With a population of over 8 million, New York is among the largest cities in the world. Many people also visit it each year—some numbers indicate that between 20 million to more than 60 million people visit New York each year.
Naturally, this will lead to some questions regarding safety. There are different types of crime, but pickpocketing can be a tricky subject. So are there pickpockets in New York?
There are pickpockets in New York. Pickpockets in NYC can be found in busy and crowded areas around tourist attractions. However, the level of pickpocketing in New York City is very low, and pickpocketing is not as common compared to other cities with a similar population.
While it is true that New York City has its fair share of tourists who make easy marks for pickpockets, it is also true that these days, the city is safer than ever before. Pickpocketings rates have dropped precipitously in NYC and a little vigilance will keep you safe.
Much like any larger city, there will always be some petty theft, but the level of crime in NYC is a common topic that interests many people. If you are interested in learning a bit more, continue reading below—especially if you wonder what NYC is like right now.
Is Pickpocketing in New York Bad?
Pickpocketing in New York is not as big a problem as it used to be. In the past, there used to be a lot of pickpockets in NYC. New York City still does have pickpockets, but the levels of pickpocketing are not as bad as they are in some European cities that tourists often visit.
However, over the years and due to the ongoing effort by the police, today, there are not as many pickpockets in New York City. Also, after 9/11, security is taken even more seriously by the police and authorities in general.
According to the official data, New York has seen its highest crime rates between the late 1970s to the early 1990s. There used to be numerous cases of pickpocketing gangs working on different subway lines in New York in the past, too.
Since the 1990s, the crime rates have been steadily decreasing over the years, pickpocketing including.
That said, recently, in 2018, there was an increase in theft in public transit, mostly due to international pickpocketing groups. The most often stolen items were expensive headphones, cellphones, and wallets.
According to the data from the FBI, we can see that the larceny-theft cases have remained fairly stable for the last several years.
|Year||Larceny Theft Cases in New York City|
For the most part, the larceny-theft cases in NYC have remained at the same levels. However, a number of crimes fall into the category of larceny-theft and not just pickpocketing. Country-wide, pickpocketing cases stay at about 0.5% to 0.6% and purse snatching at 0.4% out of all larceny thefts cases.
Although New York has higher crime rates than the national average, analysis of the data has found that compared to cities with similar populations, NYC is among the safest cities. And there are plenty of people who have lived for decades in NYC and have never been pickpocketed. What’s more, New York City ranks amongst the safest large cities in the world, as well.
How to Spot Pickpockets in New York
Spotting a pickpocket can be difficult. Experienced pickpockets know how to dress in order to blend in and not raise any suspicion. Appearances can be deceiving, and just because somebody appears well off does not mean they may not steal from you when the right situation is presented to them.
Pickpockets will usually be observing people. They will be watching carefully, looking for potential victims, and when they find one, they will immediately head towards the victim, trying to get as close to them as possible.
Where Are Pickpockets Found in New York?
Pickpockets in New York are usually found in busy and crowded areas and popular destinations amongst visitors, like Times Square, Central Park, Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Penn Station, the Port Authority, Grand Central, and shopping areas and streets like the 34th street.
There can be pickpockets in the subway system and around bus stations. In fact, this is where it is most likely to bump into a pickpocket. They can try to steal something from you while you are boarding or leaving the subway car or bus, climbing up the subway stairs, or using the escalators.
Most areas where tourists go are often very safe. However, some neighborhoods in NYC are considered more dangerous, like Brownsville, Midtown, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Hunts Point, Chinatown, Mott Haven, East Harlem, Downtown, Fordham, and Tremont.
For a more detailed look at the crime levels in NYC, I recommended checking out the NYC.gov crime map.
How to Protect Yourself From Pickpockets in New York
Pickpockets look for people who are distracted or being careless.
Make sure you take good care of your belongings. Do not leave stuff around unattended. Also, do not keep your bag or purse open and unzipped. Leaving your bag on the back of the chair or under the table at restaurants and coffee shops or on benches in public parks is also not recommended.
Be vigilant and exercise extra caution when in crowded areas. Pickpockets try to get close to their victims or even box them in some instances, so be alert when you are around other people. Whenever possible, keep your hands in the pocket where your cash, wallet, or phone are.
Men should keep their wallets, cash, and other valuables in their front pocket or the inside pocket of their jacket and not in their back pockets. A buttoned or zipped and deeper pocket is always safer.
Women are advised to carry a crossbody bag or purse and keep it in front of their body.
Generally, it is not recommended to wear flashy and expensive items and jewelry as this can make you a target—especially in crowded streets and areas like the subway. It is recommended to leave jewelry and other valuables at home.
Be careful handling money, and other valuable items in public. Thieves can also snatch your phone, camera, or cash and run.
Try to blend in and appear as if you know where you are going and walk with purpose. Appearing as an obvious tourist can make you a target to both pickpockets and scammers.
Avoid unfamiliar areas of the city, especially at night and if there are not many people there.
Remember that pickpockets rely on distraction, and they can try using different methods to distract you.
For example, they can ask for help or directions. They can also bump into you, tap you on the shoulder, or even block your way for a brief moment.
Another example is somebody who may trip and fall or appear as if they need help near the doors of a bus or subway car. While you are helping them up, another person may be trying to pickpocket you.
If a sketchy person tries to start a conversation with you, it is okay to ignore them and continue walking. Trust your gut feeling and put your safety first.
Should You Worry About Pickpockets in New York?
New York City is a lot safer today compared to the past.
Over the years, the NYPD has been targeting pickpocketing rings and managed to reduce the levels of pickpocketing significantly. Being alert of your surroundings and exercising basic caution is usually enough to avoid getting pickpocketed.
That said, it is not all about the pickpockets.
You should keep in mind and be aware of other things, like not making eye contact with aggressive people or being careful about snatchers.
Over the years, there have also been various scams like the dropped liquor bottle scam, the broken glasses scam, the unofficial cabs offering a ride, MetroCard and other ticket sales scams, the cartoon characters demanding money, rigged sidewalk betting games, fake nun and monk scams, cd scams, double tipping, and varying prices for tourists.
New York is known for its crowds and its fast pace, so it’s not uncommon for people to be rushing around with their eyes on the ground instead of on their bags. This can make it easy for someone to reach into a pocket or unzip a backpack and take something without being noticed. If you’re traveling with a purse, try to keep it closed and in front of you. And if it has any openings or zippers, keep those closed where possible as well.
The subway is another place where New Yorkers often become targets of crime because they aren’t paying attention to what’s going on around them while they wait for the train or while they’re riding between stations. As tempting as it may be to pull out your phone when you’re underground, we recommend keeping it tucked away until you get off at your destination.
Even though there are pickpockets in New York, don’t let that stop you from traveling there! Just be sure to keep your guard up and be aware of your surroundings. We all deserve to have good travel experiences, and a little vigilance goes a long way toward keeping us all safe.
Until next time, keep doing what you do best: being awesome.
And have fun in New York!