As mentioned in previous postings, Barcelona is a fabulous city, providing that one is well prepared for the pickpockets who are judged the most skilled in Europe - especially if you are a tourist visiting the city for the first time. The previous web pages outlined numerous pickpocket scams that occur in Barcelona, Madrid, and around Spain in general, however several others pickpocket scams are still out there.
The following is another list of frequently reported pickpocket scams that travels have reported when visiting Barcelona. The following is a listing of additional scams that travelers should make themselves aware of when traveling to Spain. Additionally, take into account that pickpockets are just part of the travel experience and you will find them in the majority of major cities around the world. Treat them as part of the overall travel experience by doing a little research on how they operate so you can properly react if one crosses your path.
Typical Child Distraction Technique in Barcelona
This video show how young children stop un-suspecting tourists and try to get them to donate money for various causes. As they speak to you, one of the thieves tries to remove something form your purse. Anytime you are approached by anyone such as this, your "pickpocket radar" should go up immediately. Do not engage these people in conversations or you could have an issue with your valuables.
Pickpocket Scam “Cup and Ball”
This is one of the best known games you see on the Ramblas, and it’s a game where you have to guess which cup a ball is kept. This game is rigged from the beginning, and while it will appear that people are winning, the majority of those “winners” are “shills” (thieves that pretend to be people passing by and winning. These “shills” who win during the game are part of the conspiracy. Don’t fall for this tourist scam. Don’t play it, just watch and watch your stuff.
Pickpocket Scam: “The Metro Push”
Someone gets pushed into the metro in order to get to your stuff more easily, and usually they ask you if this is the metro to Sants. As a tourist you are usually helpful and willing to help them, and they leave at the next station. The push and the conversation are just tools to help the pickpocket or their partners distract you and steal your valuables from your pockets or travel bags. Don’t help them and watch your stuff.
Pickpocket Scam: “¿Que hora es?”
With this trick they ask you for the time in Spanish and by doing this they’ll immediately know if you’re a tourist or not. If you don’t know any Spanish just look another way is to act as if they weren’t talking to you.
Pickpocket Scam: “The Soccer Dance”
This trick is primarily applied at night in busy nightlife areas and is usually performed with people that are tipsy or drunk. A few men come up to you to ask if you can teach them the dance of a well-known soccer player. Without even answering they grab you and lift you off the ground, while they empty your pockets or your bag. If these kinds of people approach you just ignore them and walk the other way immediately.
Pickpocket Scam: “Dancing Puppets”
With this trick you get to see some puppets dance to Music, and of course it looks very cool, but in reality they’re just tied to some sort of fishing wire you can’t see. So as soon as you purchase them en try them out you’ll notice that it doesn’t work, and by that time the salesman will be long gone. Don’t buy dancing puppets, because they will not work.
Pickpocket Scam: “Metro Pickpockets”
This simple trick is a favorite. Pickpockets will get in and out of the metro when it’s really busy, just to grab something out of your coat, trousers or bag. Don’t separate your stuff and don’t keep important stuff in your pockets, and keep your bag in front of you of course!
Pickpocket Scam: “Excuse Me, But Is That Bird Poop on The Back of Your Jacket?”
With this trick a Barcelona pickpocket throws or squirts some type of substance that looks like spit or bird poop on your shoulder or back without your knowledge. They then pretend they just saw it and tell you about it, of course offering to help clean it for you. During the cleaning process they empty out your pockets. Don’t fall for this scam! Clean it yourself or ask someone else later.
Distraction Scam: The Sidewalk Cafe Key Toss
While reported several times in Barcelona, this distraction scam can happen anywhere people enjoy sidewalk cafe dining. A well-dressed man or woman tosses a batch of keys on their table hard enough that they slide off the table but in your direction. The key tosser then pretends to look for where they landed, counting on you to reach down and retrieve them. In the same instant, an accomplice is ready to prey on this distraction by scooping up your purse or camera bag.
