Thursday, October 30, 2008

Barcelona Scams. The map readers.

Time for another heads up on some of the common scams in the city. This one is a clever little trick and involves a map, usually two girls, and someone wearing a backpack. When I was a teacher this happened to 4 of my students in 1 month, so again it's not just the tourists who need to be aware.

The success of the scam relies on the fact that the people performing the scam look perfectly innocent. I've seen it mainly performed by young girls of around 10-13, who seem to fit in with the touristy look - they have back packs on themselves, and are carrying a map. The thing is that they are BOTH carrying the map with one hand (one left one right) and then their other hands are used to lift a clasp or unbuckle a bag, whilst the other takes anything inside the bag on top within reach - all under perfect cover of the map.
Barcelona Scams - Map cover
This sounds like it would be so easy to spot, but the scam is always performed in crowded areas, where it's not uncommon to see people carrying maps and consulting them. It's also performed in an area where pedestrian congestion is perfectly normal - an escalator, or the path/sidewalk of a busy street, for example. I've seen it done in broad daylight on a Sunday morning for example, and they are very very good at it. The Police often catch them as they know them but as they are minors, they are let off with a slap on the wrist and a don't come back here again. Which of course they do.

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Guide.

Barcelona apartments for groups

Monday, October 27, 2008

Barcelona Scams. The Football Dance.

This is a continuation of my recent post, informing you of some of the Barcelona scams to watch out for - not all are for the tourists here. Today's post is a classic pickpocketing scam. It has been around for a long time, and I remember it being tried on my friend and I a couple of times when we first got here - problem was that we always got it on the way home, so never had any money left, and neither of us carried a wallet.

It is usually performed in and around Las Ramblas and Plaça Reial, and usually to men who have had a little to drink. It's almost always the cocky young North Africans performing the lift. The scam involves them approaching you and asking if you like football. The most common answer is yes, and even if it isn't they can continue with the scam. They then ask if you want to "Dance the Ronaldinho dance?" (when I first arrived it was Rivaldo, for example). This is a simple distraction technique and they proceed anyway. Whilst they are saying "ok, you put your foot here, and I hook my leg around here, and then we jump 3 times" or other such rubbish, they are in fact fleecing your back two pockets and taking your phone and wallet, or anything else you might have left in there. I've seen it done a copuple of times, and the victim has even walked away, happy to have met such "friendly locals" showing them the "funny dance"! There was also a documentary filmed from the balconies of Las Ramblas about 3 years ago highlighting the ease and apparent lack of action by the local cops. It looked sooo easy, it was freightening!

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Guide.

Barcelona apartments for groups

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Spot the Difference.

OK, first I'd like to apologise for the quality of the image, but this was literally something that I came across this morning and thought it would be interesting to add - but the pic was taken really quickly. However, you should get the idea. First click on the image below to see a bigger version.

There are two buildings in the photo which are undergoing work on the facade. At first glance you can easily see the huge promotional canvas that is covering the building on the right with the car ad. So, where's the other?

No, it's not a trick.

Many blocks of Barcelona Apartments in the city have the scaffolding covered in a replica image of the building itself. I have no idea if this is some kind of rule by the council that certain buildings are not allowed to have ads , or if they want to put a cap on how many ads a street can have, or if it's something to do with too much distraction for drivers (this pic was taken at the intersection of Diagonal and Paseo de Gracia) - so please feel free to comment if you know.

Many of the buidlings receive help from the local council, subsidising the costs of the works on facades, as they do with the installation of elevators, for example. These buildings also have a banner/advert with "Barcelona posa't guapa" to show the support given by the council(literal translation is Barcelona, "get yourself pretty") and I think it's a good idea. Often some streets, especially in the Old Town of Barcelona are spoiled by derelict, imposing edifices abandoned and in ruin. That the council wants to help in renovation plans, can only be a good thing. I remember when I first arrived here, though, that I thought it was so funny replacing the building's facade with a cover....of the building's facade! I'm encouraging comments here as to your opinions and thoughts, so feel free to add something!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Barcelona Scams. The Flat Tyre.

This is another scam that has been going for decades, and there are numerous variations. Car rental compaies in France, Spain and Portugal often alert drivers of rental cars to this scam, but foreign number plates are often a giveaway for this scam to kick off. This scam also relies on the fact that most modern cars have central locking.

