Out of nowhere, a pickpocket runs up and steals something from a character. In a display of street smarts and alertness, the victim immediately apprehends the pickpocket, retrieves his belongings, and lets the pickpocket scurry off in shame. A variation has the pickpocket steal the wallet, and find it contains nothing but a snarky note.
Often done to show that the intended victim was perhaps once a pickpocket himself. Sometimes takes place in a Wretched Hive where almost everyone is a thief of some kind, on top of which, just maybe, There Are No Police.
Another possible scenario is when a thief or former thief is part of the regular cast, and the other character simply demands their wallet back at the appropriate moment — usually implying not that they caught the thief in action, but simply that they find the pickpocket predictable.
- In Slayers Next, Martina snatches a jewel from Lina's shoulder pads. It was such a bad idea Lina had to stop her teammates trying to pursue the thief. In Slayers Perfect, a thief ran away with Lina's purse, only to be embarrassed when it turns out to have an extra cord several paces long.
- In Rurouni Kenshin, this is how Kaoru and Kenshin first meet up with Yahiko. Ironically, it's Kenshin who gets pickpocketed and Kaouru who catches Yahiko. Kenshin offers him the money anyways.
- A variation in Gintama. Seita gets away with Gintoki's wallet-thing only to find out that not only is there no money in it, but Gintoki stole his wallet. Gintoki ends up spending Seita's money on parfaits while lecturing him about his sub-par skills.
- In Sherlock Hound, a young pickpocket steals Watson's wallet, and Holmes is savvy enough to pickpocket it right back without the original thief noticing.
- In Gunslinger Girl, Henrietta's purse is stolen by a guy on a motorcycle. In a display of her cyborg abilities, she chases him down on foot and attacks him with her bare hands until he returns it. Not bad for a young girl.
- Early in Zombie Powder, Elwood runs off with Gamma's wallet. Subverted, though, as Gamma keeps a decoy in his pocket, with a note inside that just says "Nice try!"
- At the beginning of Kill la Kill, Matarou tries to pickpocket Ryuuko's purse, only to find that she switched it with a half-eaten lemon without his noticing. So he and his gang try to mug her instead... which doesn't go well at all.
- Happens in The Sandman, with Dream retrieving his ruby instead of his wallet. The pickpocket, however, refuses to admit to stealing it until Dream sets his dreams as nightmares about his future execution.
- X-Men: This is how Charles Xavier initially met Storm — then a pickpocket on the streets of Cairo — years before he recruited her to the X-Men. Turns out that trying to go unnoticed by a telepath has low odds of success.
- In the Lucky Luke episode "Fingers", the eponymous magician keeps pickpocketing Luke's pistol, much to his annoyance. But in the end, he gets even by pickpocketing Fingers' wallet and offering it in exchange for his pistol.
- Usagi Yojimbo: Usagi and Kitsune's much-alluded to first meeting. And not the last time she stole his purse by any means.
- In a flashback, Kitsune reveals that this happened to her mentor; the samurai who caught her was not as forgiving as Usagi.
- GF Serendipity: In Fiddleford's Log, he says Stan became someone he could trust but not with his wallet. Page 2 ends with an unimpressed Fiddleford making a "give it back" move with his hand while Stan sheepishly returns the wallet. Word of God says Fiddleford "brings at least one decoy wallet" and "Stan usually takes it just to mess with him (most of the time...)." Word of God also says "Fiddleford's become nearly impossible to be robbed by anyone else".
- Hannibal. See the Literature example below.
- Maverick. The title character does this the first time Annabelle Bransford lifts his wallet. The second time, he doesn't notice the theft at the time and has to track her down, after which she gives him back the wallet without having to be asked.
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom has Indy catching Short Round trying to steal from him off screen. Rather than let him go, he
keeps him aroundabducts him, mostly so he can take care of him, it seems.
- In the movie To Rob a Thief, it's performed by the protagonist and the antagonist (a thief and a former thief respectively) at the same time, just to say that they're still the best thieves.
- It's performed earlier in the movie when the protagonist steals the wallet of a smuggler, only to be caught by him and threatened with a gun just a minute later.
- A variation in Bulletproof Monk. Kar picks someone's pocket, then the Monk picks Kar's pocket and pretends the original victim had dropped his wallet. The Monk implies he will continue to do so until Kar starts listening to him and taking him seriously.
- A different take on this is in The Man Who Would Be King. Michael Caine's character steals a pocket watch from a journalist at a train station, only to realise he's a fellow Mason. He then boards the train and blames an Indian passenger for the loss of the watch so he can return it. The journalist points out that he noticed his watch was missing... back at the station.
