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Charles Rex Arbogast, Associated Press
In this photo taken Monday, Dec. 19, 2011 a shopper tries to place her phone back into her purse, in Chicago. Chicago police are waging an offensive against an ancient criminal craft that picks up among shopper and travelers each holiday season. The number of pickpockets has dwindled as fewer carry cash, surveillance cameras proliferate and younger would-be crooks lack the patience to learn the trade. But police say the holidays are a perfect time for a “crew” of thieves to strike.

CHICAGO — It is a dying art on America's city streets, a bit of slight-of-hand straight out of Charles Dickens' London.

And yet on the final shopping and travel days before Christmas, Chicago police are stepping up their watch for aging criminals plying the ancient trade of picking pockets.

The number of pickpockets has dwindled as fewer carry cash, surveillance cameras proliferate and younger would-be crooks lack the patience to learn the trade. But police say the holidays are a perfect time for a "crew" of thieves to strike.

Undercover Chicago officers are wandering the streets trying to lure pickpockets. Police are also watching surveillance video to spot the more than 120 known pickpockets they believe are working in the city.