18 Most Common Scams in Spain
Madrid, Barcelona, Granada, Seville, Malaga, Corralejo, Marbella, Valencia, Mallorca, San Sebastian
Home to the pickpocket capital of the world that is Barcelona, there are many scammers in Spain ready to part your wallet from you.
However, do not let that spoil your trip, as some preparatory work and staying alert will keep you safe and sound.
Do be more careful in Barcelona and Madrid.
A. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES
1. Street Pickpockets
One variation happens in the restaurants. There have been reports where a scammer acts like a waiter, comes over to you, bends over and asks how the food tastes. If you had left your valuables on the table/lap/out in the open, they would be taken away easily.
In other times, they appear on crowded streets, such as at Parc Guell, Sagrada Familia and Las Ramblas in Barcelona. Las Ramblas is particularly infamous. If you have the time, spend some time there observing.
2. Restaurant Scam
You pass the cash to the waiter, he disappears and reappears again telling you that the note is counterfeit. So this basically means that he has swapped your real cash with fake ones plus you have to pay again.
To solve this problem, either mark your bills with a pencil (though it is not always practical), or take a glance at the serial number of your bill when handing over. Also, try to ensure that the bill is always in your line of sight. In the case when it is not possible, ask to speak to the management when faced with such a situation.
Another variation happens at a bar, targeted at single male tourists. When he enters, a young woman might sit next to him and ask for a drink as well. Either way, always check the menu prices and any fine print properly.
This is also a restaurant scam but of a different nature. Avoid restaurants along Las Ramblas as they are overpriced for serving crap. Also, avoid restaurants without menus.
It has also been reported that some restaurants give out expired coupons on the street. Do not eat there if you find out at the restaurant.
3. Flower Pin Scam
A woman pins a flower on you and demands money. You might think fine, since it is just one euro. But when you open up your wallet, all your cash or wallet might just be snatched.
4. The Trilero Street Game Scam
Common around Europe, this is the game where you have to find the ball/pea/something under one of three cups. As you watch the game, it is painfully obvious which cup the ball is in and you see others winning money effortlessly.
Now, someone beckons you to join, you join and you can say bye to your money. This is because the scammer will either move the cups super quickly when you play, or distract you and remove the pea from under the cup. The distraction is done by the other onlookers around, who are actually all accomplices of the scammer.
Also, if you are not careful, you can be targeted by the onlookers who pickpocket you while simply watching.
5. The Rosemary Plant Gift Scam
This scam is perpetrated by gypsy women who go around giving out small rosemary plants. Should you take it, they will grab your palm while receiving it and pretend to read it like a fortune teller. Next moment, either your valuables are gone, or they would demand money from you if they did not manage to pickpocket you.
Note that besides rosemary plants, anything can be used, so do not even engage these street scammers.
6. The Dancing Cartoon Cutout Scam
You might have noticed street sellers selling cartoon cutouts that dance/jump to music. They are actually worthless colour paper cutouts with string legs.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not due to the use of magnetic force or field. Rather, it is simply the using of transparent wire attached to a wheel that make the cutouts dance.
Also, the street seller will pretend not to understand English and not answer any of your questions unless you are asking for the price. Do check out the video below to see how it works:
1. Bus and Train Pickpockets and Muggers
You can find them anywhere tourists roam. Spain is no exception.
It has been observed that pickpockets like to target the large, connecting metro stations as they can easily run off to other lines. In Barcelona, be wary of lines L3 and L4 and in Madrid be careful at Puerta del Sol and Nuevos Ministerios
Their modus operandi is this: one person blocks the door, the other steals. Some of them are also as nimble as acrobats. They are able to time it so well that they can snatch your stuff and jump out when the doors are about to close. Other times, especially at escalators, they might trip you or bump into you and the next moment your valuables are gone.
Any time you are caught off guard or when it’s crowded, you will be at risk. As such, always keep your money/valuables in non-accessible areas. Consider using a money belt or even a fake wallet. These pickpockets are incorrigible, as if they are caught, they are only subjected to 3 days jail (in Barcelona). Young thieves are even worse, as they cannot be prosecuted as they are minors. Thus, it pays to be extra careful.
But sometimes, you might just meet muggers who are more aggressive. For instance, they block you at the train door or at the escalator by pretending to tie their shoe laces or by pretending to drop something (phone, cigarette, etc). An accomplice will then cut your money belt or your backpack from the rear.
2. The Trojan Horse Scam
This is a much more recent scam, where a thief hides in a luggage bag which is then deposited in the luggage storage area for long distance travel. After stealing small valuables from surrounding bags, the thief hides both himself and his loot back in the luggage bag.
To protect yourself from this, lock your bags, or keep your valuables with you.
