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French police steal bags to raise theft awareness

Police in Strasbourg stole handbags and valuables from over 30 tourists and residents in public places this week as part of a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of pickpocketing and theft.

In the fifth campaign of its kind, plain clothes policemen from the Bas-Rhin (Grand Est) visited tourist zones of the city, including outdoor restaurants and busy areas near the Cathedral.

Targeting people who were not taking adequate care of their bags, the police were able to casually swipe handbags and smartphones from the back of restaurant chairs, restaurant tables, and in some cases, from the owner’s shoulder directly - all without being noticed.

Some “victims” were even walking around with their handbags or rucksacks open, and others had their smartphone or other devices very easily visible on their person or table.

The police handed all belongings back almost immediately, with a warning about pickpockets and a reminder of how easily bags, wallets and valuables can go missing.

Police spokesperson and organiser of the campaign, Joël Irion, reminded people to be vigilant, saying: “Even one of our police officers with 40 years' experience fell victim to this.”

This is the fifth such campaign for the Strasbourg police, and the latest scheme after they enacted the same tricks at last year’s Christmas Market.

According to figures, it would appear that many are still not careful enough.

In the first four months of 2018, 252 pickpocket thefts were reported in Strasbourg. Only 20% of the thefts were successfully investigated, and an even smaller percentage of items returned to their owner.

If your bag is stolen, you can call the police on 17 or 112, and report as many details of the crime as you can, including descriptions of the stolen item, the thief (if you saw them), and exactly where and when the theft took place.

Police offered some key tips to avoid your bags falling victim to crime:

  • When sitting outside or eating on a restaurant terrace, do not leave your bag hanging on the back of your chair, or sitting on the floor next to you
  • Keep your bag hidden under the table on your lap, and/or keep at least one leg or arm hooked through the bag’s handle or strap
  • Avoid leaving your wallet or phone on the table while you eat
  • Stay aware of where your bags are at all times, whether visually or by touch
  • Never keep your wallet or devices in the back pocket of your trousers, as this makes them very obvious, and easy to steal
  • Never put anything important or valuable in the front pocket of your rucksack
  • Always keep your bags closed completely when wearing them or walking, and try to choose bags with zips rather than open tops
  • Be aware that thieves can work quickly and imperceptibly, and may look like just another tourist or diner
  • Avoid carrying large sums of money or very valuable items
  • Separate any identity documents from each other; e.g. passport and driving licence
  • Never write or keep your PIN code or other details close to your payment cards or wallet

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