How to be One Step Ahead of Pickpockets in Barcelona

A vibrantly artistic heart, incredible food, better drink and unforgettable nightlife make Barcelona one of Spain, and Europe's most enticing cities.

Shares

Unfortunately the Catalonian capital also bears another, more dubious honour: Barcelona is the pickpocket capital of the world. 

Spain's soaring unemployment rate, a wealth of tourist wallets and scarce legal deterrent for petty crimes has created some kind of larcenous perfect storm.

There's no need to go and cancel your flights. Sure, petty theft could almost number among Barcelona's leading industries, but the perpetrators are out for easy pickings which, after a few quick tips, won't be you. Violent crime is also very rare, so as long as you can keep a hand on your wallet you have nothing to fear in Barcelona.

Spotting a Pickpocket

The crooks often work in groups, preying on distracted and disoriented tourists. One hand captures your attention while the other rifles through your bag.

It might seem rude or culturally insensitive to question odd or overly friendly behaviour from strangers while you're travelling but this is the attitude pickpockets rely on.

Of course you don't want to be constantly wound up and paranoid when you're trying to relax. But, if you do feel suspicious, it's easy to brush your hand over your wallet, pull your bag closer or have a quick look over your shoulder. Don't be afraid to confront anyone following you either, although there's no need to get aggressive. If the thieves know you're onto them they'll quickly skulk off to await an easier target.

Forewarned is forearmed so if you can recognise a dodgy character or situation you'll know when to crank up the defences and then you can spend the rest of your holiday being pleasantly distracted.

Common Scams in Barcelona

The Flower Scam

One of the most popular traps involves a couple of unassuming ladies offering you a flower. Don't take it. The flower is just an excuse for the women to get close and get into your pockets. If you do take it, you'll soon learn it wasn't a gift. The women will demand money for it, pestering you for some tiny amount. When you decide it's worth un centavo to be rid of them, they will kindly reach into your wallet to help you locate the right coin, simultaneously clearing out all your notes.

Obviously letting a stranger put their hands in your wallet isn't a great idea but these sneaky couples can be very persistent. Even if you don't take the flower they may grab your hands, urging you to accept it, all the while getting themselves closer to you and your valuables. The best approach is not to acknowledge them at all, don't slow down or stop. If you do end up with a flower in your hand just drop it on the ground and continue on your way. You might cop a few curses but at least you'll keep you stuff.

The Pigeon Poo Scam

Another classic trick is for someone to spray paint or milk onto your clothes. A kindly local will quickly approach to tell you about your unfortunate accident and offer to help clean you up. The aim is for you to drop what you're carrying as you attend to the stain, or for your helpful friend to get his hands into your pockets. If you do find yourself the target of this messy method, politely but firmly refuse any assistance. Keep a tight hold on your possessions and walk away quickly. You can clean yourself up later.

The Crowded Metro Scam

This trick involves a group of thieves who'll push in front of you as you try to get on or off a train. They create some delay at the door, meaning their buddies, who've slipped in behind, have an excuse to bump into you. They also work on a divide and conquer principle, trying to separate potential victims from their travelling buddies. You should be alert whenever you're taking crowded public transport, but if you find someone try to squeeze between you and your friends chances are your possessions are in jeopardy.

A variation of these techniques can happen at any bottleneck or queue, like a shop entrance, bus line or escalator. The thieves will use any means to hold you up, from dropping coins to having someone fall at your feet. If you bend to help pick up the coins or the clumsy stranger you present your bag and back pockets to the waiting cutpurse. It may seem cruel but don't be afraid to push past and get yourself out of danger.

The Clipboard Cover Scam

Someone holding a clipboard will approach you, asking you to complete a survey of some sort. They'll shove the sheet into you face, obscuring your view and allowing them, or an accomplice to dip into your bag.

The clipboard/paper/book scam is used all over the world. Photo credit: iStock

Again, there are plenty of adaptations. People asking directions hold up maps, nightclub promoters wave posters and scalpers flash phony tickets in front of your eyes. They all serve the same sinister purpose, so don't let yourself be fooled.

The Devious Diners Scam

Other thieves roam the outdoor dining areas of Barcelona's many restaurants, looking for any unwatched bags or cameras. These crooks come in all shapes and sizes. Some lone opportunists will just pick off whatever they can find, others work in groups and have elaborate methods to distract diners.

One story we've heard involves a raucous group of well-dressed young girls sitting down at a table next to some travellers. They made a lot of noise but didn't order and soon they all stood up and left. The waiter returned, saw they were gone and instantly told his unsuspecting patrons to check their bags, which were all gone.

There are similar reports about beggars approaching tables and insisting on a donation, even getting abusive. Anything to attract your attention while an accomplice slips away with your stuff.

Don't leave bags at your feet at restaurants and don't put your jacket over the back of the chair, especially not if there's anything in the pockets. It might be slightly uncomfortable but it's best to keep your things in your lap.

The Fake Policemen Scam

These guys are closer to conmen than pickpockets but the end result is the same. It starts when someone pretending to be a fellow tourist approaches and asks for directions or advice. Even if you just wave them off, another group of men will then appear, flashing IDs and claiming to be undercover police. They'll say they've been tracking your newfound friend, on drugs or terrorism charges or something equally intimidating, and that you're now a suspect by association.

Demanding identification of some sort, they'll try and get you to hand over your passport or wallet. They might just split with your things or they might be subtler and try to pocket the cards and cash. Some people have even reported being told to give up their PIN as the 'cop' has a phony conversation with HQ on the telephone to confirm their identity.

Don't cave into these intimidation tactics. Don't risk provoking the gang but ask to have a closer look at their badges. Ask to walk to the nearest police station before handing over any documentation. That should be enough to put these scammers off.

