GANGS of Bulgarian and Romanian women are making £20,000 a month after flying to Britain to go on pickpocketing sprees.
Teams of “dippers” use distraction techniques on crowded shopping streets and in busy stores to pilfer cash and valuables across the country.
Teams of up to five work in a four-week rotation — often targeting wealthy Japanese and Arab tourists.
One gang was filmed by chance from a tourist’s selfie-stick as they pinched £400 from a Thai holidaymaker on London’s Oxford Street.
It comes amid a flurry of crime in the capital — and an 80 per cent surge in thefts on the Underground network in the last three years.
The Sun on Sunday has also obtained photos from gloating gang members’ phones including a Christmas tree decorated with £50s and a large pile of £20 notes.
One private detective working in Oxford Street said the public would “struggle to comprehend” the extent of the problem. He said many big stores rarely call police as the force is so stretched.
Instead, the detectives working for the flagship stores use citizen’s arrest powers to detain dippers. They then record details from their ID cards, take their mug shots and issue life-time store bans.
The experienced private detective, who did not want to be named, said: “We do call the police sometimes. If the dipper has thousands of pounds on them we’ll flag it as important but it can still take up to four hours for the police to turn up.”
The investigator said the women compete with one another to be the best and have their own league table “similar to the Premier League”.
A thief calling herself Diana the Express is currently No.1 in the world based on her hauls. Another group has been dubbed the Spice Girls, because they always operate in a group of five.
The detective added: “One is Scary, one is Baby but the others are known as Old Spice, Chubby Spice and Pretty Spice because it best fits their descriptions.
Only the best come to Oxford Street. It’s equivalent to playing in a Champions League final at Wembley
“Dippers bounce from city to city once their cover has been blown and move all over the country. Only the best come to Oxford Street. It’s basically the equivalent of playing in a Champions League final at Wembley.
“When they’ve got enough they go home to their huge houses. I’ve seen pictures on their phones. They live in mansions with marble floors and marble beds.”
The women are reported to be from the Plovdiv, Sofia and Varna areas in Bulgaria and Bucharest, in Romania. The private investigator said they first began arriving in London in around 2007 when EU rules on movement were eased.
Initially, most carried only their Bulgarian or Romanian ID cards but since the Brexit poll many have UK driving licences as they think it will help them re-enter the UK. On world-famous Oxford Street, he said, their favourite places are Harrods, Selfridges or bureau de change desks.
Lifting the lid on their daily life, he said: “They work quite civilised hours. They start when shops get busy, so any time from 10am really. They have lunch in McDonald’s at around 1pm.
“Their witching hours are between 4pm and 7pm. We don’t have enough manpower to detain or deter them all during those hours as they’re all over the place.
“If we see a pair they will Romanian. If they are in larger groups they are generally Bulgarian. We tend to stick with the ones we are following and if we see others we hope to pick them up later.
He said the thieves wear designer sunglasses and expensive handbags to blend in with their wealthy intended victims. “We recognise them straight away. They dress up but wear trainers so they can move quickly.”
Many wear headscarves to try to hide their identity. He went on: “They’re very aware of us. We’ve detained most of them before so they often recognise us. We often work in pairs so it’s more difficult for them to spot us.”
Describing their techniques, he added: “They’ll pick up a victim but don’t speak to each other. They float around the shops. Their favourites tend to be busy and expensive but also like more mainstream shops like Gap and Topshop as they are large stores.
They live in mansions with marble floors and marble beds
“Once in a store they get a load of clothes off the rail to use to block themselves from view. They spot the person they want to pick up and do the dip in the store or follow the victim into the street.
“They use distraction techniques. One dipper, for example, will go in front of the victim and stop them. They might bend to pretend to do up their shoelace or make out they are on the phone.
When the victim stops the other dipper will get their purse or cash envelope. They also use maps. One will stop a victim and say they are lost while the other gets the money.
“They work with military precision. Hand and eye gestures are enough for them to know what the other is doing. If they notice that we are trailing them they go into the nearest McDonald’s.
“They won’t commit a crime once they’ve seen us and it is only when we witness a crime that we can detain them.”
He went on: “These women know every trick in the book. They’ve been trained since they were born. We teach our kids to read and the families that these women come from teach them how to dip.
“They very, very rarely get caught and I have to take my hat off to the level of skill and also confidence they have.
“I think the public would struggle to comprehend how frequent and organised dipping is here now.”