Alternative Summer Jobs, Volume 1: Pickpocketing

by John

Being home for the summer can be immensely liberating if your parents are stinking rich, as you don’t need to get a job and you can use their money to fuck off to Monte Carlo in a big bloody yacht to snort cocaine – cut with gold and platinum shavings – out of a top hat made of caviar. However, if you’re not a University of Manchester student, you’re probably going to have to get a job to support your lavish lifestyle of remaining clothed, fed and sheltered. You may have noticed that there are officially no jobs available anywhere – the pub I once worked in for two and a half years can’t offer me work over the summer, and apparently it’s not because of all the thieving I did before I left; apparently it’s bad all over the job market. And when the time comes to dish out jobs, students are at the bottom of the pile – who wants somebody who can only work for three months?

So basically the vast majority of us are going to be unemployed this summer – with the exception of those lucky few who will land jobs with University of Manchester students (either as butlers, stablekeeps, or vagrants who are sporadically brought into the dining quarters in manacles and forced to dance for pennies), we will have to find other ways to make money. But how?

Allow this series of articles to inform and entertain as you consider your options for the summer of unemployment.


Pickpocketing is one of the oldest professions there is – as long as there have been people, there have been other people to steal their mobile phones and watches while on a crowded bus. It is a noble and prestigious art-form, and an ideal (not to mention) lucrative career for anybody who is independent, flexible, and enjoys being their own boss.

What can I earn?

That depends entirely on how much you steal – let’s say an average wallet has £25 in it (potentially more if you work Salford Quays, Deansgate, or the University of Manchester Student’s Union), and you pull ten wallets an hour, you will make nearly as much money per hour as a PULP writer does per article. If you need a thousand pounds, a week of solid pickpocketing should get you there with plenty of money and watches to spare.

What do I need?

- Dexterity. You don’t need to be a sleight of hand artist, but ideally you should be steady-handed, and able to both talk and pick things up at the same time. This is of paramount importance – if you’re the sort of person who is forever dropping things, fumbling catches, or stepping on your own hands by accident as you walk down the street, this may not be the job for you. Not to worry, we have plenty more suggestions coming over the next few weeks, some of which require no hands at all.

- An alibi. You should always ideally have an accomplice who can verify that you were somewhere else while you were working – why not befriend another pickpocket and be alibuddies? If this is not viable, draw a fake moustache on yourself with pen. This will make it more difficult for the authorities to identify you.

How To Steal…


Step 1: Approach the mark (this is the term given to the victims of your thievery, regardless of their actual christian name) and extend your hand for a handshake. This is an automatic response, so they will comply even if they’ve never met you before.

Step 2: Make a polite greeting, introduce yourself (pro tip: use a fake name, and whatever you do, do not tell him your home address/criminal hideout). Discuss normal things such as the weather, and what a pleasant/unpleasant/other day it is. It is absolutely crucial not to make any mention of the watch (“that’s a nice watch” and “I bet you get people trying to steal that thing all the time” are examples of what should not be said at this moment) as you distract his attention with trivial banalities. What comes next is called tactile misdirection, where you use one hand to direct attention away from what your other hand is really doing. Magicians will already be familiar with this concept, as will rapists.

Step 3: This is where our tactile misdirection comes in. Comment on how strong his wrists look – “I bet you have really strong wrists” is a good example. Be sincere, otherwise this comment will seem suspicious.

Step 4: Offer to squeeze them.

Step 5: As you squeeze them – continually complimenting him on his exemplary forearm muscles, and asking if he has ever considered modeling cufflinks professionally or part time – using the print of your middle finger, pull the strap out of the buckle and pull it away from the pin, which should fall away by itself. Then – holding the strap at an angle so the holes do not catch the pin again on the way out – feed the strap out through the buckle. The watch is now ready to be removed. This must be done completely naturally and in a relaxed tone, as if you were squeezing the wrists of an acquaintance.

Step 6: More misdirection must be applied at this point. Point at a nearby dustbin and exclaim “is that a canoeist?” (if a canoeist happens to be nearby, use your own example). This will confuse the mark as he attempts to find the canoeist. As he does, slide the watch off his wrist and pocket it.

Step 7: Run away, making sure to rub the mustache off.


Step 1: Get on a crowded bus. These may be more difficult to find now that the students have gone home, so perhaps this is best done on a Friday or Saturday night in the city. Drunkards don’t feel a thing.

