James Freedman’s tips to beat pickpockets

James Freedman. Pic: Comp
James Freedman. Pic: Comp
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PICKPOCKET James Freedman has the fastest hands on the Fringe. Or does he?

With so many tourist and crowded streets, it should come as no surprise if crime soars over the next three weeks.

So, just how do you beat those opportunistic pickpockets, thieves and others who want to steal their identities.

We asked The Man of Steal James Freedman, one of the world’s best pickpocket entertainers, for his top tips to stay safe from street thieves.

Freedman, currently starring in Man of Steal, at the Voodoo Rooms, says, “I’m very excited to be at the Edinburgh Fringe to attempt something that has never been done before. I chose to make this a free show because I’m really passionate about helping people to avoid these kinds of crime.”

Fresh from TV’s Police 5, the world-renowned expert in stealth crime has even stolen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Governor of the Bank of England.

If you’re lucky, you could be next, but don’t worry, he will give it all back.

“We’ve been enjoying full houses every day so far and the Fringe audience really seem to appreciate my gift of the gab,” he says, although perhaps that should be gift of the grab.

“I’m using techniques that I’ve learned from real criminals and adding that to everything I’ve ever learned about social engineering, showmanship and crime to steal from people in the audience.

“On one hand it’s very funny to see me steal someone’s valuables but on the other hand it’s scary how easy some people make it.

“Yesterday, three police vehicles were parked outside the Voodoo Rooms and I really thought I’d been rumbled.”

Freedman is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s best pickpocket entertainers, equally at home teaching the cast of Les Misérables the noble art of street theft as he is performing in front of audiences worldwide.

His specialist knowledge in this area means he is often sought by police forces and other security professionals to train officers and in 1999 he created headlines when he successfully picked the pockets of senior policemen based at New Scotland Yard.

He now travels all over the world, giving pickpocket demonstrations that entertain, educate and inform his audiences so that they can avoid becoming victims of street crime – which is as common today as it was in Victorian times.

Freedman’s interest in the subject began when he was fell victim to muggers. That inspired him to begin a lifelong study of criminology and the psychology of thieves.

He was further inspired by a trip to Paris, where he observed child pickpockets on the streets.

He recalls, “I realised that they were using techniques that I’d learned and decided to become a pickpocket myself – only an honest one. I want to educate people to help them avoid becoming victims”.

Freedman also taught Sir Ben Kingsley for Roman Polanski’s movie Oliver Twist and was special advisor on the hit BBC drama Hustle, where he taught Robert Vaughn how to pick pockets.

“Pickpockets are a fact of life. They look for easy or wealthy victims so the best way to avoid them is to appear less of a target than the next person. The value of smartphones has led to more ‘apple and blackberry picking’ this year.

“Common sense and distance are your best defences, so stay vigilant for distraction techniques and be aware of anyone getting too close.”

• James Freedman: Man of Steal, Voodoo Rooms, West Register Street, until 24 August, free


1. If you must carry a large amount of cash, use a money belt or divide it between several pockets.

2. Carry your bag in front of you with the flap against your body. If your bag has a zip or a clasp, keep them fastened.

3. Carry your bus pass or travel ticket separately to avoid flashing your wallet or purse unnecessarily.

4. Don’t stand near the doors on a bus or train. These are prime spots for pickpockets.

5. Pickpockets love crowds, so be more vigilant and hold on to your valuables firmly. Backpacks aren’t secure, so in crowded areas, wear them on your front.

6. Conceal your bank card PIN number every time you type it. If someone ‘shoulder surfs’ to see the number, you’re a target.

7. Be aware of showing your phone to potential thieves. Keep public conversations short and if you’re not using it, keep it hidden. Don’t leave your phone or wallet on the table when you eat.

8. Don’t hang valuables on the back of your chair. If you must put your bag on the floor, hold it between your feet and a put a chair leg or your foot through the strap.

9. Pickpockets often hang around near the ‘Beware of Pickpockets’ sign, and then watch people instinctively tap their pockets, to pinpoint the valuables.

And remember...

10. Inside pockets are safer and back pockets are not safe at all.


1. Smartphones are valuable but not nearly as valuable as the information they contain. Make sure your phone and its SIM card are both protected with a PIN.

2. Don’t use the same PIN for all your bank cards and your phone.

3. Make a note of your phone’s IMEI number (dial *#06# to see it) so you can block it if it’s stolen.

4. Register your gadgets & other valuables with the UK National Property Register at immobilise.com

5. Install a phone tracking app.

6. Keep a secure copy of your passport, insurance details, phone IMEI number and emergency telephone numbers online, just in case.

7. Don’t keep your driving licence with your credit cards. Losing your cards is bad enough without giving the thief your address, full name and date of birth too!

8. The details on contactless bank cards and passports can be stolen electronically. Get yourself a RFID blocking purse or wallet.

9. Don’t carry your home address with your house keys – and if your home and car keys are together, make sure your satnav doesn’t accurately identify your home.

10. Only carry what you need. If you don’t need all your cards or cash, leave them at home.