The worst case is that your car tyre is slashed by someone - usually on a motorbike - at a traffic light or roundabout just comng into the city. The same motorbike then alerts you to the fact that you have a flat tyre, at an appropriate place (for them). As you open the car door, to crane your neck and have a look, you are also unlocking all of the other doors. This is the perfect opportunity for the robbers to open the back door and take off with anything you happen to have left on view, on the back seat or on the parcel shelf. You are then stuck with a slashed tyre, and lost belongings. The motorbike gives a perfect and speedy getaway, and often people can't even give an accurate description, as it all happens so fast.

I must insist that the actual slashing of the tyre is obviously very very rare, as for this scam to work, you don't even need to have a flat tyre. Very often the simple suggestion that you do have one is sufficient for anyone with common sense to stop and have a quick look.

The variation usually happens very cheekily in the city centre, at a relatively busy pedestrian crossing or traffic light again. As your car stops at the front of the queue, a pedestrian crossing the road in front of you grabs your attention to alert you that it looks like you have a flat tyre, or that your headlights/indicator are not working. The same procedure occurs - the accomplice is cunningly waiting by the back seat or even the passenger door, and runs off with a bag or a phone.

One way to protect against this scam is to be wary agaianst any kind of alert or unsolicited help. If you feel that the suggestion is genuine and that you may have a flat tyre, find a safe place to stop in your own time, preferably away from the people who have told you about the supposed flat. Of course, the best way to protect against this scam is to not leave any valuables on show in your car. It's also essential that you drive with all the doors locked while you are inside the car, and only open them if you can clearly see around you and have everything inside the car accounted for. The reason for the success of all of these scams is that they are so easy to fall for, as they use a series of distraction techniques, and you always feel so silly after it has happened, and even as you read this you may be forgiven for thinking that it would never happen to you, but believe me, it's easy to fall for - I've seen it a few times on busy streets like Via Laietana, for example. Hopefully my tips will help it from happening to you next time!

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Guide.

Barcelona apartments for rent

Friday, October 17, 2008

Barcelona Scams. The ketchup squirt.

This is another clever scam, and a variation was also featured on BBC's the Real Hustle a few years ago, same as the Barcelona Dancing Dollies scam. My uncle fell victim to this scam around 8 years ago in Gaudi's Park Güell. It's often known as the bird poo scam, the mustard scam, etc. So I'll give his version.

Whilst walking in Park Güell with my young cousin, 2 men aproached him, and in very broken English, drew attention to the fact that my uncle had what appeared to be bolognaise sauce on his shoulder (his words, not mine). This gives you an immendiate distraction, and makes you wonder where have you been, where could this have come from, etc. Out of nothing, this helpful citizen produces a bottle of water and some serviettes, and at the same time points out that my cousin has a similar stain on her backpack and along her shoulder. So hey, here's an idea - I'll clean your back and you clean hers - considering that neither of you can reach.

You can guess where this is going, and yet again, is seems soooo easy to spot now, but this has been going on for years, and is still a killer. The scammers have been hiding behind bushes/wall, etc. and usually squirt whatever the substance is from a distance, and then approach you. As you can imagine, in the "cleaning and rubbing" of jackets and backpacks, wallets were lifted, and the guys make a speedy escape. My uncle even incredulously told me that he thought the guys were so kind and helpful that he thought to at least tip them for the bottle of water they had used to help clean the mess! As always, there are many an escape route, and as soon as my uncle realised his mistake, the theives were long gone.

As I mention, variations have been seen on Las Ramblas, for example with the mayonnaise and mustard sachets from the fast food chains, and salted water being used as saliva. etc.

Rule is: if someone approaches you to attempt to "help you clean something off your person" or any kind of unsolicited help, be aware of those others around you - these people rarely work alone, and the pass off is the key to the scam working. Often even if you catch up with the real pickpocket, the goods have been passed on maybe once, maybe twice - leaving you no cause for reclaiming or making a scene.

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Guide.

Barcelona apartments for groups

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More Barcelona Graffiti

As I mentioned on a previous post, I love some of the graffiti in Barcelona, and the great way that some shops decorate their dull grey shutters. This has the double effect of a big free advert in a modern art form, and also serves as a deterrant for the wanting to scrawl their tag on an open canvas, or in this case shutter.

The best place to see some of these quirky artworks is the old town, but not exclusively. I've seen some others in Eixample, for example - including the witch cafe shown here.

These pics are 2 of my favourites. The sausage makers in Raval for it's cheeky pig, warming and burning it's behind on the bonfire, and the other, running through the hills like Maria in The Sopund of Music. Classic.

The witch cafe, just because I think it's brilliant, and shows what amazing talent these guys and gals have - no prushes, all cans.

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Guide.

