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Barcelona -- pick pockets and sneak thieves

Barcelona -- pick pockets and sneak thieves

Apr 29th, 2010, 02:56 PM
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Barcelona -- pick pockets and sneak thieves

We just returned from a trip to Spain and Morocco. Before we left I recall some queries on this site regarding the issue of safety in Barcelona relative to other large cities. What follows is our perspective on this, based upon our expericence.

First, a bit of background. This was our 11th trip to Europte and our second trip to Spain (first to Barcelona). We have always traveled independently ( as opposed to with a tour). DH (possesor of the much coveted camera) is 6'1" and is physcially fit.

When we arrived in Barcelona, practically the first words out of our hotel host's mouth were, "watch your camera". Over the course of the three days we spent in Barcelona, we received probably 10 similar warnings. DH was carrying a Canon digital SLR along with a camera backpack which contained some lenses.

First night out on the town, we stopped at a restaurant in the old city for dinner. We were seated inside the restaurant. The camera was around my husband's neck and the camera backpack was on a bench seat positioned between the two of us. Our server approached us after we had eaten to tell us that a man had come into the restaurant, sat down at the table next to us, appeared to size up the camera and backpack and then got up and left. Watch the camera, he told us. Then he made a gesture we were to see many times in which he put a finger to his lower eye lid and touch it slightly. The "keep a sharp eye" sign, apparently.

We then developed a pattern in which any time DH was focused on taking a photogtraph, I would turn and scan the surrounding area. On more than one occasion, I would make eye contact with someone (typically a young man) heading in our direction who would, once he noticed me watching him, turn and go in a different direction.

With the exception of one frightening incident on the Metro, they were all sneak theives who were looking for an opportunity to grab camera or backpack and run. One day we decided to take the Metro to Park Gaudi. Before we left our hotel, we put the camera inside the backpack. We got on the Metro and were immediately separated by 4 young people. I sat down beside a man with a young child and my husband was cut off and surrounded by the young people. He was confused at first as they were all speaking to him in Spanish. He pushed his way through them but they followed him. Other people on the Metro were giving us the eye-tugging signal and looking alarmed. We tried to move away from the four but they followed us. They did not appear to speak English and we whispered a plan to bolt out the door at the last minute at the next stop. We did so and they didn't make it out the door. Two people who had gotten off at the same time we did told us to be very careful.

Barcelona is a beautiful city and we met many kind people. It was disheartening to experience (and have that experience reinforced by words of caution from so many Barcelona citizens) that it is simply not a very secure place. It was noteworthy that we saw few police officers (in contrast to Madrid in which there were many). We did enjoy our visit notwithstanding our "cops and robbers" experience. And DH did take many very fine photographs.

In our European travels we have frequently used public transportation. We recently spent two weeks in Rome in which we traveled all over the city on foot, by bus and by Metro. Same camera, same camera backpack. We did not experience anything like what we underwent in Barcelona.

After Barcelona our next stop was Granada. From there we spent two weeks traveling on our own in Morocco, concluding our trip with two days in Madrid. Our experience in Barcelona was unique.
MartaD is offline  
Apr 29th, 2010, 03:05 PM
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Thanks for sharing such a detailed and level-headed report.

I dislike visiting Barcelona because of its problems with thieves who target tourists, but I also think that many of the port cities of the Mediterranean -- in France and Italy as well as Spain -- have significant problems with thievery, drugs, vice and a compromised police force. Barcelona is one of the few that has gained a middle-class international tourist trade, but it hasn't erased the underlying problems it shares with other port cities. It has the additional problem of having rather hostile relations with some of its tourist population. Not all tourists behave well in Barcelona, so they are sometimes considered fair game and the police are indifferent to their fate.
zeppole is offline  
Apr 29th, 2010, 03:14 PM
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I'm sorry about your experience. I believe what you are saying but feel I need to explain my experience, which was different. I also read all the warnings and posts about Barcelona. In March I was there for a week, I was also there in 2006. I did not see any pickpocket attempts and felt very safe at all times. I rode the metro several times. Of course this does not mean none existed, but I just don't want people thinking that they are occurring at all times. Because of all the recent threads about crime in Barcelona I was a little more observant than I might have been and what I did notice was a fairly impressive police presence. I saw them patrolling on foot, on motorcycle, on horse, in cars. I thought perhaps they were taking their status as pick-pocket capital seriously and trying to do something about it. I am also a photographer and had my camera on my shoulder most of the time.

Interesting that you mention you saw nothing negative in Granada, when I was there a few years ago I did see pickpocket attempts and gypsy scams (rosemary twigs/palm reading) but I saw none of that in Barcelona.