- At the end of 48 Hrs., Eddie Murphy's character tells Nick Nolte that he intends to go straight after he's paroled, "But just in case I don't, what makes you think you can catch me?" Nick replies: "Can I have my lighter back?"
- In Ocean's Eleven, Danny watches Linus pick someone's pocket on a train. Later, Linus discovers that Danny has picked his pocket and replaced the wallet with a note complimenting him and offering him a job.
- Later Linus does Danny one better by lifting a plane ticket that Danny still has his hand on without him noticing.
- In 2 Fast 2 Furious, Roman steals a cigar cutter from Verone:
Carter Verone: Hey, you! Your pockets aren't empty.
Roman: [hands the cigar cutter back] Hey, man, I figured you had, like 12 or 13...
- In Mrs. Doubtfire, a guy tries to run off with the title character's purse as she's walking down the street. "She" grabs the dude and growls at him to back off.
- Robert A. Heinlein:
- Happens near the beginning of the novella "Gulf". FBS (Federal Bureau of Security) agent Joe Briggs grabs the hand of a pickpocket as he's picking Joe's pocket. Subverted when the pickpocket turns out to be a secret agent who had already switched the wallet for a duplicate.
- Also happens in Citizen of the Galaxy during a festival held by the Free Traders; protagonist Thorby lets the pickpocket go out of respect for the status the job had on the streets of the Wretched Hive Jubblepore, when he was a beggar with his adoptive father.
- Discworld novels:
- In Night Watch, Vimes carries out a calm conversation with a young pickpocket (a certain C.W. St. J. Nobbs) and then at the end reels off a list of items that the pickpocket has lifted from him during that conversation. The kid is impressed.
- In Thief of Time, when Lobsang Ludd an incarnation of Time steals a small shovel from Lu-Tze, Lu-Tze asks Lobsang to return the item. Lobsang puts the item back, and Lu-Tze is impressed, since he didn't see Lobsang move (Lu-Tze is so fast he can almost outrun lightning).
- The Moist von Lipwig books have a Running Gag of Moist stealing Clerk Drumknott's pencil just to see if he can, and Vetinari always noticing. Even when Drumknott put the pencil in his pocket and didn't notice Moist had stolen it. They never ask for or take the pencil back, though; it's just to set up Moist's nature and (further) demonstrate how observant Vetinari is.
- The In Death series gives us Roarke, who returns to the slums he grew up in to find a young child of ten try and pick his pocket. His response? "I was better than you when I was six."
- In Orson Scott Card's Hart's Hope, the main character manages to retrieve his money from the pickpocket by threatening to remove the pickpocket's testicles with his bare hands.
- In Hannibal, Dr. Lecter murders the guy who tries to pickpocket him. Though he was also partially murdered by Commendatore Pazzi, the Dirty Cop who had hired the pickpocket in the first place to get fingerprints, who intentionally lets him bleed to death so as not to blow his own cover.
- It's an Invoked Trope as Pazzi is relying on the fact that Lector will notice the thief and grab his arm, putting his fingerprints on the metal bracelet he's wearing.
- In Windwalker, Khelben Arunsun was shocked by his lady love's offhanded mention that she found her cute Gold Elf pupil in Skullport. Then it got better.
Khelben: No! A gold elf, in that cesspool of a city? What the Nine bloody Hells was she doing there?Laeral: Surviving, and doing a damn good job of it. She lifted my purse. The thing was magically warded, and she still almost got away with it.Khelben: That convinced you to bring her to my tower as an apprentice?Laeral: Why not? Talent is talent. For that matter, Sharlarra isn't a gold elf. But we're getting sidetracked.
- Used as a gambit by Roland in the Dark Tower novel The Drawing of the Three. Roland plants Jack's wallet, then tells the police (who did not notice Roland planting the wallet) his wallet was taken by the shopkeeper. This gambit was all to purchase some bullets (which he cannot do without a background check).
- In the first Artemis Fowl novel, someone tries to pickpocket Butler, and gets his fingers broken without so much as a wayward glance.
- In Jack Vance's The Demon Princes series, a mugger tries to waylay Howard Alan Treesong. The problem is, he's just waylaid the Lord of the Overmen - king of all criminals - who has licensed all criminal activity in the sector... and this mugger isn't one of them. Bad move.
- In Mercedes Lackey's Children of the Night, Diana Tregarde doesn't have the energy to confront a pickpocket, since all he got was a decoy wallet filled with newspaper.
- In the bodice-ripper romance novel Whisper To Me Of Love, a trio of brother and sister pickpockets are ordered by their employer to rob a group of wealthy gentlemen attending a sparring match. All goes well until sure enough, the final victim instantly realizes what's happening when the young woman stumbles and falls against him. When he grabs onto her wrist, she flirtatiously thanks him for keeping her from falling, then has an Oh, Crap! reaction when he demands that she return his watch.
