An overt but nonviolent public passer-by pickpocketing or luggage robbery tactic using spilled drinks as highly effective acts of misdirection.
All the reading in the world cannot immunize you from the devastating effects of psychopaths. Everyone, including the experts, can be taken in, conned, and left bewildered by them. A good psychopath can play a concerto on anyone’s heart strings.-Robert D. Hare
This is a classic con used by both thieves and operatives alike to procure certain contents on the target’s person or other possessions with a false chance encounter in public areas.
Imagine yourself in an unfamiliar city, walking the streets while being navigationally guided yet situationally distracted by using maps on your phone.
You get caught at a red light as a few pedestrians hurry to cross the street heading towards you. Since you have a moment, you check the map again but suddenly one of those people in a rush bumps into you and spills their coffee all over your shirt.
The person is extremely apologetic and embarrassed as he clumsily tries to wipe the coffee off your shirt, giving you a false validation for why a stranger is in your personal space so invasively.
You’re in a slight shock but you keep telling him it’s fine as he continues to try to clean up his mess. You finally get rid of him and he walks away in the opposite direction as you cross the street with the others.
Later on when you need to buy something, you realize in real shock that your wallet is missing.
It was taken during that “accident” with charm, misdirection and a skilled sleight of hand.
It’s a basic con as old as they come but as effective as ever. However, countering a defense is simple:
If the thief is good, you won’t see them coming. But most attempts have a tell; once the thief targets you, he will walk towards you while seemingly distracted by his drink, not looking at you or even in your direction.
But a moment before impact, he will take a quick glance directly at you (to get his bearings) then just as quickly seem distracted again before spilling his drink on you. If you see this tell, then you know the “accident” was in fact intentional.
Even if the impact can not be prevented, be aggressive but not physical and just cut yourself a path away from the theif before they can make further physical contact after the spill.
Whether you see that tell or not, you should do that anytime a stranger spills a drink on you, just in case.
There are many variations to the ‘spilled coffee shuffle’, such as using any other drink or even food. More importantly, using a partner for this con.
Instead of the “spiller” taking anything from the target, his partner (of whom will usually not be in the line of sight), will snatch the target’s unprotected bag or other luggage that’s laying freely on the ground.
This is a common travel scam directed at tourists in Europe but used against anyone all over the world.