Pickpockets and thieves exist everywhere. I always wear an under the clothing money belt and try to be observant and don't walk alone late at night in deserted streets. Everyone should be careful. But I would hate for anyone to decide not to go to Barcelona because of experience Marta describes, or any of the other threads about crime in Barcelona. I have been traveling to Europe about twice a year for the past decade and really don't feel Barcelona is in any way more dangerous than any other major city.
isabel is online now  
Apr 29th, 2010, 03:16 PM
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Here is a website with good safety tips for Barcelona:

Echnaton is offline  
Apr 29th, 2010, 03:50 PM
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My experiences were same as isabel. I've been to Barcelona twice, the most recent visit was just several months ago for a whole week with my sis-in-law. I've been warned a gazillion times about pickpockets & petty thieves; so we were very vigilant about our surroundings, but we never witnessed any pickpocketing going on or felt "targeted".

Perhaps I look too poor to have anything valuable on me, so the pickpockets decided to target richer tourists instead.

In any case, sis-in-law wore a moneybelt the entire time, though she did have a decent camera which was easily spotted.

I had a secured zipper on my daybag, and I never carried more money than I needed for the day (rest of money was in the in-room safe).
yk is offline  
Apr 29th, 2010, 06:51 PM
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We had a similar episode in a metro station in Paris. I was walking about 5 ft. behind my wife. As we walked along A man got up from a bench and stepped behind my wife with her daypack. I quickly stepped in between them and looked him straight in the eyes. He ignored me but casually turned and sat down on a bench. The train came, we got on, he didn't. The trick is to not be paranoid, but be aware of whats going on around you. We have a code word we mention to each other if we see a situation developing. It works and we just step out of the situation.
leuk2 is offline  
Apr 29th, 2010, 07:07 PM
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I would also recommend people read the various reports on this website as well as rick steves. Again the point is not to become paranoid, but to be aware of the various scams. You can then just laugh and walk away. They will leave you alone and move on to an easier target.
leuk2 is offline  
Apr 29th, 2010, 07:17 PM
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If you are going to Barcelona and want to learn first hand how to avoid pickpockets, the below website might be an interesting visit. This site has several pages dedicated to outlining the specific locations in Barcelona where pickpockets operate - i.e certain churches, tourist locations, Metro stops, etc.

Additionally the site has several pages of actual videos of pickpockets in action so you can see first hand how they work. Taking a few mins to learn how sneak thieves operate can save you from spending a day at a police station filling out reports and calling credit card companies.

When you go to this page, scroll down to the pickpocket section where you will find the Barcelona links. The pickpocket pages of Italy has other interesting pickpockets videos to. Here's the site:


Hope it helps some folks who might visit Barca...Just keep in mind what a previous writer above noted...pickpockets operate all around the world, many times right here at home...however, do keep in mind the old saying "Pickpockets Love Tourists."
David999 is offline  
Apr 29th, 2010, 09:23 PM
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I had traveled to many European citys on my own, through a few years, with warnings to be careful. But when I was in Barcelona, the hotel clerk warned me to be careful which was unusual because I have never been anywhere where the hotel clerk warned me. I was extra careful; nothing happened to me, but I personally witness two incidents. I saw a wallet snatched in broad daylight and a purse snatched in the evening. The young crooks ran so fast it is impossible to catch up.
Globalchar is offline  
Apr 30th, 2010, 03:15 AM
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Well, the famous bank robber Willie Sutton was supposedly asked why he robbed banks. His answer: "That's where the money is!"

I followed a tourist photographer all around the cathedral in Barcelona. His camera bag, slung over his shoulder, full of expensive lenses, was wide open the whole time. It was an invitation to theft.

Most people are not as careful as those who post on here. I live in a tourist destination, and visitors are shocked when they return to their unlocked cars (windows down) to discover that their Iphones are gone. Well, duh.

A professional pickpocket is going to get you pretty much whatever you do. But you can defend yourself against speedy but unemployed young men with the kind of vigilance described here.
Ackislander is offline  
Apr 30th, 2010, 04:10 AM
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even a professional pickpocket can't get you if you are minimal about what you carry.
jubilada is online now  
Apr 30th, 2010, 04:31 AM
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My daughter lived in Madrid for six months and rode the subway every day. The pickpocket gangs worked the subways every day, mostly targeting tourists.