Variations on a Theme

There are hundreds of variations on these popular techniques, but they all boil down to one main element: misdirection.

Barcelona's pickpockets are very fast and very skilled but they are also very predictable. When know what cues to look for it should be easy to spot and avoid crooks. If something feels a little amiss, it probably is.

Barcelona's residents are very welcoming and helpful, but they are also quite reserved, compared to southern Spaniards at least. They will gladly offer you directions if you ask, but it's unlikely they'll try to initiate a conversation out of the blue. They definitely won't try to touch you.

Where They Strike

Pickpockets congregate around tourist hotspots, train stations and bus depots. Obviously it would be difficult and indeed silly for you to avoid these places completely, but it's good to know when you really need to be on your toes.

A popular spot for pickpockets. Photo credit: iStock

Las Ramblas is one of Barcelona's big attractions, with thousands of tourists and locals alike wandering, shopping, eating and soaking up the atmosphere. However the boulevard is also notorious for thieves and scammers. During the daytime don't hang around watching the human statues or street performers. Chances are they are working alongside pickpockets in the crowd. Definitely don't stop at any of the gaming tables, almost everyone here is on the act.

The south end of Las Ramblas gets a little seedy at night, with prostitutes and drug dealers aplenty. It's probably best to avoid during the wee hours of the morning, if at all possible.

Plaza Catalunya, at the northern end of Las Ramblas, is another place to watch your wallet. To the south, beware in Barrio Gotico, one of the city's historic districts. Even during the day it's easy to find yourself isolated around a tight corner in the area's narrow, winding streets.

The popularity of the Picasso Museum makes Carrer Montcada a popular hangout for thieves. The same goes for Carrer de la Princesa and the sidestreets near Mercat Santa Caterina.

It's best to stick to the main roads when making your way to or from Rambla Del Raval as well. Some of the streets near this popular nightspot are a little dodgy.

Be especially careful when you're arriving or departing the city, as you'll be carrying your entire luggage and might be a little stressed or disoriented. Sants and Franca train stations, Estacio del Nord bus station and the Cercanias Metro line, which goes out to the airport, are all prowled by pickpockets.

Protecting Your Belongings

Theft Prevention in Barcelona

Far better than foiling a crook's pickpocket attempts is to slip under their radar completely. If you have the look of a savvy traveller, chances are they'll ignore you and keep prowling for an easy target.

One of the first things that gives away a tourist is how they're dressed. If you make an effort to fit in with the local's dress code you are less likely to be targeted.

Barcelona's style is relaxed but still quite smart. They're going for that fine balance between caring about your appearance and not appearing as if you care about your appearance.

Obviously you shouldn't rush out and buy a whole new set of clothes but you probably shouldn't stroll around in your favourite footy jersey and thongs.

Brightly coloured clothes aren't big in Barcelona and will make you stick out like a sore thumb. Subdued, autumnal colours make up the locals' preferred palette.

Barcelona is a seaside town but there are two very different dress codes for the beach and the city. There's plenty on show at the shore but don't wear your board shorts and bikinis too far from the water.

Despite the declining influence of the Catholic Church, Barcelona's style is still quite conservative. Fitted clothes are fine but female travellers should avoid overly revealing garments. Miniskirts and low-cut tops will draw the attention of pickpockets, but also some disapproving glares.

Jewellery is like a red rag to a bull for thieves. Don't go out dripping in gold or silver.

Bum bags are right out. Not only do they scream 'I'm a tourist, rob me', but they're very easy to rip or cut off.

Handbags with long straps are also easy for grab and run thieves, who sometimes zoom by on bikes. Try to wear any bags across your body, rather than just over the shoulder, making it more difficult to wrestle them from you. At the very least, tie some knots in any long, thin straps to make them a little shorter and stronger.

Extra Tips to Keep You Safe

The way you behave is perhaps even more important than how you dress in avoiding criminal attention. A really sharp eye will be able to pick you as a tourist no matter how you're dressed but you can still show you're no easy pickings.

Walk with purpose and try to look and try to avoid that lost lamb look, even if you have no idea where you are. If your group has to look at the map, try and find a shop, cafe or an alcove to do it in, rather than standing around in a circle of confusion. Asking directions from a shopkeeper or waiter actually often yields a clearer route than consulting your map.

Even if you are the victim of theft you should be able to minimise your losses by keeping your most valuable items close to you. Don't keep any prized possessions in handbags or backpacks. Only take out as much cash as you need that day, along with a photocopy of your passport. Keep the rest and the real deal safely locked up at your accommodation.

Carry your wallet in your front pocket and try to get into the habit of brushing your hand over it every so often. This will make you feel more secure as well as letting any scoping pickpockets know you're alert to their presence.

What to Do if You Get Pickpocketed

If a pickpocket does manage to pull one over on you, don't panic. Don't spend time trying to tracing your steps to track down the perpetrator either. You can be sure they've either already vanished or passed on your stuff.

It's better to focus this frustrated energy into dealing with the practicalities of the situation. Your first priority should be to cancel your cards. Your bank should have a 24-hour emergency contact number for this sort of situation. It's wise to keep this written down somewhere. Cancelling your phone account is also a priority, if you're not using a prepaid service.

Getting a replacement passport and cancelling the old one is integral if you're planning on going home at any point. You can do this at your consulate but you'll to get a police report first.

You should report all robberies to the police. If you visit one of the inner city police stations for this purpose you're sure to run into plenty of other cheated tourists. This might make you feel a little better about falling victim, but the resulting lines can be frustrating.

