Police issue new pickpocket warning

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Last summer’s wave of pickpocketing in Oslo hasn’t crested with the end of the tourist season. Police say the number of reports of such theft is up 50 percent so far this year, to more than 10,000, even before the next “high season”around the Christmas holidays begins.

“We don’t know why it’s increased so much,” Robert Thorsen of Oslo’s Sentrum police station told newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday.”It can have something to do with the Norwegian economy still being so strong. It can also have something to do with us having too much faith in people and being less careful when we’re here at home.”

Organized bands
Pickpockets are a problem in all European countries, Thorsen said, and Norwegians may be more on guard when out traveling. He links the current rash of pickpocketing, with wallets and mobile phones leading the list of stolen items, to organized bands of eastern Europeans who spend a short period of time in the city before traveling on.

The pickpocket problem already was breaking records last summer, when police reported an “explosion” in incidents of theft. It’s continued unabated, with the pickpockets often working in carefully coordinated groups.

They’re known for spying on people using their bank cards to pay for items or withdraw cash, and watching carefully as careless customers punch in their pin codes. With the code noted, the pickpockets then create a diversion or some other means of snatching the victim’s wallet.

Tricks abound
In one case, a woman said her path off an escalator was blocked by a man purportedly on his knees looking for a coin he’d lost. “I got irritated and asked him to move,” the woman reported. She soon noticed her wallet had been taken from her shoulder bag, and even though she managed to block her account within 10 minutes, the thieves had already succeeded in withdrawing NOK 19,500 in cash (USD 1,800).

Other tricks include pickpockets asking for directions and snatching a wallet or phone during a conversation, or standing in a crowd at a bar waving a 50-kroner note with no intention of buying anything. Instead the pickpocket, usually a man, will use the opportunity to steal from others in line.

Police also caution people against putting mobile phones or other valuables on the table of restaurants, especially sidewalk cafés. Thieves have become adept at grabbing them as they walk by, and then running off.

Thorsen admits that it’s difficult for police to make arrests. There rarely are witnesses, the victims themselves have trouble offering descriptions of their assailants or don’t even know where the theft occurred. Only about 1 percent of all cases are solved, but victims are still urged to file police reports.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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