There are plenty of reasons Spain is one of the most visited countries in the world (it ranked third in 2016): rich cultural heritage, iconic architecture, colorful festivals and more. However, such popularity also means Spain is also a hotbed of petty crime and scams that prey on tourists. One of its biggest cities, Madrid, is also home to some of the most notorious scam artists and criminals. So be aware of Madrid tourist scams out to prey on your valuables.
Being aware of this criminal and scam activity is the first step towards protecting yourself and companions from becoming a victim. Being mindful of your valuables and people in the surroundings should help further deter this predatory tactic that targets unsuspecting visitors to this beautiful country.
More annoyance rather than anything, these are folks who approach you and sell whatever they think is of value: fancy jewelry, random souvenir item or something hard to part with (like flowers to woo your partner). Others simply approach to ask for coins.
They can easily be observed on the streets but can also be your seatmate on the train or bus. Locals are used to dismissing their antics, and there’s no reason a visitor like yourself shouldn’t do the same.
Simply ignoring them should work. But if there are cases when they’re persistent, be unwavering of your initial treatment. They may look to take your empathy with their looks and shabby dress, but that’s part of the sales tactics. Worse, some could be in cahoots with local crime groups who might see you as easy prey to target.
Madrid pickpockets can come in different shapes and sizes. They’ll appear in the form of young children, football players or random folks in areas within Casa de Campo, Parque del Retiro, and Rosaleda de Madrid (around Templo de Debod). Such culprits are especially watchful if someone’s not paying attention to their sling bags, wallets on back pockets.
On a crowded train, especially on stations such as Puerta del Sol and Nuevos Ministerios, these folks place themselves conspicuously close to their intended victims, and during times when separating the malicious from the harmless becomes close to impossible, you’d wish your jewelry, wallet or phone is concealed beyond being stolen away from you.
You could be taking the escalators and someone bumps into you in transit. The next moment, you’ll notice your wallet is gone.
There are plenty of creative ways people can take away your belongings. For example, some pretend to be restaurant waiters with matching wardrobe and all. While you’re in the middle of your meal someone might come over and ask how’s your paella or gazpacho, and all of a sudden your wallet or phone you placed in the open could disappear in an instant. So before you could post that food picture into Instagram, your phone is gone.
Or if you are paying by credit card, someone might be doing some tricks with it while it’s out of your sight when the bill payment is being processed.
Flower pin scam
A woman might approach you and without warning, pins flower on you and demand one euro payment. You might think it’s a small price to pay to drive away — and somehow see value in that pinned floral decor. But be careful, as your cash could get snatched away from you in an instant.
Footballer game tricks
From the country that brought you world-famous Real Madrid and Barcelona football teams, it’s not surprising that many soccer fans visit Spain to experience the beautiful game in the flesh. Perhaps play football with strangers along the streets? Bad idea. Some of these groups aim not to entertain and showcase their skills but aim to steal your belongings as they dribble the ball up to you and perform some acrobatic skills to distract you.
Taxicab cash deception
You need a ride and a taxicab is the most convenient, even if not the cheapest, mode of transport. Some drivers take advantage of your relative ignorance about the currency. You might have handed him 50 euros, but he will insist that you gave him just 5 euros.
Also, the driver may demand payment upfront. Once you agree and the journey is in progress, the driver will soon stop in the middle of your trip and ask you out to get off the taxi for some trivial reason. He’ll offer to refund your money, but you’ll later realize that it’s counterfeit and cannot be used.
Fake beggars on the street
Someone could sit in a street corner with a cardboard telling passerby that he or she has lost his or her belongings. The beggar’s message asks for money to buy food and train tickets. As you pass by and hand over coins into the piece of clothing laid out on the pavement, an accomplice notes where you kept your wallet. Once an opportunity arises, your wallet will be a target of such scammers, most likely identified as Romanian gypsy groups.
How to avoid becoming a victim of Madrid tourist scams
- Don’t be flashy with your expensive items like jewelry and smartphones in public. If you are used to Instagram or taking selfies in public, ensure that you are in a safe location and away from the prying eyes of criminals.
- Never open your wallet in the public unless absolutely necessary. Prepare a few bills and coins in case you need them to buy tickets, drinking water, etc.
- Never put your phone or wallet on any surface such as a restaurant table or countertop. Even if you are on guard, a slight distraction from veteran pickpockets will easily give them away.
- Do not put your wallets in the back pockets where it’s difficult to take them in crowded places and they’re an easy target for pickpockets.
- Never bring with you your passport when touring the city; bring another form of identification or a photocopy of your passport. Leave them at the security of your hotel room’s safety box.
- Do not leave your luggage unlocked or unattended. Whether you are at the airport, bus stop, restaurant or checking the map in the middle of the street. There are cases when strangers grab midsized luggage and run away with it.
- Wear your backpack in front of you. You might look a bit odd, but it’s safer than giving someone on your back the chance to unzip (or slash) it without your knowledge. Same goes when in a restaurant: place your small bag in your lap and cover with napkin. Never let it hang on your chair or place it on the floor.
- Get travel insurance with loss and theft protection. This comes handy when things don’t go as planned. But make sure to read its coverage properly before getting one.
Enjoy Madrid but don’t forget to apply common sense and trust your instincts when you tour around the city. Although most of those you encounter are tourists and friendly locals, there are scammers out to put a damper on an otherwise exciting visit to the Spanish capital.