There are a few ways to make this experience a little less excruciating. Firstly, Barcelona's police aren't necessarily multi-lingual. They should have no trouble guessing why you're there but just in case, the word for police report is denuncia. Try and prepare all the details, serial numbers, passport number, distinctive markings etc, of anything that has been stolen. Don't waste time talking about the photos that were on your camera, they would have been deleted almost immediately.

Give a clear, concise explanation of theft and where it occurred, or where you think it occurred.

In June 2011 the Hotel Association of Barcelona began trialling a system in which tourists can make police reports from their accommodation. It's only currently available in a few hotels, but if it works to streamline the reporting process it could be widely available. Check with your hotel when you arrive.

58 Comments

  • adsam said

    follow link to see how they look like in person. innocent looking young girls but real pickpockets in barcelona: http://twitgoo.com/5e9x7r

  • Kim said

    Yet this article fails to mention that 90% of crime in Barcelona is commited by immigrants (mostly from Morocco, South America and Eastern Europe). You will hardly see any locals pickpocketing or attacking tourists. Sadly, there is no prison sentence for petty crime so there is no way to stop these people. If anything, they are growing in number. So I would advise to stay away from strangers and to try to blend in with the locals as much as possible so you don't stand out as an easy target.

  • Captain Obvious said

    We'll send Said the invoice for the massive jail infrastructure to support that miraculously original and well-thought out idea

  • Anon said

    Simple solution....Hefty jail sentences for pickpocketing. problem solved.

  • Kevin said

    My partner and I just returned from three absolutely glorious weeks in Barcelona. I've traveled in much of Europe and I have to say that Barcelona is my favorite city as it explodes with museums, architecture, great food, and amazing locals. This was my first trip in Spain, so I took note when I read that Barcelona is sometimes named the pickpocket capital of Europe. I should admit up front that I border on the hysterical when the subject turns to pickpockets and the like. So I approached Barcelona with a good deal of trepidation. I am happy to report that if one uses common sense and keeps track one's belongings all will be well. I kept my wallet and my phone in my front pocket and had my hand on it at all times. In the evenings when the weather turned cooler, I buttoned my wallet and phone in the breast pockets of my jacket. We had no trouble at all. I did witness a fair share of tourists who foolishly left their belongings in plain sight. One particular example comes to mind: a young french couple very much in love took no note of the young lady's phone (complete with bright pink carrying case) which she left at the far corner of the table. Eventually, when I could stand it no longer, I managed in my limited French to tell her to put away her phone. The rule of the day is "pay attention." Keep your belongings close to you and check to see that all is where it should be. Leave your passport at the hotel...your driver's license or state ID will suffice. Bring only the money you will need for the day and leave all but one credit card at the hotel making sure to have the card information on you so that if you do lose it you can call in the number and so forth. MOST IMPORTANTLY: Do not let a fear of pickpockets keep you from visiting Barcelona. It's my new favorite city in Europe and I would get on a plane in the morning if I could return.

  • Michael said

    Had to travel through Barcelona sants train station to airport with two other friends got robbed of cash by gang of 5 or 6 pickpockets as I entered the train for the airport, luckly passport bank cards etc still safe. spanish people on the train said phone police whitch I did, and reported events to police at airport station. people on train very sympathetic but said it was normal for them one even showing me how he chained his wallet to his waist "yes honestly no kidding" saying this was what they had to do as a normal precation as Barcelona was like this all the time. I felt sorry for them as it seems this is what you have to do to travel around a city you live in.
    As they say you live and learn and Barcelona may be a beutiful city but it is also crawling with thieves who seem to have no fear of punishment the tourist web sites are simply telling you how to avoid being a victim never let your guard down etc. so my simple answer is sod Barcelona I can go anywhere else without constantly having to be on guard, whats the point of going somewhere you cant relax for a minute.
    If you are not prepared to hand out some jail time for these packs of thieves they will simply continue to multiply in droves.
    Since my return home it seems almost everyone I have spoken to knows someone who hase been a victim or suffered an attempt at being robbed in Barcelona. As I say live and learn. I for one wont be caught again with this scam as the authorities seem poweless to stop it why should I go back to a thieves paradise.

    best of luck. Michael

  • Kevin said

    We recently returned from three absolutely glorious weeks in Barcelona. We were there during the off season, but it was still crowded. I was not the victim of a pickpocket but I did see one fellow attempt to do so in a crowded tapas bar. Luckily, another guest at the table (locals, not tourists) caught him in the act. Because I was born and raised in NYC, I am constantly aware of what's going on around me and I suggest that anyone who visits Barcelona or any city needs to do the same. I was amazed by the numbers of tourists who sat at cafes with their bag slung over the chair or who placed their cell phones on the table while they were in conversation. Because the weather was still a bit breezy, I was able to wear a wool shirt with breast pockets, each of which has a sturdy button. I kept my wallet and phone in those pockets. Just pay attention to who is around you and wave off any shady character who tries to begin a conversation or show you something. Barcelona is by far my favorite city in Europe. I'd get on a plane in the morning if I could return.

  • William said

    Was hit by the 'jam in the train door' trick, but all they got was a fake wallet. In Barcelona, and many other places, it is a good idea to have a dummy wallet, filled with paper scraps, in your back pocket, to offer easy pickings, while you keep your real money and cards in inside pockets. Leave your true wallet at home, and just carry cash and a single well-hidden credit card on your person. Also, packpacks with cameras, and phones, are a favorite target

  • Ivaylo Zlatanov said

    I just got back from an exciting week in Barcelona. I was quite concerned about those pickpocket warnings that I read before I left and I was expecting to get in hand-to-hand combat with armies of thieves each day. However, nothing like this happened to us, neither did I see such attempts on someone else (we spent our days and late evenings roaming the streets of Barcelona). There were police on all public venues and where crowds were huge, e.g. at Sagrada Familia, police were heavily armed.
    So, be cautious, but don't take it to extreme and don't let fear ruin your time in the great city of Barcelona.

