagues. Everyone offered help and were most supportive. Thank you. Yet a few offered me this counsel: "You ought to be more careful" coupled with, the now classic, "you are a risk manager, you ought to know better."So, as part of my post-traumatic therapy and attempt at exonerating myself, I write this column.
Dexterity and misdirection equal to that of the most talented magicians are used by pickpockets. This fact excuses me slightly since I am no match to a David Copperfield in this area, as few of us likely are.
Clever ruses are used: the "Sandwich" technique--someone in front stops suddenly, and the pickpocket bumps into the mark from behind, lifting their wallet. The "Hugger Muggers" specialize in singing and dancing to distract, before hugging their target and removing items from pockets.
Be wary when you hear someone shout "Watch out for pickpockets!" Our natural response is to reach for our money and this alerts the pickpocket to its location.
Earlier this year we learned of the capture in Britain of several Romanian gang leaders who were discovered to be trafficking more than 1,000 children. They often bought them for as little as a few hundred pounds and were using them to run a theft ring generating up to £1 billion a year.
Overall in Europe, pickpocketing has been on the rise. Some statistics suggest an increase of 20 percent annually and the trend is reaching beyond Europe to North America.
It is clear; we are all becoming increasingly vulnerable to this crime. What can we do to mitigate this risk? The answer is painfully obvious: Apply proven risk control techniques--avoidance, loss prevention, loss reduction, separation, duplication and diversification.
How did I score? Duplication: I gave myself an 'A+.'I consciously brought two credit cards on the trip but I gave myself an 'F' for keeping them both in my wallet. Ouch. Loss reduction: I purged my wallet before traveling, bringing only the cards I would use, scanned them and e-mailed the document to myself. Score would have been 'A+' but I didn't print out the document and later, when needed, I had no access to the Internet?Score 'D-.' Separation: I left some cash back at my hotel, Score: 'B+', but I kept my ATM card in my wallet thus cutting off my cash source to zero after the theft--Score: 'F.'
Final verdict--even though my intention to risk control was genuine, I'll freely admit my execution was quite poor. My colleagues may be right--as an applauded risk manager, I should have done much better.
JOANNA MAKOMASKI is the risk management columnist for Risk & Insurance®. She manages risk for an energy transportation and distribution company.
September 1, 2008
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