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A Day in the Life of a Pen Thief


Al Pacino and Robert Deniro from the LA crime thriller Heat

Pen connoisseurs and pen thieves are like Al Pacino and Robert Deniro (respectively) in the Michael Mann crime thriller Heat; they will stop at nothing to protect their interests! Each believes their perspective is the most pragmatic and therefore correct. Only one of them is right. Since writing “Open Letter to a Pen Thief” last January, I’ve always wanted to do a follow up entry with actual tips and tricks I’ve cultivated to deter thieves. Plus, haven’t you pen connoisseurs always wanted to go inside the mind of an actual career pen thief? After the jump, join me as I “ride along” with an unrepentant pen thief whose shadowy world of intrigue, bait-n-switch and scratchy gel pens will cause you to hold your pens a little closer tonight.

It’s 10am; Do you know where your pens are?
I met our friend the pen thief several years ago at the gym and we also used to be coworkers. Our pen thief is very good friends with my bff and at one time a sworn enemy of mine – though not due to his pen thievery. And looking back, I should have immediately recognized him as such. Let’s call him Mike* (not his real name). As a lover of pens, it’s very weird to know an actual pen thief up close and personal. That said, I am fascinated by this brand of low level workplace criminal because his choice of office crime is more interesting to me than say the office food bandit or the stealth individual who always manages to blow up the bathroom exactly three minutes before you have to use it. Mike was one of the few people I ever observed not taking the free pens offered by my gym. When asked about it he shrugged, “Too easy. However, I did take a pretty decent Pilot Precise V7 off the receptionist when I joined the gym.” This is the first chilling discovery about pen thieves: the most accomplished really know pens. Mike’s descent into pen thievery is familiar: raised in an idyllic home surrounded by office and art supplies. Raised by an Architect father and an Art Professor mother. Mike says he’d always assumed he’d go into a similar field, but ended up in medicine. And it was during his second year of residency where his taste for pen thievery finally surfaced.

“I can quit anytime I want.”
“At work, we are surrounded by pens! Mostly we get them from pharmaceutical companies or from the hospital itself.” Mike says while we eat cupcakes at Barnes & Noble. In the ten minutes since our arrival, I’m pretty sure he’s already jacked two pens from me. I can’t confirm my suspicion because I didn’t take inventory prior to our meeting, but I’m fairly certain the Sharpie Pen Grip he’s twirling in his fingers came from my cache of pens. When Mike catches me eying the pen he smiles, “I actually bought this pen after reading a review you wrote. Weird, huh?”

“It’s a victimless crime.”
Mike says most people don’t even notice their pens are gone and that often times he doesn’t intend to walk off with pens that don’t belong to him, but most people make it so easy. When asked to elaborate he says, “Lots of people have this one brand pen they use all the time and they tend to make a big deal out of it. It’s never actually a unique pen, just a pen they like a lot. They’re the easiest marks because they like to talk about their favorite pen a lot. Plus, it’s usually a pen ordered by their workplace, so lots of people have access to them.” He makes a great point. I used to order the office supplies for one of the places I worked and while I never ordered pens I personally liked, I did notice the ones we ordered had a funny way of vanishing the minute I unpacked the boxes. I never figured out exactly who deemed these particular pens – Paper Mate Ballpoint Stic Pens – special or their fave, but there was hell to pay if I didn’t order them. They weren’t even the cheapest. I made that mistake once and never made that again.

How to succeed at pen thieving without really trying
Few pen thieves are actually caught in the act. When they are it’s usually an amateur. Skilled pen thieves rarely are caught in the act, if they’re caught at all. According to Mike, because pen thieves are often pen disciples themselves the line between their naughty and nice sides are virtually seamless. Pen thieves are assumed to be disorganized, hapless scamps who steal pens out of necessity rather than desire. They need a pen, therefore when presented with an opportunity they take them. Mike says this probably only represents a small portion of pen thieves. The reality is most pen thieves are actually crafty little treasure hunters who might even go so far – as is the case with Mike – to keep a running tally of pens they’d like to gank. “For example, say I really want to try out a Sharpie Liquid Pencil, right now would be a good time to find one. It’s a new product that even people who aren’t into pens or pencils are talking about, which means there are probably lots of them hanging out on desks and counters without supervision. The best pen thieves are very deliberate in their targets and ruthless in their execution.” And that’s the name of that tune.

Montblanc Bohème Royal - estimated at 1.5mil

Mike offers tips to those of us who are tired of getting our pens stolen!

  • Always carry several different types of pens.
  • Do not label your pens with your name. That’s merely an invitation for theft.
  • Keep cherished pens on your person. Leave “meh” pens lying around.
  • Try not to be easily identified by one specific pen or brand of pens.
  • Give away pens as often as possible. In addition to the good karma, it also makes you less of a mark.
  • Become a pen thief yourself.

Final words from Mike
“Expensive pens are usually not desirable to hardened pen thieves. That’s too much like real stealing.” As I ponder that point, I wonder if perhaps it’s time for me to start saving up for that million dollar bling encrusted MontBlanc pen.

Because we’re all wondering; I am not, in fact, a pen thief! However, in learning to think like one I have become more adept at foiling them.

* not his real name.
Heat is currently available for instant viewing on Netflix.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 10/11/2010 12:40 am

    Oh, this post is delightful. And “the stealth individual who always manages to blow up the bathroom exactly three minutes before you have to use it” got a literal LOL from me.

  2. 10/11/2010 1:56 pm

    I think I’m a different kind of pen thief — an inadvertent one. Or at least a subconscious one. Hell, maybe I’m just in denial. But at the end of most days I seem to magically end up with one or more pens which I never knowingly picked up or purchased. I think I just have a magnetic attraction for them.

  3. 10/11/2010 2:42 pm

    I had no idea such clever criminals walked among us.

    I myself am a bit of a pen scavenger, as I have been known to pick up pens in parking lots and use them.

  4. 10/11/2010 4:00 pm

    @Alyx I have suffered at the hand of that insidious criminal and cursed their name. It’s really hard to brush your teeth (after lunch) while holding your breath.

    @Redlami – I think that’s how it starts, but based on my experiences with you, you don’t seem like much of a pen thief. People seem to give you pens!

    @Michelle – I found a really great pen – Lipitor pen – in a hospital parking lot and I totally took it home and made it mine. It was a great pen.

  5. Viktorja permalink
    11/15/2010 9:51 pm

    I LOL’d hard at this one. Espcially the “within ten minutes of arrival I am sure he jacked two pens from me”. My friend is Pen Thief. I am occasionally Pen Thief… but not super blingy ones. That is too much like real stealing, as the Pen Thief in the article said 🙂


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