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


Anonymous said...

We are from Romania and we were in a trip in Europe (7000km) last week. In Barcelona some guys follow us until the appropriate trafic light then theirs car come next to us and in that momment they pinched our tyre. We're lucky because we don't stop and "our" garage was nearby, otherwise ... i don't know. Some guys at the service told us that theirs intention was to stole our car not only stuff you leave on show in your car.

Unknown said...

Thanks for commenting, and I'm glad you were fine and nothing happened. I think it would have been pretty difficult to steal your entire car but you never know.
Thanks for the alert, too!

Anonymous said...

I just spent the entire afternoon yesterday dealing with the repercussions of this exact scam yesterday. It involved a guy on a motorbike sticking a knife into the tire of our rental car, but fortunately we watched him do it. There were three of us in the car, I don't think he realized there was a person in the backseat. So he didn't attempt to open our door and grab our things. We were also lucky enough to get his license plate number, but apparently the bike was reported stolen a year ago. I'm trying to get word out that this is still happening so other tourists can hopefully avoid the same experience.

Unknown said...

So sorry to hear that and thanks for bringing this to rhe fore again. I hope is won't taint your view of the city or spoil your stay. All the best. David.

Anonymous said...

Out of interest does this happen on the A and B roads or just in the city on normal roads? I;m heading over next weekend in a rental car from the airport. Hopefully the rental car isnt to obvious!

Unknown said...

Yes, on the A & B roads, that's exactly where it happens, and at busy intersections. Don't worry, a rental car has local plates, so goes unnoticed, really. Just be safe - always drive with the doors locked, and don't open the door to anyone for anything!

Tgfvanisle said...

Yesterday same scene. Just into downtown, guy on motorbike waving madly at our rear tire. Which was magically suddenly very flat. He followed for a block waving madly to turn down a side street. We did not, waited until saw gas pump with air in another block. Another "helpful" couple pulled up to assist, but we refused the help and did it ourselves. It was only after comparing notes with my wife, and reading various other postings, I realize this was 99% certainly a Scam.

Unknown said...

Glad to hear you were wise to the scam, Tgfvanisle, and were able to fix without help. Thanks for commenting, to keep this post actual and alive!

Anonymous said...

This happened yesterday. Me and my partner live here but still have our registered UK car at the moment. We saw the moped driver actually stab our tyre. Luckily we know the area so drive somewhere safe put please be aware this is still rife.

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