Pickpocket Scam: “Flower Salesman”
There are always flower salesmen and women, who want to sell one flower or plant. Different variations include paper mache flowers or some other type of flower or plant. The pickpockets, many times older gypsy women or young children really push you to buy these cheap flowers, telling you they are poor and need food to eat. You feel bad and take out your wallet to pay then a dollar or two – which is when they are more than willing to help you to look for money in your own wallet. Don’t buy flowers with someone that is offering just one flower!
Pickpocket Scam: “The Tourist”
This is one of the newest ways for pickpockets: they act as tourists during a walking route. The swindlers walk in between the big group. They dress just as the other tourists with a map, sunglasses, water and a camera, and they walk with them as if they were really taking part in the walking tour. But before you know it your wallet from your back pocket or from your purse is gone! Always keep a close eye on your stuff or others who seem to join in the crowd.
Pickpocket Scam: Postcards
With this trick someone walks by outdoor cafés or terraces. They try to sell you postcards or other cheap trinkets. When you have had enough of this person trying to sell you stuff you don’t want, all his cards or trinkets “accidentally” fall on your table. When this happens, the thief tries to reach for your wallet or something else – hopefully finding your wallet, camera, or cell phone. You are too wrapped up in “helping this poor fellow” and don’t focus on watching your valuables. Always guard everything immediately.
Pickpocket Scam: “The Donation”
On a tourist spot, someone comes towards you (or they come in a group) and asks you for a small donation for something, and in return you get a button. As soon as you get your wallet out for a euro they dive in it and ‘help’ you to look for money, in the hope to get some banknotes out of one of the compartments. Keep some loose change in your pockets if you want to donate, but don’t get your wallet out in the open.
Pickpocket Scam: “The Map-Trick”
People come towards you with a folder or some other big object like a clipboard and start to ask you unclear questions. Keep your hand on your bag because as soon as they distract you they plunder it in a terribly quick way!
Distraction Scam: "The Hold My Baby Scam"
This is a distraction scam which has been going on for years in southern Europe and beyond. While you are walking down the street, a group of women approach you, one of which is holding her baby. As the woman walks right up to you, she thrusts her baby into your arms, knowing you will catch it. When this occurs, the group of women surround you making a fuss over the baby, while at the same time reaching into your pockets or purse. Far more common is the simple wrapping of a doll (or perhaps a real baby) in excessive cloth, which serves to hide roaming fingers intent on pickpocketing you. If someone is overly bundled on a hot day, do yourself a favor and step away from them as a precaution.
Pickpocket Scam: “The Nightclub Flyer”
This trick works in the same way as the soccer dance, only they try to give you a flyer and they keep it high in the air so that you have to jump to get one, and during these jumps they empty your pockets. You can always get free entrance, shots etc… but the guys who hand out those fliers are located at fixed spots and they won’t let you jump.
Pickpocket Scam: “The School Questionnaire”
With this trick they ask 12 and 13 year olds to go to couples and ask them if they would like to fill out a survey. They look very innocent and don’t speak any English so as a tourist you get a bit confused and don’t get it all; during this confusion they empty your pockets or open your bag. Don’t fill in surveys, because they can’t speak any English anyway to explain what the survey says.
Unsolicited ATM Assistance
ATMs in another country can be confusing. If you have trouble, go inside the bank and ask for assistance. Scam artists stake out some ATMs and offer assistance. But what they're really after is your code, which they will use to clean out your account, or when they help you use the ATM and your money ejects from the machine, the scammer (usually a young person) grabs the cash as it comes out of the machine and runs away.
Be Careful when watching Street Performers in Barcelona
On the Las Rambles, numerous women tourists (especially young women) have reported that they were molested while watching street performers. Watch this Barcelona TV news segment that discusses this issue. While the report is done in Spanish, the video speaks for itself.
Hopefully this list of Barcelona and Madrid pickpocket scams will you give you a better idea how these types of thieves operate. Make sure you review the other pickpocket scams listed on the other pickpocket web pages.
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To fully educate and prepare yourself for a chance encounter with a petty thief, check out "Traveler Beware, an Undercover Cop's Guide to Avoiding Pickpockets," an audio book by Detective Kevin Coffey. All of the cutting edge travel gadgets discussed here, as well as the "pickpocket training" CD to give you peace of mind when traveling can be found at www.corporatetravelsafety.com.
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