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MaddieEms Feb 27th, 2013 02:06 PM

Tell Me The Truth -- Barcelona Pickpockets/Scams
Don't bash me--- this is a real question.

I've traveled alot to Europe in the past, but I haven't gone for a few years. I have been almost pickpocketed (politely) in Rome (smiled and waved them away). Almost pickpocketed (politely) in Paris by gypsies (smiled and waved them away). Friend was almost "gamed" by the Sacre Coeur (she stuck her finger out and a Nigerian placed a string around her finger, it was very strange). So, I get it. I understand how to be careful, etc. I *think* I know what to look for. I used to live in the Tenderloin in SF, for goodness sakes.

However, the more I read about Barcelona, the more I'm finding advice that I may be:

- brutally bumped around, knocked over in order to get pickpocketed (Disboards)
- get stuff dumped on me so that people will pretend to clean it off (Tom's Port Guide)
- young children will pull on me and their accomplices will pickpocket me (Rick Steves)
- I should get lash-guard safe camera straps to avoid being robbed (but what about my neck? how I would lash guard my neck? lol)

Is that all true? How much of the above is just "internet" advice versus real life in Barcelona.

I am going with a group of young and old. We will be targeted, I have absolutely no doubt. But how much of it will be polite pickpocketing/opportunistic stealing (which I'm used to) versus I need to make sure my 65 YO father doesn't get brutally knocked over while he is taking pictures with his DSLR?


MaddieEms Feb 27th, 2013 02:17 PM

Oh and when I say "almost pickpocketed," I don't mean that it would have ever happened. I only keep metro tickets & chapstick in my pockets. My money's in a compartment in my bra and I don't carry credit cards when out.

Pegontheroad Feb 27th, 2013 02:25 PM

I've been to Barcelona 3 times in the past 10 years. I have experienced one theft and one attempt, but in neither case was there a hint of violence. I am an older (77 years old) woman. I usually travel alone.

Two times I have been warned by inhabitants, once in Sevilla, and once somewhere else, to keep my purse zipped up. Of course, the nice ladies who warned me didn't know that I don't keep money or credit cards in my purse--only less important stuff, though I do keep my camera there.

I ALWAYS keep my ATM/credit cards and larger amounts of money in my money belt under my clothes.

I think it's important to keep your belongings on your person at all times. That is, don't put your laptop or tablet or camera, etc., down while you do anything else.

Keep your purse on your lap. If you must put it down, as at a restaurant, anchor the strap on the leg of your chair so that it cannot be removed without your noticing.

Thieves can look absolutely respectable. So don't be fooled by a well-dressed man or woman.

Dukey1 Feb 27th, 2013 02:26 PM

I've had my pocket picked once and that was on the Barcelona Metro. It was cleverly done but I could have prevented it had I been a bit more alert.

I've been back several times since and never had a problem. I've never been bumped, had anything spilled on me, been surrounded by gypsies, etc., etc., and I have been found more than once on the dreaded Las Ramblas where a lot of people here will say is worse than Hell, blah, blah, blah.

IMO if you stay away from Barcelona because of something that MIGHT happen and as unlikely as it probably IS to happen, you are being foolish.

Robert2533 Feb 27th, 2013 02:36 PM

Yes there is a crisis throughout Europe, as well as in the rest of the world. And yes, some pickpockets (from certain countries) can be overly aggressive, but Barcelona's no different than any other large, busy, tourist filled cosmopolitan city. Just be alert to your surroundings, pay attention to what's happening, don't walk down dark alleys at night and don't hang out in the metro.

MaddieEms Feb 27th, 2013 02:37 PM

Pegontheroad--- do you mind talking about the thefts. I figure the more I hear about how they operate the better prepared I will be.

Dukey--I don't plan on staying away. In fact, we have a 4 day stay coming up. I just want to know if I should engage in a way in order to prevent muggings.

I used to live in a place full of crack addicts (literally) on the street corners and there was a certain way that I'd have to walk around that neighborhood (SF Tenderloin) in order to be more defensive. I'm wondering if I need to be *that* on guard. I would hope not.

suec1 Feb 27th, 2013 03:12 PM

We were targeted in the Metro - they really like the large, connecting stations as they can snatch and run to another line. One often used tactic is blocking the door as people get on or off the metro - one blocks, causing a back-up, his partner fishes. The day after we were robbed, we returned to the same station and sat down to watch. Within 15 minutes we saw a small swarm start working one of the lines. Some would stand at the end of the platform I assume picking out a target, then another move into place to block the door. We saw then target an older gentleman - mad me so mad - we started yelling loudly "ladrones, ladrones - be careful" and they ran away. I have to think there are "known suspects" to the metro police - maybe they need to start doing as they do in Paris and making announcements in the station about theives being present and watch your belongings.

But all that being said, I still love Barcelona.

worldinabag Feb 27th, 2013 03:42 PM

From - "Watch out for the famous bird poo distraction/theft scam. Someone will come up to you claiming that you have had bird poo on your back. They will attempt to "help" you wipe it off, whilst pick pocketing you of course! This is now an infamous and all too common scam."

Barcelona seems to have such a bad reputation that books have been published on the matter -

Pegontheroad Feb 27th, 2013 04:31 PM

MaddieEms: The theft happened in a restaurant called La Garduña in la Boqueria market. My sister had put her purse down beside her chair and a young man came by pretending to be a waiter from the restaurant. He kind of bent over and a little and asked how we were enjoying the meal, just like a good waiter would, and then he walked away. When I saw him do that, I said something, and then my sister realized her purse was gone.

She said that her purse had been in her lap, but I kind of doubt that. Fortunately, she had given me her passport and ATM card to put in my money belt, so all the thief got was her camera.