  • Carol said

    I fell victim to the following scam during an otherwise lovely visit to Barcelona this month: We had just arrived from the airport, and I was buying Metro passes from a machine in the Plaza Catalunya station, when a young woman approached and asked whether the machine accepted cash as well as bank cards (I was using a card). My traveling companion answered her, and then the two of them started chatting. The conversation was just enough to distract me, because after I had gotten the tickets out of the machine, I realized that my card had disappeared -- and so had the young woman. Happily, she only got the card, and it requires a PIN code which I don't think she was able to get, because no unauthorized charges were made. Of course I called the bank right away to cancel it, but she would probably have had time to take money out of an ATM if she had my code.

  • Goalie said

    My wife had her bag stolen at the Starbucks near Sagrada Familia a few weeks ago. I left her alone at an outside table and went inside - big mistake. There were signs in the Starbucks warning of bag thieves. I was going to warn her as soon as I rejoined her but before I could even get my coffee the thieves had done their dirty work. Apparently there were two young men, one who dropped a coin to distract her and the other to snatch the bag. Unfortunately she had her passport, credit cards, camera lenses and lots of cash in her bag so these thieves hit the jackpot. We reported the theft to the police, went to the consulate to get a new passport and cancelled her credit cards but it pretty much ruined our trip to Barcelona.

  • Douglas said

    Barcelona airport, as you walk out there are thieves all around you. The case you, find especially woman with expensive watches and bags and the follow, distract and steal their valuables.

    It has made Barcelona the place you do not want to go, i was robbed and while waiting at the airport police ( who did nothing to help) I saw not fewer than 10 young people who were robbed

    My wife is Korean and they said that 15 koreans get robbed every month at the airport

    Barcelona Police need to get off their butts and get this cleaned up. I would never recommend anyone going to Barcelona it will turn out to be a terrible experience if the Police do nothing about this issue

  • Douglas said

    Barcelona airport, as you walk out there are thieves all around you. The case you, find especially woman with expensive watches and bags and the follow, distract and steal their valuables.

    It has made Barcelona the place you do not want to go, i was robbed and while waiting at the airport police ( who did nothing to help) I saw not fewer than 10 young people who were robbed

    My wife is Korean and they said that 15 koreans get robbed every month at the airport

    Barcelona Police need to get off their butts and get this cleaned up. I would never recommend anyone going to Barcelona it will turn out to be a terrible experience if the Police do nothing about this issue

  • Jo said

    Watch out on the metro. My husband and I were joining the train at Lessops, we just made the last carriage. Two women made it difficult for us to get on and my husband was almost trapped in the door. He managed to push through,I had to push my way through, eventually getting past them. What I didn't realise was that they had unzipped my bag stolen my purse and zipped it up again. They got off at the next stop. I had thought they were just rude and wanted to be near the exit. I thought I was being careful, having a bag with a tight zip that went across me, obviously not. Also I have now found out that you have to dress down so you look like a local. I had a pink T shirt on!, Spoilt our lovely day and we lost a lot of money, leave it in the safe!,

  • Cara said

    While sitting in the dark theater of La Sagrada Familia museum, my sunglasses where knocked backwards off the top of my head. When I turned over my shoulder, a young man apologized, reached down and handed me back my sunglasses. Leaving the theater several minutes later, I noticed that my shoulder bag was unzipped and my phone was gone. My daughter was standing in the back of the theater and said several people left the row behind me at the same time. Be more careful than you think you need to be.

  • Colette said

    Just back from weekend trip to Barcelona . Purse was lifted in metro lift. I, along with my two sisters were the only passengers the lift was about to depart. A number of people, who didn't seem to be travelling together, pushed on and pretended to be asking where the lift went. They delayed us getting out of the lift by splitting us up. Purse was gone.

  • Tim said

    We flew into Barcelona Airport T2 last week. Once we were given the keys to our pre-booked hire car we walked to the hire-car car park located just outside T2. After we found the car allocated to us, we loaded our bags into the car's boot. Then a man suddenly appeared - pointing to the front car's number plate. I walked over but could not understand him as he was speaking a language that i could not recognize. Whilst this was going on, my travel partner noticed a second man walking away from the back of the car holding a rucksack and then realized that it was one of our bags so we gave chase. After a long chase back in the terminal and up an escalator we grabbed the bag back so they got away with nothing luckily. Europcar said that it is a common distraction scam although hadn't warned us during the booking our process only 15 minutes earlier! So our advice is be very careful - particularly if its late and dark which it was with us (it was after 11pm so the Europcar cabin in the car park was shut).

  • Monica said

    My dream was always to visit Barcelona. I was so looking forward to a birthday cruise with my daughter on the new Harmony of the Seas Ship. I booked the trip. My daughter has an intellectual disability, is very friendly and I will be on my own caring for her. She always gets sick on the plane. After reading about pick pockets, mugging and crime, I have decided to cancel my cruise. It was suppose to be a surprise for my daughter but I am not going to a place where I will have to constantly worry that I might get mugged or assaulted. I had no idea it was so bad. Once I started researching, at various sites and crime stats, I decided it isn't worth the risk. Also fearful of terrorist threats as the cruise ship leaves on September 11th. I haven't even left and have been have been ripped off as I will lose part of my deposit with the booking agency. Thankfully not 4,000.00. I was going to stay a week before the cruise to see all the beautiful sites I read about before I read about the crime. Next step is to cancel my hotel reservation. My gut is just telling me don't go....With regrets, I wish Barcelona was safer.