Step 2: Bump into somebody and “accidentally” grab their shoulder with your non-pickpocketing hand. Again, this is tactile misdirection, so you want them to focus somewhere other than where your other hand is about to go – saying or doing anything that draws attention to the wallet is generally considered poor form, even if it’s phrased negatively, e.g. “don’t think about your wallet mate” or “your wallet is the least of my concerns during this moment of mild embarrassment”. Saying things like this will not have the reassuring affect that some pickpockets think it will – if anything, it draws suspicion to the areas in question. If you must say something it should be completely unrelated to the wallet, although ideally you should remain silent. To assist with the direction of attention, the hand should ideally be a little too moist or very cold so it is noticeably unpleasant to the mark.

Step 3: While all the attention is on your wet hand and their shoulder, use your free hand to dip into their pocket and remove the wallet. This can be achieved by gently gliding your hand into the pocket and – using your index and middle fingers – gripping the wallet in a scissor grip before slowly sliding it out.

Step 4: If the wallet gets stuck or is so fattened with riches that it proves a challenge, pull the mark’s trousers down a little to relieve the tension around the area. Disguise this as an attempt to regain your balance. However, if you do decide to mask it in this manner, you can’t pull their trousers down any further than their knees otherwise it becomes rather obvious that you aren’t doing this to steady yourself.

Step 5: Once the wallet is in your possession, get off the bus at the next stop – you can only do this once per journey, as commuters do tend to notice this behaviour. To save money on future trips, attempt to steal a bus pass.

Mobile Phones

Step 1: Find somebody who is on the phone and walking; the more engrossing and obviously banal the conversation, the better.

Step 2: Bump into their shoulder from behind. Tactile misdirection.

Step 3: During this vital off-beat, gently remove their phone from their hand and replace it with a cassette player that you prepared at home. Inside this is a cassette that you pre-recorded, playing general phonecall-type noises so the mark does not notice their phone is gone. This shouldn’t be anything too specific – possibly just yourself going “mmhmm… oh totally… yeah, me too” and so forth (near the beginning of the tape you may wish to include “what happened there? Oh, aren’t people rude?” as the mark will more than likely mention you bumping into them, and will expect an appropriate response from the person they perceive to be on the other end of the phone). This is the only part of the job that requires an investment on your part, but when you consider the cost of a portable cassette player and a cassette against what that phone will be worth, the benefits are obvious. However, for this reason I would suggest sticking to smartphones, as some phones are not worth the cost of a cassette player and a blank tape.

Step 4: While the mark converses with the cassette player (this can last anywhere between five to ten minutes depending on how good your recording was and how self-absorbed they are), affect a voice similar to that of the mark and bring the conversation on their phone to a natural end as you walk away. That way, the person on the other end will have no recollection of anything suspicious happening, and their testimony will be extremely questionable should a police inquiry be made.

Step 5: To save money on future outings, try to keep a note of where the mark went after you took their phone – they should still have the cassette player on them, so it’s simply a matter of re-approaching them a few hours later and pickpocketing your cassette player back (you can use an adaptation of the wallet steal for this, because unless they’re remarkably self-absorbed they probably won’t still be listening to it by their ear). All you need to do is whip your trusty pen out, adjust your disguise a little and go for it.

Final Points

As a rule of thumb, it is generally frowned upon to pickpocket from people poorer than yourself – Big Issue vendors and tramps are a no-no due to both the moral and hygienic depravity involved. Other unsuitable groups include disableds, gun owners, and other pickpockets, as this can lead to a feedback loop that can potentially last for weeks.

Getting caught can be a trifle risky, as people are generally quite negative about the whole idea of having their valuables taken from them without asking. Getting caught can lead to anything from a severe talking to about the decay of modern society to a knife through the eye, so be sure to avoid anybody who looks dangerous or preachy.

One way to safeguard yourself against prosecution is to carry Jiffy bags with your name and address on them and enough stamps to cover postage costs, and then – once you’ve stolen a wallet or a watch, packed it up and popped it in the postbox – you’re completely free of any incriminating evidence. Assuming, of course, that you actually post the items to yourself as soon as you steal them; it’s no good just putting them in the jiffy bags then keeping them, because then – if you are stopped by any Johnny Q. Laws or Suzanne B. Keens – what you have on you is a bunch of incriminating evidence clearly labeled with your name and address. This is generally frowned upon in the “biz” (as it’s known in the industry).

Otherwise, there is very little moral ambiguity or danger with such a career – as part of the general family of thievery, it is an esteemed career, rich in cultural heritage. It is also a great social equalizer – it doesn’t matter if you have one penny or a trillion pennies, as long as there are pickpockets, you aren’t safe carrying it anywhere.

All the best in your new career, and be sure to stay tuned for our further guides, which will surely prove to be profitable sidelines to your soon-to-be lucrative pickpocketing career.

John Tucker