Pickpocketing in Malta has last year reached an all-time high of almost 2,500 cases, an average of seven reported a day. These statistics have forced the Maltese parliament to address the issue in public. While Malta may not be the best example of the situation worldwide, this is a statistical reflection of the rise in pickpocketing cases reported worldwide and a demonstration of how brazen, professional, organised and adaptive thieves are becoming.
This worrying trend, which has been developing over a number of years, is even more pronounced when considering that the overall total for 2016 shows a sixfold increase when compared to 2009.
Details on various thefts offence committed last year were tabled in Maltese Parliament recently by Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela in reply to a question by Opposition MP Beppe Fenech Adami.
It transpired that, in 2016, pickpocketing was the most common type of theft reported, with 2,447 cases. This was 20 per cent up over the previous year. According to the data, this offence rose steadily since 2013. Four years ago 1,469 pickpocketing cases were reported, followed by 1,538 in 2014 and 2,030 in 2015.
This trend has been linked to a number of Eastern European gangs, some of whom have been brought to justice already and further demonstrates that this is a pattern seen all over Europe and not just in Malta. In Paris for example, the rise in pickpockets around the metro and Eiffel tower have seen a number of Eastern European gangs prosecuted as has London's Transport Police in relation to a rise in thefts on the London Underground.
Cases the police refer to as “snatch-and-grab”, whereby the offender forcibly obtains personal belongings like bags, purses and mobile phones, increased to 179 in 2016, an increase of 41 per cent over 2013.
Though no detailed overall breakdown of the localities where pickpockets are most likely to strike was divulged, this newspaper last month reported that, in 2016, one in every eight offences was reported in Malta's tourism hub, Valletta. This data confirms earlier research carried out by criminologist Saviour Formosa who had concluded that, in 2015, the places to avoid were Valletta and Paceville.
Safe not sorry
• The Maltese police rolled out a crime prevention campaign last summer targeting the spike in pickpocketing together with a number of tips to avoid being targeted.
• Bags should be carried in front with flaps against your body.
• Keep straps short and bags tucked under the arms.
• Do not display any jewellery.
• Do not show any money – keep it safely in your pockets.
• Stay alert and aware of what is going on around you.
• If possible, install a tracker application on your smartphone.
• Keep a record of the unique reference number (IMEI) of your phone – this can be retrieved by dialling *#06#.
• Use your phone’s security lock or PIN number.
• Do not write PIN numbers for credit/debit cards on your mobile phone.