  • Antonio said

    Por favor, Barcelona como el resto de España es un lugar de lo más seguro del mundo. Dejénse de infundir miedos innecesarios. Con decir que se tenga cierto cuidado con los carteristas sería suficiente para la mayoría de las personas con sentido común. Si usted tiene criterio y es prudente es suficiente. Cuanto menos, en términos generales no debería de preocuparse nadie que tome las medidas de precaución oportunas y proporcionales al lugar donde se encuentre. No significa que no existen carteristas, ni que sea casi imposible que nos encontremos con una desagradable sorpresa. Pero si tomamos las medidas de precaución consabidas (aplicando el sentido común adoptaremos la mayoría de dichas medidas) no hay que temer nada. Estadisticamente tenemos más probabilidades de sufrir otros incidentes, accidentes o percances y la mayoría de nosotros ni si quiera somos conscientes de ello. En resumen, seamos cautos, sensatos, prudentes y disfrutemos de cualquier maravilloso lugar de España.

  • Spaniard said

    I lived in beautiful Barcelona for 4 years and even my visiting friends were victims of this national sport. As usually the worst problem is the loss of your personal documents: passports, credit cards, etc.. I think the local authorities should put containers around the Ramblas, for example, where the petty criminals could drop the wallets after taking the money. That would really help, since they seem totally unable to stop this plague. Maybe we could start a world-wide campaign to design such containers and offer them to the major of Barcelona, Madrid, Seville.... etc

  • MC said

    Tim, I wish I had seen your comment. I had a very similar experience, in the same exact rental car parking lot, a week after you. I was picking up a rental car, during the day. It was about 11am. I made the mistake of putting my purse in the backseat of the rental car while I walked around the car to see damage that was listed on my rental contract. While I was doing that, a man drove up in a black Peugeut, and kept pointing to his hand, which had a "Europcar" key ring in it. He was very agitated and kept pointing at his hand, saying, "Europcar, Europcar", like he was looking for the Europcar booth. I had no idea what he wanted, so I pointed at the Europcar booth. Then he jumped into his car and drove off like a bat out of hell. Turns out that he distracted me long enough that a second person (that I never saw) was able to go into the back door of the rental car and grab my purse. I didn't realize what happened until about a minute later. I reported the incident to the airport police, but they were hopeless. They didn't even look for the guys. They got credit cards, my passport and cash. My advice: be very, very careful in that T2 rental car parking lot. As a matter of fact, if you can avoid renting a car parked in that parking lot, that would be my advice. Clearly these guys are hanging out in the parking lot, watching for their next victim. The rental car agencies do nothing - they don't warn you and take absolutely no responsibility for any theft that may occur on their property. And, there are no cameras, so you will not catch the guys that are just hanging out there waiting for you. If you do go to that parking lot, do not bring your purse or wallet or anything of value. It has been a month since I was robbed, and I'm still cleaning up the mess.

  • Mike said

    This is a great article and set of advice. I consider myself a savvy NewYorker, always on guard, but still got scammed. An Arab looking young male handed me a business card of a local restaurant, as I walked around the Gothic section of Barcelona. I was quite used to this, as many of the businesses had hostesses promoting outside their restaurants. I was then approached by a second similar looking male in his 20's. He handed me a second restaurant card and started asking me me I like Barcelona Football. I realized something was wrong and immediately checked my pockets at which point, I turned on them, they fled dropping my wallet without the cash of course. I didn't pursue. They got about a 100 USD and 20 Euro.

    My advice, don't take whatever they hand you and keep walking. It seems like rude behavior to normal people, but you'll be better off for it in Barcelona.

  • Anonymous said

    I survived the thieves in Barcelona, but found valuables missing from my luggage on arrival back home. Even in the city, I did not feel safe to just walk around. I will happily ignore this otherwise nice looking city.

  • EDEN said

    I really wish I never step a foot in this honorable city of Barcelona, I was robbed in the airport, my God in the Airport where it suppose to be very secured place of the city. Saying this, I just wish people never go there. There's nothing to see that worth your life and safety.

  • Sylvia said

    I had my wallet stolen in Madrid ,it was my first time there.
    Never put your back pack behind you with your wallet in it.
    The stereo types about certain foreigners stealing are what will you
    into to trouble. I think the person who robbed me was a young Chinese woman.
    Anyone getting to close to you could be a thief.
    Beware the person picking your pocket is the person you would least suspect .
    Get a secure shoulder bag with zipper on top. Keep your purse in front of you at all times .Keep your passport in the hotel safe .
    Anyway have fun!! Do not let the paranoia ruin your vacation .
    Just take precautions.

  • Anon said

    Every single time I take the metro in Barcelona I see at least one person getting robbed. What is really frustrating for me is that you cannot even help to prevent it from happening. I am not going to make a group of pickpockets with knives angry at me for pointing out that they are about to rob someone for someone who is not cautious over his belongings. I would like to help but knowing that you do not get any punishment in Barcelona if you steal something with a value under 400 euros, it would put me in danger and it would not have any effect. If the authorities do not care if you get your belongings stolen, I have to accept that I should not either.

  • Sam Leckey said

    It is with no small amount of trepidation that my wife and I pack our bags and make ready for a trip to Europe which will include a week in Barcelona.
    After reading the previous events about the scams and pick pockets all over Barcelona I do not want to become another statistic. I will report upon our return.

  • Richard said

    A pickpocket got my phone as we were walking back from dinner in the Gothic Quarter. We had just turned onto Las Ramblas, and a man started walking next to my left and trying to hand me something. I always just keep walking or say "no thank you." This man was speaking a language I did not understand and kept walking with me. I said "no thank you" at least 3 times, when he then faked like he was going to trip me, then laughed and walked away. Less than minute later I realized he lifted my phone. It could have been far worse. I kept my wallet in my front right pocket, because I was concerned about pickpockets, and luckily my wife was cold and walking to my right, so I held her close to me. I also had a backpack and camera he didn't touch.