The attempted theft was when I was on a train for Montserrat--which was of course full of tourists. A man and woman sat opposite me. I had put my purse on the floor between my leg and the wall of the train. I felt the straps on my purse move, and I knew what was happening. I moved the purse so that it was out of anyone's reach.

I probably should have been suspicious from the start because when I got on the train, I asked if it was the train to Montserrat. The woman said she didn't know. Hmmm, you're on the train, but you don't know where it's going?

The man and woman left the train shortly afterward.

By the way, I always keep my purse on the side away from the road, because I've heard that thieves on motorcyles will grab a purse as they drive by. I haven't heard any specifics about this, just that it could happen.

Robert2533 Feb 27th, 2013 04:43 PM

"and asked how we were enjoying the meal, just like a good waiter would" would be your first clue that something was amiss. A good waiter in Spain would never ask how the meal was going.

Did you happen to notice that most women in Barcelona, and elsewhere in Spain, normally wear their purse strapped across their body, making in practically impossible to steal?

texasbookworm Feb 27th, 2013 05:01 PM

Keeping all important documents/cards/most cash somehow under clothing and being hyper alert are the two cautions we always take overseas or in large cities. Plus just walking away from/ignoring any and all people who seem at all wanting something or trying to approach us or asking for help (there are a few exceptions of course). Always watching each others' back (and putting back to solid surface with belongings/backpack/camera held snugly in front). And NEVER setting belongings/backpack/camera down on the floor unless having one hand snugly holding a strap. That being said, we too were nervous about Barcelona and elected to avoid the metro and took taxis when we needed to. We had no near brushes that I was aware of with any pick-pockets. We walked by a few beggars but had no issue. We were "accosted" by a beggar in line at La Sagrada Familia--we and another couple (and actually several other people near us) all either ignored him or said No or we don't speak Spanish. He took one of his crutches and hit my husband in the ankle when DH turned his back on him and kept whining. We all just stared at him and he went away. He came back and took a poke again! We just ignored him and moved on in line when we could. It was really stupid. But didn't feel threatened as much as irritated and "where is an official!?"

So just practice vigilance, secure your stuff (even under clothing) and MAYBE avoid the Metro; seems a mixed bag of reviews/stories of experience there. Enjoy!

StCirq Feb 27th, 2013 05:09 PM

<<Barcelona's no different than any other large, busy, tourist filled cosmopolitan city.>>

Yes it is different. Statistically, there are far more pickpocketing incidents in Barcelona and other venues in Spain than in other countries.

willperson Feb 27th, 2013 05:24 PM

All these sound familiar. I was a victim of the "bird poo" ploy. Luckily my wife screamed and I managed to hold on to the bag so no real harm. You must be careful in Barcelona but it is a wonderful city. Be careful and enjoy it.

MaddieEms Feb 27th, 2013 05:28 PM

Thanks everyone. I was ready to take the stories seriously but you guys have made me realize that I really need to tell my entire family to be on their guard. We (now) live in a nice suburban neighborhood and I think they will not be used to being so defensive.

Suec1---so fascinating. So one person would block the door of the metro getting off and then the last person in the bottleneck would be pickpocketed? This is helpful, thanks, especially because we will be taking the Metro and my aunt will be targeted (she's 5 feet tall, super tiny, in her 50s and carries a purse [it drives me nuts].)

It's too bad that this is all so rampant over there. I'd love to be able to enjoy our holiday and let my guard down a little, but I guess we'll be on the look out.

Thanks everyone!

xyz123 Feb 27th, 2013 05:33 PM

I'll tell you...I am so afraid of Barcelona that when I do a cruise that originats there, I fly in the day before, stay at an airport hotel and the next morning take a cab to the cruise port. I wouldn't want to walk around Barcelona and based on all I've read including one actual visit to the city while on a tour, I can do withoutit.

And yes, while I agree thefts and this sort of thing can happen anywhere at any time, Barcelona based on the statistics is far worse than most. At lest in my humble opinion.

kybourbon Feb 27th, 2013 05:56 PM

DD lived in Madrid for 6 months while attending school. She watched the same groups work their pick pocket scams on the metro every day. The police made no attempt to arrest them. Similar scams on the metro in Barcelona. They know when the stops are and grab something just as the door is about to close and jump off (don't stand by the door). They also try to get in front or behind on the escalators in the metro. A slight trip, stumble, jostle (by them) and you are picked.

They work crowds that are stopped to watch something (street performers, etc.) or distracted shopping at street markets.

MaddieEms Feb 27th, 2013 05:58 PM

So you guys got me curious. Youtube is your friend. I watched a bunch of them in action, and now I have an idea of what to look out for. So sad that this is the reality of it. Here are some videos, but there are tons if you look.

Pickpockets asking you to sign a petition:

Nat Geo secret cameras--special on Barcelona "Pickpocket Capital of the World" (Part 1) (so fascinating):

Pegontheroad Feb 27th, 2013 06:03 PM

Please don't let all these reports dissuade you from visiting Barcelona. I really love the city and will undoubtedly return. It has so much to offer!

MaddieEms Feb 27th, 2013 06:04 PM

Nat Geo special on Barcelona (Part 3) -- The Host meets with a pickpocketer who explains his methods, and invites him into his home.

MaddieEms Feb 27th, 2013 06:12 PM

If you don't want to watch the Youtube videos, at least watch the one I marked as Part 3, starting at 7:40. The Nat Geo reporter goes along with Romanian pickpockets living in Barcelona, showing how they target people on the metro.

In the interview, the pickpocket says that when they get caught they only get 3 days in jail. Period. It's a lucrative business I guess.

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