CHICAGO (CBS) — With the holiday season upon us, and larger crowds out on the streets, in the stores, and riding trains and buses, police were warning to be on guard against pickpockets and cell phone thieves.

WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports Chicago police said Thursday they’ve identified 165 individuals who are active pickpockets, working the city’s trains, streets and stores.

Police Public Transportation Section Cmdr. John Graeber said many of those pickpockets are “artists.”

“Most of the officers on the CTA recognize these guys on sight,” Graeber said.

They’re very good, he said.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser Reports

Graeber pointed to the example of one pickpocket who was only caught because of surveillance video.

“He was so good at it, the victim got on the train, and never knew until two stops later his wallet was gone,” Graeber said.

Typically, pickpockets operate in crews of three or four, and use distraction tactics to relieve a person of their wallet.

Graeber said, when a person gets their foot stuck between a train and the platform, someone’s usually losing their wallet.

“There’s always a Good Samaritan there who’s gonna try to help, try to go down and grab that person, and there’s always that second and third, maybe fourth offender in that group that’s working your wallet right out of your pocket,” he said. “It is such a well-orchestrated event. To watch it on film, it never ceases to amaze me.”

Graeber suggested women keep their purses in front of them, and men keep their wallets in a front pocket or a breast pocket of a jacket.

He also warned people about kids who are out to get your smart phone. Distracted people are the most common targets, he said. In a crowd, thieves can make off with your phone before you know it.

“It’s very easy to see this when they’re going through the train, or they’re going down the street, and they’re just looking. They’re just looking at who’s got what in their hand. They’re looking for that individual who’s not paying attention,” he said.

Graeber said pickpockets and cell phone thieves are everywhere.

“They’re in shopping malls, they’re at the airport. This is their thing. They wake up in the morning, and they think about who their victim’s gonna be today,” he said.

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