    You may want to take lots of great pictures in this beautiful city, but if you carry around your backpack and camera you will make yourself a target. I've also learned it's not enough to just attempt to ignore or walk past the handbills and business cards... Always be aware of what's going on and where your belongings are if ANYONE approaches.

  • Screw Barcelona said

    I had my phone stolen in the Gothic quarter last week while in spain for business. By a guy handing out a card for some kind of music festival. Maybe the same guy as you but probably not because that city is lousy with thieves. I will never set foot or spend another euro in Barcelona again. Worst city in western europe, I've been to cartel controlled cities in Mexico where I felt safer.

  • Bren said

    Oh my god Richard. This same thing just happened to us this evening. Exactly the same scam where a guy kept trying to speak to you. I said no sternly and moved ahead but my boyfriend was extremely friendly with him. He was trying to sell us tickets to a football match (FCB vs Sev) which we already knew wasn't even happened in Barcelona but in Madrid, where we came from 2 days ago.

    Turned around and saw the guy trying to trip my boyfriend, at which point 2 other guys ran across the road and I ran back towards my boyfriend. I wasn't too far off when my boyfriend's wallet suddenly fell to the ground and 1 of the men who was from across the street managed to lift it before I could. Luckily I snatched it back immediately and there wasn't much money in it in the first place.

    Ruined an otherwise lovely night but I can only thank God nothing was lost. We were just returning to our airbnb which was 2 streets off Las Ramblas. Extremely brazen, there were people near us but nobody will help.

  • anonimito said

    Hello
    I really like Barcelona.
    But I absolutely don't understand the police and system that cannot stop this massive and well organized crime. I think they should go to Vienna (Austria) or somewhere in Germany to get trained (the authorities in Spain, not the thieves.

  • Steve said

    My Experience: Just returned from Barcelona. Myself and my girlfriend were walking in the Gothic Quarter and had a guy come up and ask where we were from. Replied New Zealand and he got excited saying 'Football, Football' (bit of a warning sign, we aren't known for our Football!) and putting his arm around me and pretending to tackle/kick a ball.

    Both the girlfriend and I somehow realised he was making a grab for my back pocket/wallet and stopped what was going on. I was very surprised as he was small guy in comparison to me (6ft 4, 105kg) but he obviously wasn't afraid if I decided to defend myself, or get angry over it...

    We were much more alert the rest of the trip and bloody glad that we didn't experience a good pickpocket.

  • balu said

    Hi,
    Me and my wife are visiting Barcelona on 21st July 2016. I love photography and tasting street foods. Any advice regarding safe guarding my camera and lenses will be appreciated.

  • Louise said

    Just avoided 13 year old son being pickpocketed on Metro - saw it happening! We'd been in
    Barcelona for a week, after a week in Madrid. Group of 2-3 friendly men got on train with us at Jaume 1 - train very crowded & my husband said he was suspicious of a man who tried to separate him from us, & was carrying a coat over his arm (in 30 degrees heat- bit of a giveaway)! So when we changed to Line 5 we were already on alert. This time 2-3 new men got on with us & again very crowded. I had tight hold of my bag. Again they seemed to 'accidentally' separate us. One man scanning the crowd & my daughter said later he kept looking at my bag (I positioned it very securely). A couple of minutes later one put a black bag over his arm & began to reach towards my son's side pocket (he had sunglasses in it) - I shouted at the man & he pretended nothing had happened - the next moment they all got off the train. Nothing got taken; other travellers looked surprised but no one acted or said anything. It was disappointing to see but at least it was a very bad attempt! We've never seen this so blatantly in any other City including Rome, London, Johannesburg or Madrid. Otherwise had a great time in Spain! Enjoy but be aware.

  • Daniel said

    Wow... Right at the start of the Ramblas... Near the Santa Maria church. Had a coffee on its patio. Put my wallet back in my travel bag with two zippers. TADA! It's gone. Just like that. Lost 6 credit cards. My DL. And about 120E. And an expensive wallet at that. Go to the police station and file a report. A "nuncia" for insurance claims when. You get back home. American Express will overnight a new card to here. Every other bank takes their time. You can get extra cash through CC providers. Next time, leave your cards, passport, DL, in the safe. Only hold a little cash that you wil need and one CC. In the front pocket and wear tight jeans. I've traveled the world and to other shiesty cities, Rome, Paris, Moscow, Jakarta, Manila, Ho Chih Minh city, and never had an issue. Barcelona got to this NYC raised street smart kid. She got me!! That bitch.

  • Carolyn said

    I haven't been in Barcelona in a very long time, but for any travel (and I've been a female traveling alone for over 50 years) I have a Scottvest with lots of INSIDE pockets. I also wear a safety belt UNDER my clothes and at my back rather than my front. It may be a bit bulky, but better to be careful!

  • Ron Ablang said

    Thanks for the article but I'm going to skip visiting Barcelona until the laws toughen up on thieves. There's plenty of other beautiful places in the world to visit where you don't constantly have to worry.