- In the novelization of the Dick Tracy movie, the Kid bumps into Tracy, then backs away, apologizing. Presumably, he'd have gotten away with it had Tracy's "watch", which is actually a two-way radio, not been attached to him via a wire.
- A variation shows up in the Known Space story "Flatlander": Earth is so overcrowded that the government has thrown up its hands and legalized pickpocketing; in response, it's become customary to include return postage along with the owner's identification so the pickpocket can return the wallet after extracting the money.
- The Sleeping Beauty: During the course of a short walk, Siegfried grabs the wrists of two pickpockets as they're trying for his belt pouch. The first one is just a boy, so he scares the kid and lets him go. The second time, he can tell by feel that he grabbed an adult so he breaks the man's arm. The local pickpockets leave Siegfried alone for the rest of the novel.
- Our Miss Brooks: In "The Burglar", Mr. Conklin wakes up from his nap discovering a burglar in the process of absconding with the basket of fried chicken his wife cooked for him.
- Leverage: Parker's mentor Archie asks her for his wallet back after they share an embrace.
- Nate also catches her at this once.
- Said to be how they met as well (Archie was already a master thief, but was impressed by Parker, noting that she had "the gift").
- It's also how Parker recruited Archie for the big con in "The Last Dam Job" — by stealing not only Archie's wallet, but also his daughter's wallet and his granddaughter's lollipop.
- And you also hear "Put it back, Parker" in a few episodes.
- In the episode "Message" in Firefly, Mal apprehends a kid in the act of attempting to pick his pocket.
- Played for comedy in Caroline in the City, with Richard accidentally mugging someone when he mistakenly thought that his own wallet had been stolen.
- It's a lot funnier (and more meaningful) in context: Richard had previously been mugged by a scrawny short guy whom Caroline managed to subdue and turn over to the police. After spending a while embarrassed by this, the aforementioned incident happens... with the "victim" being much taller and more muscular than Richard. After Richard is bailed out of jail, both Caroline and Richard take pride in this fact.
- Burn Notice: A habit of Michael's former love interest (and professional thief).
- Neal Caffrey has stolen Peter Burke's wallet more than once, and it's even used in a promotional spot for White Collar and Psych when Neal lifts Gus's wallet and Gus decides he doesn't want to hang out with Neal anymore.
- In the Doctor Who episode "Victory of The Daleks", Winston Churchill tries to pickpocket the TARDIS key. In a mild subversion, the Doc doesn't notice, but companion Amy does and tells him to give it back to the Doctor.
- On Dexter, the title character's wallet is stolen by a juvenile delinquent named Jeremy whom Dexter was targeting because he was a killer. When Jeremy says that his victims had raped him in Juvie, causing Dexter to determine to let him live, Dexter passes off his ambush as taking back his wallet and lets Jeremy go.
- Murder Rooms. Dr. Bell meets a photographer and his assistant, an irredeemable street thug who does the bump-into-and-steal-wallet trick on Bell. The photographer promptly knocks him down and forces him to return the wallet, whereupon Bell shows he'd already stolen the thug's cosh.
- Married... with Children: Al has his wallet lifted regularly, by both kids AND his wife. Sometimes he catches them in the act, sometimes not (which apparently led to deportation in one instance).
Peggy: Charlie?Charlie: Yes, enchantress?Peggy: (lifts hand to show her bare wrist) My watch.
- In one episode, Al invites over a friend who Peggy despises because he stole her mother's cigarette lighter at their wedding. Al defends the guy, claiming that "he probably thought it was in the folds of a couch" (a Running Gag was how grotesquely fat Peggy's unseen mother was). As the man and his son are leaving:
- Averted in CSI NY, where Mac has to track the guy down first and is determined to see him punished for it. Especially when it later turns out he's connected to a larger crime.
- In a Christmas Episode of Psych, a little girl/con artist hugs Shawn and thanks him for saving her dad. Shawn immediately asks for his wallet back.
- Then her dad comes over to thank Shawn for saving him... and immediately tries to pull the same trick his daughter did.
- A subversion in Person of Interest happens when Reese needs to get hired as a bodyguard and he steals the wallets of the other bodyguards scheduled to be interviewed with him. None of them caught him, and he just starts pulling them out one by one while making it look like he had absentmindedly misplaced his own wallet and giving the wallets to their original owners in front of the employer.
- A variation can occur in Assassin's Creed II if your reflexes are good enough and you're paying attention. Pickpockets will show up on your radar. All you have to do is make sure you're facing away from them, draw a weapon, and kill them when they get close. Or you can chase them down after they steal from you, but it's a huge pain in the ass. These kinds of enemies show up in a lot of the games after this point.