3. The Taxi Scam
There have been cases where taxi drivers play with your unfamiliarity of the local currency. For instance, you might have given him 50 euros, but he claims that you have only given him 5 euros. For such drivers, try to ensure that you pay exact, or at the least be aware of how much you have given.
Another kind of scam is where the taxi driver demands pre-payment. No matter how convincing he sounds, and he can sound very convincing, alarm bells should be ringing in your head. This is an outright scam because halfway through the journey, he will stop, tell you that he cannot continue and return you a counterfeit bill.
4. The Highway Pirate Scam
These “highway pirates” target foreign registered cars and hired cars. So what they do is they stop you because they claim that you have damaged their cars, or they have noticed something wrong with your car such as a punctured tire. Note that the punctured tire could be real, as the scammers would have targeted your car earlier and slashed your tires already.
Do not stop, because if you do come out to check on your vehicle, these “helpful strangers” will grab any valuables you leave in the the car, be it front or back.
If you choose to stop, only stop at places with lights and be wary of “helpful strangers”. Lock all your doors and keep the keys securely in your possession.
Another variation is where parking attendants attempt this scam when you park in a parking garage. Note that most parking garages are unattended and you can pay via the machines there.
1. Fake Police Scam
There are different variations of this.
A man approaches you to ask for directions. You tell him, he thanks you and leaves. Then, the fake police appears, claiming that the guy is known for spreading fake money and thus, they would have to check your money. How convenient. So you give them your money and they will conveniently nick one or two bills without you realising it.
Another variation is that they claim that they guy is known for peddling drugs (it can be anything). They want to check your bag and should you allow, they will just grab your bag and run off.
Also, be wary of fake police travelling in unmarked cars while you are driving. Alarm bells should start sounding if they ask for your wallet/purse, as genuine police will only ask for documentation. However, some fake police will ask to see your documentation and then request to bring you to the police station, so do be wary and take the steps below.
Note that unless you are drunk or acting weird, police would not approach you. Also, they would NOT ask to check your wallet or purse. If you are approached, ask for identification and don’t sign anything without a lawyer. If they accuse you, state that you need to contact your embassy to get a lawyer. If they want to search your bag, reject by saying that you are not under arrest, or only do so when at the police station with a lawyer or someone from your embassy.
2. Petition Scam
A scam perpetrated by gypsies around Europe. They will ask you to sign a petition in a language you do not understand and which already has several other signatures to make it seem credible. The petition simply means that you agree to donate a certain amount to a charity (for the deaf and blind).
Sometimes, the scammer’s accomplices might even pickpocket you while you are distracted, so stay away from them.
3. Map/Asking for Directions Scam
A very common scam around Europe, the scammer, usually well dressed to look like a tourist, will approach you to ask for directions. He opens out a map and grabs any valuables below the map. This can also happen at outdoor cafes or even inside restaurants should you leave your valuables on the table. The map is laid out over the valuables and poof, they are gone.
Note that this map scam can be perpetrated in other ways as well! While you walk across crowded streets, you find yourself “ganged” by a group of people trying to sell you a map of the city. The map opens up and poof..
This scam can also lead to other scams, such as the fake police scam mentioned above.
4. Fake Beggar Scam
The fake beggar claims that she has been robbed and has no money for food or transport. Simply ignore, or offer to help her make a police report and her reaction will tell it all.
Another kind of fake beggar is more scheming. Normally perpetuated by a gypsy, she will be harmlessly sitting on the ground holding a cardboard sign asking for donations with an accomplice observing nearby. Should you walk pass, feel like donating and then take out your wallet, the accomplice will now know where you keep your wallet and be ready to strike when the opportunity arises.
5. Bird Shit Scam
This is similar to the one posted in Thailand scams.
For instance someone comes up to you, exclaims that you have hit by bird shit and offers to help you to clean it off. Such nice people exist? Of course, your valuables will be “cleaned off” as well either by the scammer or by his or her accomplice should you take off your jacket.
Another variation is where someone pours liquid on you and claims that you have been hit by bird shit.
6. The Baby Scam
This one really catches people by surprise. A person holding a baby might just thrust the baby into your arms. You know what happens next. While you are distracted catching the baby, the scammer will pickpocket you.
7. The Football Scam
You might be approached by a few strangers who try to start a football game along the streets. It may be fun, but your valuables will be stolen while you are playing.
Another variation is these scammers playing by themselves. When you walk pass, they dribble up to you and perform some tricks While you are distracted, that’s when they pickpocket you.
8. ATM Scam
This is as obvious as it gets. Never let anyone see or help you with your PIN number. Also be wary of people around, as they might just be pickpockets waiting to strike!
A tip is to not use any ATM outside of the bank’s operating hours, as you would have nowhere to turn for help should your card get stuck in the machine due to tampering of the machine by criminal gangs.
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