  • Nancy said

    I am a really cautious person but was recently pickpocketed at a beach in Barcelona. How? I was having some food and beer alone and was approached by a raucous but friendly Italian male and Spanish female. My weakness? I was on a recent flight from Paris limiting one bag so gave up my hip pouch. I was tired and checked into a beach hostel, not having a locker lock so took my credit card stuff and euros and stuffed it in a rear pocket. The issue was my other wallet having license, some cash like $13 and my debit card and passport and my much needed bus ticket home in the U.S.
    I had a tiny sachel bag I was hand carryying the whole time, and my mistake was to put it down and give my facebook contact on his phone, which wasn't working properly. I should have known this was wrong, the female circled behind me... Luckily, my jeans were tight.
    Weirdly, as I went to pick the satchel up, he "helped" me pick it up with my cheese which he threw in the trash.
    I should have screamed because it felt immediately as if he took the wallet. Luckily, his expert hands left behind my passport. I cancelled debit card immediately but had a nightmare coming home.
    Use your instincts! I was convinced by the couple I had "lost" the wallet. Scream when you think you have been robbed. I wish I did.

  • Nancy said

    I am a really cautious person but was recently pickpocketed at a beach in Barcelona. How? I was having some food and beer alone and was approached by a raucous but friendly Italian male and Spanish female. My weakness? I was on a recent flight from Paris limiting one bag so gave up my hip pouch. I was tired and checked into a beach hostel, not having a locker lock so took my credit card stuff and euros and stuffed it in a rear pocket. The issue was my other wallet having license, some cash like $13 and my debit card and passport and my much needed bus ticket home in the U.S.
    I had a tiny sachel bag I was hand carryying the whole time, and my mistake was to put it down and give my facebook contact on his phone, which wasn't working properly. I should have known this was wrong, the female circled behind me... Luckily, my jeans were tight.
    Weirdly, as I went to pick the satchel up, he "helped" me pick it up with my cheese which he threw in the trash.
    I should have screamed because it felt immediately as if he took the wallet. Luckily, his expert hands left behind my passport. I cancelled debit card immediately but had a nightmare coming home.
    Use your instincts! I was convinced by the couple I had "lost" the wallet. Scream when you think you have been robbed. I wish I did.

  • Laura said

    Hi everyone,

    I AM ORIGINALLY FROM BARCELONA and I sadly have to admit all this is true. No one is safe from pickpockets, not even locals. My boyfriend and I got our bag stolen in the Barceloneta area (beach walk promenade). I am quite surprised this article is not warning about this area, which I think is a usual spot for pickpockets as well. That's why I'm sharing my experience here, as it could be useful for someone in a similar situation.
    We had just parked our car in the street but we didn't have coins to pay for the parking ticket. We had several cameras, laptops and other valuables with us because we were working as reporters. We took all our bags out of the car and left them all together in the sidewalk. My boyfriend was standing really close to them, carefully watching them, because we knew it wasn't a safe area. I went to a shop across the street to ask for change. I just took a couple of minutes, if so, and when I came back I saw him frantically looking for one of the bags in the car, thinking we had left it inside by mistake. But, guess what? It had been taken.
    He then realised what had happened. It seems that a guy wearing a barcelona football club t-shirt, baseball cap and sunglasses (looking back now, it is a pretty obvious tourist dress up...!) was talking very loudly on the phone while pretending to be lost. He then asked my boyfriend for directions and, in that same moment, someone else must have slipped from behind the car and grabbed one of the bags.
    Luckily enough, though, he took a bag with a laptop and my boyfriend's wallet but, at least, it was the bag that had less valuables in it. I guess he didn't have much time to choose, he just grabbed the bag that was closer to where he was.
    Lesson learned. We were really foolish by leaving the bags out of the car, even if my boyfriend was literally watching them.

    Being born and raised in Barcelona, I know it's better not to wear a backpack if I'm going to be on my own on the street. If there's two of us, the other person usually keeps an eye or a hand over the backpack while walking, specially when we stop at a traffic light or any other place. Of course, keep your valuables on your lap if you're sitting, even if it is inside a restaurant. And, I know it can be difficult if you come from countries with different climate, but if you're wearing a short dress when all the locals are still wearing light coats, you're a really obvious target.
    Best of luck to all of our visitors! Barcelona is a lovely city, don't let all these coments put you off visiting it. You just need to have some common sense and take good care of your valuables. They just take advantage of your lack of attention, but it is highly unlikely you'll be robbed with violence if you take good care of your valuables.
    Cheers!
    Laura

  • rick said

    It's been years since I've visited Barcelona,where I had a wonderful time.
    I won't be going back again & will warn anyone else about the dangers that lurk there.

  • Chris said

    Got back from Barcalona today after 5 days.

    Either things have got better or we were lucky since nothing happened.

    We were cautious, aware of surroundings, planned where we were going and didn't stay out too late so maybe that helped.

    We noticed one person who seemed to be a bit shifty and looked like was following us but we went into a shop, waited and he went away.

    My advice would be try dress non tourist, similar to the locals. Don't go down deserted, narrow streets. Place wallet in front pocket. Don't carry loads of cash when possible. But don't let fear spoil the trip. I'd definitely go back!

  • T Le said

    My DH got pick pocketed today in the subway. I saw a guy almost breathing down my husband's neck and when I asked my DH to come towards me, the guy had already opened my DH's fanny pack and gotten his wallet with multiple credit cards, a bank card and some 200 euros in cash. I felt helpless. What a beautiful city ruined by these petty thieves.

  • RMB said

    Classic theft of my iPhone, if only I had read this article first!
    Last week on las Ramblas. Sat people watching with a hideously expensive glass of sangria. Guy came over with a piece of paper with writing on it, pushed it towards us saying 'read please'. We politely said no, he went away and so did my phone which I had stupidly left on the table.
    Social media, e-mail, health apps, all were logged in. The phone was pin protected but that was ok. Spent an afternoon changing log ins and passwords, trying to get the imie code from home, report to provider and the police. An excess of £100 on insurance makes it an expensive lesson.
    Beautiful city, but I won't go back. I don't go on holiday to be robbed however niaive I may have been.