Barcelona apartments for groups

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Do's and Dont's for visiting Barcelona

Barcelona is a great city to visit, and in recent years has overtaken such European cities as Venice and Berlin as a top destination. If you've visited or live here, then you'll know what all the fuss is about, but if not, then it's wise to have a few ideas of Do's and Don'ts with regards the city.

DO visit the city's stunning architecture and great museums. Barcelona was awarded 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites - 8 of which are in Barcelona (the 9th is Colonia Güell, just outside the city) - and all are worth a visit, even just from the outside, sitting on the tourist bus, for example. There are some great museums, too, such as the Picasso Museum, the Erotic museum (!) on las ramblas, and the Chocolate Museum. Make sure you visit these places, but....

DON'T turn up in beachwear, or inappropriately dressed. I don't mean as these are religious places, so you need to cover up, but it's a real pet hate of the locals to see guys in trunks and flip flops with no tops, or Girls in bikini tops and a "pareo" waltzing along las Ramblas, or even worse stopping into Carrefour or Corte Ingles. Keep the beachwear for the beach, guys.

If you travel by car to Barcelona, DON'T leave your valuables in the car when you street park. I know of some people who parked right in front of the restaurant they were eating at in Barceloneta, and even sat outside, almost in full view of thier car. When they returned to the vehicle, the back window had been smashed, and they lost a mobile phone that had been left in the back, and then had the annoying episode of having to report the incident to the police for their hire car company.

DO hydrate yourself around Barcelona, especially the young ones in Barcelona. I could restrict this to the summer, but often temepratures are just as great in April and late september, so use this rule as a norm.

DON'T fall for the street scams - the dancing dollies (see my recent post here ), the 3 cups game, and the Barcelona dance. These are all easy to see, and if you watch the beer intake you should be ok!

DO visit the Boqueria market on Las Ramblas to try the "pata negra" Iberic ham (black hooved ham). It's one of the best, and is fed only on acorns. They also have some chorizos of the same animal for you to either try there, or take back to your Barcelona apartment to prepare. However, ...

DON'T stand on street corners with a big map, announcing the fact that you're lost! Try and find a phone booth, or a well lit shop entrance to find your bearings, and don't be afraid to ask. Things have got a lot easier recently with the installation of map-posts and directional arrows, to help you along your way.

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Guide.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Barcelona Scams. Dancing Dollies.

This is going to be a post that I'll constantly add to, as it's far too long to all squeeze into 1 post. After living here for 9 years, I have seen and heard of loads of scams, and I'm surprised that the majority of them still work today. There is a guy who has compiled a whole website to do with Barcelona scams and it's huge and spans a fair few years. I've read a fair bit of it (a couple of years ago I stumbled accross the page) and whilst some are real one offs, some of them are still going on today.

The one I'm going to mention this post is the Dancing Dollies. There are variations on this scam, using coins as weights for the feet of the little dollies, but the concept is the same. This scam has been revelaed on BBC's "The Real Hustle" as well, and was even easier to scam the public.

The scam involves a portable cassette player and some loud dance music. You see 2 little paper dollies, next to the music "dancing" away. It looks so cool, and is something that every music system needs. The dollies are usually your favourite cartoon characters, like Homer and Bart Simpson, Mickey and Minnie, Buzz lightyear and woody, Pokemon classics, and other variations. There is the intuition to ask "how does it work?" and the guy selling them simply stops the tape, and the dollies stop dancing, and then he presses play again, and they start the dance again. He speaks just enough to be understood "2 por 4 Euros, 2 for 4 Euros" and this is also part of the scam which I'll explain. You'd be surprised at the joyous faces of children walking up and down las Ramblas with a new packet of worthless colour paper cut-outs and string legs.

So here's how the scam works - I've even seen it being set up in broad daylight. The cassette player has a mechanical wheel on the back of it, with a peice of fishing wire, or some kind of transparent wire on the back whioch makes a loop, and is then either stuck to the back wall, or to a corner, or to a bag. In this photo, you can see that the guy's rucksack is conveniently placed so that you can't see the back of the machine. So the wheel is turning around like a bobbin, and the only thing needed is to "hang" the little dollies on the invisible wire and wait for the punters. All it needs is one to work as the convincer, and everyone else stops, and forks out the cash. In a very short space of time, the seller can be out of his stock.

The great thing about the scam is what I mentioned, that the seller never speaks enough of whatever language it is you ask him the question, so you just have to accept that it's cool, and as it's cheap enough for the gamble. This way the seller doesn't need to answer any "how does it work?" questions, and the best part of the scam is that by the time you get back to your hotel room or Barcelona tourist apartment to try it out on the stereo system, the seller will be long gone.

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Guide.
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