Crime: The Stain Game

The Stain Game

"Distraction" crimes, the pickpocket's stock-in-trade, have taken on a distinctive flavor in Miami, New York City and Los Angeles. At airports, hotels and shopping malls, seemingly helpful strangers approach a "mark," point to a dribble of catsup on his or her coat, and offer a tissue to remove it. While the victim cleans up, a second thief cleans out the purse, briefcase or shopping bag.

How does the catsup get there? From those squirtable little packages conveniently available at any fast-food outlet. When police arrested three thieves in Bal Harbour, Fla., the pickpockets' car was filled with the tools of their...

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