  • Maria said

    To protect yourself from being robbed, you need to be not only careful but to choose the safest way of travelling. Firstly, choose a safe transport. We booked a car on https://rental24h.com/spain/barcelona-airport so all our belongings were always with us, buses and public transport are not safe in these cases. Next is appropriate accommodation: hostels are cheap but you never know with whom you are living. So you always have to be on the alert, use safes if possible, keep all your money on credit card.

  • Dave said

    It is such a shame that Barcelona has become blighted by thieves. Visitors to this beautiful city deserve better. Cafe bar staff should be keeping an eye on their customers and reminding them not to leave valuables on display or on tables. My wife found it quite uncomfortable to eat with her handbag strapped across her front. We were constantly zipping up bags, turning them inwards and checking every time we were bumped into. We didn't take so many photos because we felt we were at risk of having things taken whilst we did.
    We saw several people who had been robbed, all of them very upset.
    It really took the pleasure away for us. We have been to Paris & Rome without this sense of unease, and really wouldn't return to Barcelona if it continues.
    A better police presence would deter thieves. Even 2 officers strolling up and down Las Ramblas would put them off?
    Whilst I understand the need to be vigilant, I don't want to be constantly worrying that I will be robbed or ripped off on my holidays

  • David Herz said

    one thing no one is bringing up, even though it is illustrated in one of the photos, is that people are so no- present, so distracted by their electronic devices that they don't even need to be distracted by professional pickpockets to be robbed. Most of the cellphone ipad gameboy or whatever bedazzled people would never even know what hit them until much later...

  • Grace Chung said

    "The crowded Metro scam" was exactly what happened to me in Paris on 12/19/2016. Lost my whole wallet. Pissed but I learned my lesson.

  • leeq said

    Every time I visit Barcelona, I get one of my belongings stolen. A camera, a smartphone, wallet, etc.
    With useless police system, Barcelona is definitely the pickpocket capital in Europe! :)

  • John said

    I was on the Metro, L1 between Espanya and Rocafort... shortly after getting on, I felt my jacket move slightly. Checked my pocket and my wallet was gone. A man shifted away, then got off the train at the next stop. I knew he had stolen my wallet, so my friend and I got off the train and challenged him. He denied everything, then started looking through bins and walked off... we followed him up the stairs then down onto another platform... he didn't realise we had followed him... when he thought he was all clear, he got my wallet out of his pocket! My friend immediately jumped in front of him and demanded he hand it over... caught red handed, he he handed it back... all I can say is keep your wallets in the safest place on the Metro and don't take large amounts of cash with you!!!

  • Chris Redman said

    Lots of very interesting and helpful tips here, but for the guys, have you never thought about putting several elastic (rubber) bands around your wallet? Makes it harder for the pickpocket and you are more likely to feel the tug. Or have the wallet on a piece of elastic or chain fixed to your trouser belt?

    My weakness is for a phone in my shirt pocket, so looks like it will be in the front jeans pocket on my trip next week.

  • Ramon said

    Este post es una mierda! No creais nada

  • Peter said

    My friend got his wallet stolen out of his pocket while getting a photo with some tiny munchkin man selling roses. First time there for us, just wish we had found this site before we went. Looks like he got the last laugh tho and thinking about it he was reluctant to have a photo first then came back later and was happy to. Live and learn but won't stop us going back. We will be better prepared next time

  • AA said

    Wife and myself were dragging our bags on the Metro while changing hotels and i could see we were easily identified as a tourist. A very western well dressed young couple also posing as tourists with the guy hanging a small blue backpack in-front followed us all the way into the train and stood behind me. As we were discussing what station to get off another elderly couple was standing infront of us. Basically we were now surrounded by 4 people. The elderly lady suddenly pointed towards my left arm which was somehow sprayed with some foamy liquid and then pointed it came from the vents in the roof. I got slightly distracted but since i already had a cheapo cell phone swiped the previous day INSIDE a restaurant i was being very careful. Suddenly i realized that the man (from the older couple) with her was pushing against me and i felt my upper chest zip of my jacket ( my so called safe pocket) open. I jumped away and saw that the zip was almost fully open but my wallet was still inside. I zipped it back and began yelling at the couple and pointing at them to tell people that these two are crooks, the lady then tried to divert our attention but i kept pointing at the two. Sadly no one even moved in the crammed subway or was bothered. The local people say that Police isnt bothered and that even of they do catch them they let them go in a few hours unless the crime was violent. So basically these crooks have a free hand to at least try and steal from you. In other words the spanish law gives them a license and incentive to steal.
    With the economy in shambles ..the EU with open borders and authorities least bothered about this type of crime its a win win situation for these crooks. The locals always say its people from other countries that come here and steal but from what i saw its clearly the locals themselves who are into this highly lucrative stealing working in large groups.
    Save yourself the hassle and worry...there are a lot of other countries in the world that have a lot more to offer other than criminals hounding you the second you step off the plane. Also if you slightly venture out of the touristy areas you will see how run down the city is outside the main center. I realized that things in Spain are quite bad economically, i found traveling to third world countries have been safer since the locals at least are more honorable and have a lot more values to at time rise above extreme poverty and have some self respect and honor than to steal or let anyone from guests in their country.
    Avoid this country and especially this city and save yourself from being bothered about crooks while on vacation.There's a whole world out there to explore other than this crooked place!
    I just find it funny that you need to do a billion things so that you look like a local..or do certain things to "protect" yourself...for god sake its supposed to be a vacation ..not a game called who can save himself in a city of thieves!...saw it once and wont ever come back...it was an ok place to begin with...over hyped.

  • John said

    After I read so many horrible stories, I decide avoid Spain all together when I am going to Europe.

Add a Comment

Search World Nomads

Or browse by country list

Sign up for the latest news, deals & opportunities.