>>>the police are indifferent to their fate.<<<

The same is true of Rome, Naples and multiple other European cities.
kybourbon is offline  
Apr 30th, 2010, 05:59 AM
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Barcelona to me, will always stay in my heart, as one of the most wonderful images of great architecture and foresight when designing buildings, be it old or new.
But, Barcelona was the only city where we paid special attention to not standing out in the crowd. So for the benefit of members, all ideas about safety while touring,remind us all, that simple steps and heightened awareness, keep you safe most of the time. So this is an added scam warning.
Walking back to our hotel one day,we were followed by two women offering us a carnation..Thinking that they were trying to sell them I said no very clearly a few times, not undertsanding what they were saying in Spanish. Their voices were getting louder and louder, for not purchasing this flower,then one of them finally came up and shoved a carnation into the top of my t-shirt.Although I was suprised & angry, rather than scared, it was only afterwards that I realised that they were trying to steal something, whether it was my bag or the jewellery (not expensive) around my neck. Rather than feeling unsafe everywhere you travel, just follow all the basic rules, all of the time, so that you have done everything possible fir the best holiday.
zanderch is offline  
Apr 30th, 2010, 06:14 AM
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Barcelona is a fabulous destination with wonderful food, art and architecture. We enjoyed our visit and would like to return. The tragedy is that it is also a place that in spite of your best efforts, you will be a target for theft. We have traveled all over europe on many occasions and always remind ourselves of the problems and dangers--and have experienced pickpocket attempts in several locations. Barcelona was and is about the most likely place I've ever visited to be a target. We thwarted one classic attempt on a metro escalator after watching an all too casual person follow us.

What I really resent is the feeling that you, the victim, must not have been vigilant or smart enough to avoid the event. The constant concern and vigilance will and does color the experience--is everyone a crook? No, but some are and which ones? It affects your perception and reflects badly on the whole. I agree, go but realize what you are putting yourself into and minimize the loss if you can. To a lot of people, the threats are enough to deter a visit and that's a shame--on Barcelona!
macanimals is offline  
May 1st, 2010, 10:40 AM
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Look at the photo in the middle. These people are Americans. No one else in this world dresses like this.
Echnaton is offline  
May 1st, 2010, 11:42 AM
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OMG, I wouldn't be seen in my yard dressed like that nevermind when traveling.
AGM_Cape_Cod is offline  
May 2nd, 2010, 08:16 AM
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Interesting responses. Let me say first that we did not dress inappropriately or in anyway which would draw particular attention. We did not behave rudely, loudly, drunkenly or offensively (not that such behavior should justify police taking an indifferent approach to theft). My husband is an avid amateur photographer and photography is, for him, an important part of travel. The idea that one must either not take a camera, or only cart one which is small and inexpensive appearing is ludicrous. We were not careless with our camera. During our experience on the subway it was enclosed in a backpack in fact. I am sure, however, that experienced camera thieves doubtless recognized it as a backpack designed for carrying a camera.

After 11 trips to Europe (and much time spent utilizing public transportation and carting around our camera) I do not believe we did anything which invited or justified what we experienced. I did not write this post out of any desire to pan Barcelona. However, numerous people have written inquiring about the risk of theft in the city including, specifically, the risk relative to other Europe cities. In our experience, it is in a leaque of its own.
MartaD is offline  
May 2nd, 2010, 08:25 AM
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Was in Barcelona for 4 days last Sept....with my DSLR and 2nd lens. Walked lots, saw no pick pockets, weren't targeted didn't feel threatened....never wear a moneybelt
alihutch is offline  
May 2nd, 2010, 11:16 AM
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Marta, I am so sorry. That post was intended for a different thread (about fashion). I did not want to be cynical. A theft can happen to everyone (I also have my camera with me and am an obvious target - I see no chance to do anything about it.)
Echnaton is offline  
May 3rd, 2010, 09:38 AM
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Marta, so sorry to hear about your experience. DH and I also just returned from Barcelona (yesterday) and had read numerous posts here about crime and pickpocketing in BCN, so I was mentally prepared for the possibility of shady characters lurking on every corner. I constantly have a camera slung around my neck and a cross-body purse, and DH carries a drawstring bag with guidebooks and other items.

Our experience was totally different than yours. We walked all over the city and rode the Metro multiple times. We had an apartment in Barri Gotic so we were often out for dinner at night there or in El Born, both areas that get the most warnings for pickpocket activity. We never at any time felt threatened or unsafe. We commented quite often on the police presence...they seemed to be everywhere. We never saw evidence of the scams one hears about (gypsies giving you a flower, spilling things on you, etc.) We did not feel BCN was any more or any less safe than any other European city we've visited....and not in a "league of its own" as Marta says.

We are always careful and very aware of our surroundings, but then again it sounds like you are too Marta. Your profile (height, fitness, carefulness) is very much like ours -- it is so interesting how similar people can have different experiences at the same time. Like Isabel says, I'd hate for people not to go to BCN after reading some of the warnings. I don't intend to discount what Marta says, just wanted to give another point of view.
bniemand is offline  

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