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NYPD warns New Yorkers, tourists to be on the lookout for pickpockets at holiday hotspots

The holiday lights are up, and pickpockets are out.

The NYPD says while you’re out enjoying the holiday season, thieves will be out too, looking for their next target.

As CBS2’s Jennifer Bisram explains, a special team with the NYPD is working to keep people from getting ripped off.

CBS2 cameras were on the streets with NYPD’s special pickpocket team Saturday.

“We are the troops on the ground. We follow these guys that are targeting victims to try to steal their belongings,” NYPD Lt. Jonathan Cedeno said.

Especially at holiday hotspots like Rockefeller Center, Saks 5th Avenue, Bryant Park and Times Square.

“The new thing is the cell phones, definitely. They take these cell phones, they get money for them. A lot of the times they take them to other counties where they get double the price,” Cedeno said.

Videos from recent arrests given to CBS2 News by the NYPD show the thieves in action.

“The first day of tree lighting, we were out here and we did make multiple arrests of pickpockets, a lot of pickpockets, and guys that were working in teams. Guys that were previously arrested last year, too, doing the same thing,” Cedeno said.

Detectives, who are out both in uniform and plainclothes, say the crooks have been both men and women, some as young as 15 and some as old as 60.

It happened to Carol Mehl.

“People are just watching for you to be unaware, and then they’re going to take what you have,” she said. “They grabbed my wallet. This was years ago, but it makes you careful … I always keep it tight to myself, and if I’m just having a purse, I put it crossbody.”

Detectives say the pickpockets on the prowl prey on New Yorkers and tourists enjoying the holiday lights, who are distracted taking pictures. They often work in pairs. 

“If you’re in a large crowd, you should just be aware that if you get bumped, that could be an action related to a pickpocket scam. So just do a quick check of your pockets, your bags,” said Sgt. Kevin Kelley, with NYPD Crime Prevention.

“I just make sure I hold my purse in front of me, not behind me. I usually hold onto my phone versus putting it in my coat pocket,” one woman said.

“New York City is still safe, but … these guys are out there,” Cedeno said. “While you’re looking for your next victim, we are watching you.”

The NYPD says if you see someone who looks suspicious getting too close to someone, notify an officer right away.

In the meantime, they say the next big event they know thieves will be at is in Times Square for the ball drop.

Detectives say all holiday spectators should be doing the same.