It's a very old con trick. In Romania it's known as Alba-Neagra. The team members also have names. There's someone in the crowd called a tira who is looking out for police and members of the crowd that gather around who try to alert others it's a scam. The tira will sound an alert or scare off the whistle blowers. Then there are the martori who pretend to be passers-by and make bets that always win (it's all the gang's money). They also cheer, clap and shout excitedly to draw in more passers-by. Remember the targets are foreign tourists who can't hear the same accents used by the trickster and the martori, usually female, perhaps sisters and girlfriends. In fact there are two scams in progress. The first is as described where a gullible person will lose a bet. The second is a distracted crowd being pick-pocketed.
What these people are doing is illegal and the Police are aware. This is a recent BBC piece about the problem.
These days it's difficult to walk down Westminster Bridge due to the barriers that have been placed along it to protect pedestrians from crazed nutters in vans etc. Clutching your phone and wallet as you squeeze past the throngs of people gathered every few yards to watch these gangs on the bridge is tricky and a little unnerving. Yesterday I counted 6 gangs operating the scam on the east side of the bridge. I've read reports of over a dozen at the same time on this one short bridge overlooking our most famous landmark.
So my point is, why do the police allow this crime to be committed in broad daylight and right next to the mother of all parliaments where the protection of all people within the Realm is enshrined? What message are we sending to the millions of tourists from all over the world who witness these scams being openly and widely tolerated by the British state.
How hard can it be for a couple of uniformed bobbies to simply walk up and down the bridge telling these thieves to fuck off, if not bundling them into police wagons. Maybe a few more CCTV cameras with face recognition would help. At least we'd have the bastards on record - and not just the tricksters with the slight of hand, but the rest of the gang members blocking the path and conning tourists... People from all over the world who we want and need to not only have a great experience of London, but to go home in the belief that the UK stands for decency and protection. A country where their money is safe and they are personally protected by a benign and welcoming state.
How about some screens or even posters warning visitors to avoid the scams? Make it a serious offense to damage them. While waiting for my luggage in Hong Kong airport a few months ago, I was shown a series of videos made by the police about a variety of scams I might experience in HK. Prevention is better than cure. Heathrow, Gatwick?
London is rightfully open to all peoples from all walks of life - thieves included, as long as they restrain themselves while here. It needs to be a beacon of openness, safety and fairness to everyone - irrespective of gender preference, race, country of origin or belief... In fact London needs to show leadership in encouraging people to question their beliefs, including a warped justification for profiting from crime.
And a final word about EU rules freely allowing 'these people' into the country. It would be a mistake to assume all such scammers are Romanians, even if most do originate from there. No matter where they are from, and whether it's legal or otherwise in their home countries, it's not legal or welcomed here. Preventing Romanians from freely coming to London is wildly and unfairly presumptive about all Romanians - to whom we want to demonstrate how an open, fair and safe society functions. Then perhaps they will take lessons back to their homeland where children will be taught there is no honour amongst thieves and that decent places do exist on Earth. The UK leaving the EU makes Romanians, and all EU nationalities less likely to witness and be indoctrinated by decency.
Beacon UK, not Brexit UK!