NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It is a crime highlighted in the movie “Focus” – actors showing just how easy it is for someone to steal.
And the NYPD said the well-dressed suspects also pulled off the barely noticeable heists.
But in this case, the suspects left behind a scent for police to track. The victims said the suspects wore very strong cologne and targeted high-end restaurants, including Hudson East in the Brookfield Place Mall in Battery Park City, and Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in Tribeca.
“That’s scary if it happens here,” said restaurant patron Robert Ramadi.
The NYPD and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office confirmed the four well-trained alleged pickpockets from overseas were busted last week at the World Trade Center Oculus. But sources said others are likely still operating.
They usually work in choreographed teams with one or more of the con men creating some sort of distraction while another quickly reaches into a coat or purse for a wallet.
“They call it a craft,” said retired NYPD Sgt. Joe Giacalone. “I mean, these are professional thieves.”
Giacalone is now a criminology professor at John Jay College, and he had some insight into the alleged criminals’ modus operandi.
“They’re going to hit these high-end restaurants knowing that people carry a lot of cash with them or have credit cards,” he said.
The suspects were seen on surveillance cameras using stolen credit cards at the Apple Store on 14th Street, less than an hour after taking them.
Fourteen victims got hit for $70.000 in electronics since last August.
Experts said men should keep wallets in their front pants pocket, or at least button their back pocket – and should never leave valuables in a jacket on the back of a chair.
Women should keep purses closed and zipped, on their laps, in front of them or close to their body with shortened straps. They should avoid chair backs and those under-bar hooks.
And of course, everyone should be aware of their surroundings.
“A lot of people have their head buried in the phone. They’re not even paying attention,” Giacalone said. “And those are the marks that they look for.”