Daylight robbery for christmas shoppers in pickpockets' paradise

23 November 2015

  • New survey by Nationwide shows cunning tricks used by Britain’s street thieves
  • Mobile phones high on thieves’ wish lists this Christmas
  • Crooks snatch £190 each time, but more than half of victims are uninsured
  • Expert pickpocket video shows how easy it is to steal from unsuspecting public 

With Christmas just over a month away, new research from Nationwide FlexPlus1 reveals Britain’s high streets are a pickpocketing paradise, with thieves pocketing £190 worth of valuables each time they strike.

There were 442,000 theft from the person offences in the year ending June 2015 in England and Wales alone2. Based on the average amount taken, this equates to a potential £84 million stolen each year.

Britain’s biggest building society, which polled just over 2,000 street theft victims, is reminding shoppers to be on their guard during the festive season, particularly as the survey shows thieves seek out items like mobile phones. Handset theft accounts for 15 per cent of all incidents and the average value of each loss is £221. Apple’s iPhone tops the thieves’ wish list, followed by other brands, such as Samsung.

But despite the risk of becoming a target, more than half of pickpocket victims (51%) cover the cost of replacing stolen items themselves because they are uninsured, while only around a fifth of people (22%) maintained they had protected themselves against all potential losses. 

The average pickpocket makes away with around £190 worth of valuables each time, according to the poll. However, nearly a third (30%) of victims are stripped of more than £200, while around a fifth (19%) have items worth over £300 stolen. Eight per cent have possessions worth £500 or more taken.

And despite mobile phones, cash and cards being the most sought after items, opportunist pickpockets will take anything they can lay their hands on. The Nationwide FlexPlus survey uncovered a bizarre list of things stolen. These included: shoes, a comb, a snooker cue, insulin, a briefcase full of regimental ties, Pokémon trading cards, a bag of sweets and even a contraceptive. 

UK pickpocket trends highlighted by the survey shows:

  • Trouser and coat pockets (34%) are the most common place to steal from, followed by theft from a bag worn over the shoulder or on the back (26%) and theft from a bag on the floor or table (18%). 
  • Three quarters (75%) of victims didn’t realise they were being pickpocketed when it happened.
  • Two thirds of victims (66%) were with someone else or a group; a third (32%) were on their own. 
  • Just 19% of culprits were caught, with four in ten victims (40%) not going to the police because they either didn’t think the thief would be caught (25%) or couldn’t be bothered to report it (9%). 
  • More men (56%) have items stolen from their coat or trouser pockets than women (15%), while more women have items stolen from their bag (63%) than men (22%). 

Top pickpocket locations highlighted by the survey:

  • London is by far the most common place for pickpockets to ply their trade according to those that have been a victim of theft, Manchester was second and Birmingham third, while in joint fourth place is Glasgow and Leeds.
  • 20% of thefts happen on the high street, while 27% occur in a busy area. 
  • More than a fifth happen in the daytime (22%) and less than one in eight (12%) take place at night. 
  • A further 9% of incidents are recorded in a pub, compared to one in twenty (5%) in a club.

Dan King, Nationwide’s Head of the FlexPlus Current Account, said: “Christmas and sales events like Black Friday are a perfect opportunity for criminals to fill their festive wishlist. At this time of year people tend to carry more cash on them, making it really easy and lucrative for pickpockets to operate. Mobile phone thefts make up a large percentage of all property stolen on the streets and it's not just the phone itself that is valuable, but also the personal data it contains.

“There are a few simple things people can do to protect themselves if they become a victim of theft, such as installing some easy-to-use apps like ‘find my phone’. It’s also worth considering taking a good quality mobile phone insurance, like that offered as part of the Nationwide FlexPlus current account, to avoid ending up out of pocket.”

Expert pickpocket and entertainer Lee Thompson, who advises the police on street theft techniques, said: “Unfortunately pickpocketing is very common, especially in areas where crowds gather and people are distracted. A good pickpocket understands human psychology and knows people can only direct their attention to one or two things at a time.

“There are ways to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of theft, such as being extra vigilant - if you expect you are being followed, go into a shop or change direction. Be aware of the helpful stranger or group of children who are experts in making conversation to distract you. Don’t look like a tourist, as pickpockets know day-trippers carry lump sums of money, get lost and are distracted easily. Finally, don’t advertise your valuables; keep them out of sight and keep the bare minimum cash and cards in your wallet.”

Nationwide’s FlexPlus current account, which is ranked as the UK’s best packaged account3, offers a range of benefits including worldwide family phone insurance, worldwide family travel insurance, commission-free cash withdrawals abroad, and UK and European breakdown cover, all for just £10 a month.

Notes to Editors

See our video staring Lee Thompson and further tips and advice here.

Video content

Music version:
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  1. Opinium research: total sample size was 2,004 UK adults who have experienced theft. The survey ran from the 19/10/2015 to 22/10/2015.

    Theft from the person offences: 442,000
    Average theft (from Nationwide research): £189.95
    Total value of potential theft: £83,957,900
  3. As awarded by Moneynet 2014.

FlexPlus Key Information

Full information can be found here

Account Eligibility

  1. FlexPlus is open to new and existing customers aged 18 years and over
  2. Single and joint account options available
Account Fee
  • FlexPlus has a £10 per month fee

Credit Interest

  • 3% AER (2.96% gross p.a) on credit balances up to £2,500 
  • Credit interest is not payable on balances over £2,500
  • Worldwide Family Mobile Phone Insurance 
  • Worldwide Family Travel Insurance 
  • Commission-Free Cash Withdrawals Abroad
  • UK and European Breakdown Cover 
  • Extended Warranty Cover 
  • ID Theft Assistance 
  • Worldwide Emergency Card Assistance

Exclusions and limitations apply to all FlexPlus insurances

About Nationwide

Nationwide is the world's largest building society as well as one of the largest savings providers and a top-three provider of mortgages in the UK. It is also a major provider of current accounts, credit cards, ISAs and personal loans. Nationwide has around 15 million customers.

Customers can manage their finances in a branch, via the mobile app, on the telephone, internet and post. The Society has around 18,000 employees. Nationwide's head office is in Swindon with administration centres based in Northampton, Bournemouth and Dunfermline. The Society also has a number of call centres across the UK.

Please note: If you are a customer looking for information on our products and services, please visit the main website.