Beating the Barcelona tricksters – common scams and how to avoid them

pickpocket by stevendepolo

Trileros by jespeiThere really is no end to the ingenuity of some of the professional pickpockets of Barcelona. Luckily, we’ve compiled a list of some of the common tricks of the trade, to help you steer clear of dodgy situations.

Ball Ball

This is one of the best known games you see on Las Ramblas, and it’s a game where you have to guess which cup a ball is kept. People who win during the game are part of the conspiracy. Don’t play it, just watch if you must and watch your stuff as well.

¿Qué Hora Es?

With this trick they ask you for the time in Spanish. By listening to your answer they hope to immediately find out whether you’re a tourist or not. If you don’t know any Spanish just look away and act as though they weren’t talking to you.

The Soccer Dance

This trick is primarily applied at night in busy nightlife areas and is usually performed with people who are tipsy or drunk. A few men come up to you to ask if you can teach them the dance of a well-known soccer player. Without waiting for an answer, they grab you and lift you off the ground, while they empty your pockets or your bag. If these kinds of people approach you, steer well clear.

Dancing Puppets

An enterprising street salesman entertains you with puppets dancing to music, apparently with no strings attached. Of course it looks very cool, but in reality they’re just tied to some sort of fishing wire you can’t see. As soon as you purchase them and try them out you’ll realise that you’ve been scammed, and by that time the salesman will be long gone. Don’t buy dancing puppets – they will not work!

Metro by slasher-funOn the Metro

This simple trick is a favourite. Pickpockets will get in and out of the metro when it’s really busy, just to grab something out of your coat, trousers or bag. Don’t keep important stuff in your pockets, and keep your bag in front of you at all times.

The Flower Salesman

There are always flower salesmen and women, who want to sell one flower, and as soon as you get your wallet out to buy it, are more than willing to help you to look for money in your own wallet. Don’t buy flowers from someone that is offering just one flower, and certainly don’t let strangers rifle in your wallet.


Someone walks by café and restaurant terraces, apparently offering postcards for sale. But while you try to get rid of them, all of his cards ‘accidently’ fall on the table, and in the process of retrieving them he or she tries to reach for your wallet or something else. Be on your guard immediately if these ‘accidents’ happen.

The Donation

Someone comes towards you (or they come in a group) and asks you for a small donation, offering you a badge or something else in return. As soon as you get your wallet out for a euro they dive in and ‘help’ you to look for money, in the hope to get some banknotes out of one of the compartments. Keep some loose change in your pockets if you want to donate, but don’t get your wallet out in the open.

The Map-Trick

People come towards you with a folder or some other big object like a clipboard and start to ask you unclear questions. Keep your hand on your bag because as soon as they distract you they will be out for your cash or belongings.

Flyer by Dave_B_The Nightclub Flyer

This trick works in the same way as the soccer dance, only they try to give you a flyer and they keep it high in the air so that you have to jump to get one. During these jumps they empty your pockets. It is common to get free entrance passes or shot deals from touts on the street, but the genuine ones are located at fixed spots, and they won’t make you jump in the air!

The Survey

Innocent-looking children or young teenagers approach tourists, asking if they would like to fill out a survey. Their poor English will confuse you, but this is a distraction, allowing them to empty your pockets or open your bag. Just say no if someone asks you to complete a survey.

The Cute Baby/The Little Old Lady

Pickpockets are all too eager to exploit tender-hearted tourists. Everyone loves a cute baby or a little old lady, but don’t let your guard down simply because you’re presented with an adorable character. This sort of distraction is exactly what the scamsters, who often work in teams, rely on to get the job done. Keep your belongings safe and secure no matter who you meet.

This trick has recently developed into “The cute baby and the worried father”. Fathers go into bars with their babies – usually small tapas bars where it is quite narrow with lots of tourists and locals. People get distracted by the little child and this is when the scamsters strike. So while enjoying your tapas, keep an eye on suspicious-looking dads with prams and the people around you as they often work in teams!

Ketchup spot

Someone spills a ketchup-like substance (or something that looks like spit or bird mess) on your shoulder or back. Later on they offer to clean it for you, and during the cleaning process they empty out your pockets. Don’t fall for this scam. Clean it yourself or ask someone else later.

The ‘Tourist’

Walking tour by puuikibeachOne of the latest trends in the pick-pocketing world is to dress as a tourist and join a walking route. Often carrying a map, sunglasses, water and a camera, they accompany the group as if they were really taking part in the walking tour. Be friendly but vigilant, and always keep a close eye on your things.

Lost on the Metro

Someone gets pushed into the metro in order to get to your stuff more easily, and usually they ask you if this is the metro to Sants. As a tourist you are usually helpful and willing to help them, and they leave at the next station, but not empty-handed! Be wary and watch your belongings closely.

The Clumsy Old Man

Beware of old men with walking sticks! While most are innocent, there is a well-known trick in which an old man bumps into you or trips on your chair in a restaurant, taking the opportunity to sweep your bag away across the floor with his stick. The moral of the story is to keep your bag in your lap or safely between your legs when seated.

Remember that there are always new tricks and ploys, so stay vigilant and use your common sense – if something seems dodgy, get out of the situation. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Having said all that, most visitors to Barcelona leave with great memories, rather than a police report. Keep an eye on your belongings as you should anywhere, and don’t let any of this put you off visiting one of the most vibrant and intriguing cities in the world.


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