- Dragon Age:
- Happens off-screen in Dragon Age: Origins: Daveth, one of the Grey Warden recruits who team up with you in the beginning, tells you that he got recruited when he picked Duncan's pocket; but the old Grey Warden chased him halfway across town, where he finally ran headfirst into a guard-detail, who were only too happy to finally have a chance to hang him. Duncan was so impressed with his agility and stamina that he conscripted the thief on the spot, saving him from the gallows.
- In Dragon Age II, Varric introduces himself to the player by apprehending a kid who had picked your pocket.
- Possible in Planescape: Torment, if your Dexterity is high enough. If the Nameless One is currently a thief himself, you can instead choose to bait the pickpocket into trying their luck a second time in order to observe their technique and improve your own pickpocketing skills.
- Happens (naturally) in Thief. The whole mess starts when Street Urchin Garrett tries to pickpocket a Keeper. The Keeper, Artemus, catches him but is impressed, since most people fail to notice Keepers when they don't want to be noticed, let alone target and follow them. He then takes Garrett under his wing to train him as a Keeper which, as you can probably tell by the title, doesn't stick.
- Happens again at the end of Deadly Shadows, this time with Garrett in the Keeper's spot.
- Played with in Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. Here, the person whose wallet is being stolen is Victor Sullivan and the wallet thief is... Nathan Drake when he was 14 years old! This is how they first met.
- In The Sims Medieval, if a Spy has low success odds of pickpocketing, the person he's trying to pickpocket might turn around too soon and catch him. This leads to 1. the Spy not getting the money and 2. the Spy being sent to the stocks as soon as the constable is available to arrest him.
- Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII; one sidequest features a young(ish) pickpocket, who'll snatch 100 gil from the player character. Said player character is Claire "Lightning" Farron: former sergeant of the Guardian Corps, former champion of the goddess Etro, currently savior for the god Bhunivelze. And the pickpocket is a named NPC. You get notified the moment he snatches your money, and you can have it back before Hope's ringtone is even over.
- Pickpocketing is an optional skill in The Elder Scrolls, with this trope ensuing if your skill is not high enough to avoid detection.
- Inverted in Freefall: Sam Starfall picks the pocket of someone with whom he was "discussing business", goes to buy lunch with it, and realizes that his pocket was picked at the same time.
- The Order of the Stick, except that Haley turns the tables by picking the pickpockets' pockets—and is either clever enough to write a very specific note for the decoy wallet in advance, or fast enough to write the note in the act.
Haley: Seriously, Durkon, if you're going to get your pocket picked in every city we visit, could you at least try to attract higher-level thieves? 12 silver and some pieces of string is sort of a waste of my talents.
- Subverted in Something*Positive: Jason has a decoy wallet containing only a chain letter that urges the pickpocket to put it into other victims' pockets.
- In Dragonball Elsewhere, a pickpocket attempts to steal Yamcha's wallet using super speed. Unfortunately, it's not quite super enough, and Yamcha notices, knocks him out, and takes his wallet back.
- In The War of Winds, Talon steals from Ravar and is caught, threatened, & picked up off the ground. He asked for it back, but Talon countered the Grapple and escapes via the rooftops. Talon, thinking he's escaped, finally finds a place to rest and was caught by Ravar, who retrieved what he had stolen from him.
- In Errant Story, this happens twice in one comic between Anti-Hero Jon and single mom, kleptomaniac and "seamstress" Polly, mainly to show what a nice guy Jon really is.
- Not expressed verbally, but the body language on this page of Strays is basically the same idea.
- Guilded Age: Bandit is introduced to the comic this way when she nicks Syr'nj's wallet. This event also serves to unite the group (minus Best or Bandit) together for the first time.
- Subverted for a comedic B-plot in an episode of King of the Hill: While at a rather shady mall, a man bumps into Hank and walks off holding up a wallet. Hank grabs the guy and demands he hand it over; after the man runs off in terror, Peggy catches up and says she had Hank's wallet, which makes him realize he accidentally mugged the poor guy. Hank attempts to apologize and return the wallet, but that poor fellow had been a Cosmic Plaything up to that point, and what happened at the mall was the last straw for him, so when Hank shows up at his house the man pulls out a baseball bat and attacks.
- Futurama - Bender has been caught this way more than once.
- An Animated Adaptation of Oliver Twist has this trope as the introductory scene between Oliver and the Dodger. In a subversion, however, Oliver isn't actually trying to pick Dodger's pocket - he's trying to retrieve his pet frog, which has jumped into the pocket in question.