Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Barcelona Scams. Gypsy Flower Sellers - Updated.

This week, whilst walking across Plaça Catalunya with my wife and kids, I witnessed for the first time the Gypsy flower seller scam - one which I've heard about before, but had never personally seen - and therefore blogged about here. I immediately knew it was a scam, and despite stopping to watch - and the thieves seeing me - it did not deter them. Here's how the scam unfolded.

Barcelona Sights - Red Carnation

The "marks" were two Japanese tourists who were walking in front of us as we crossed Plaça Catalunya - just near the tourist bus stop. The tourists, a young couple, were dressed in normal summer attire, and the girl even had her backpack on the front, so was obviously wise to the possible dangers of city centre pickpockets.

Two middle-aged Spanish ladies approached them each with ONE red carnation, and proceeded to "pin" the carnation in their t-shirts (no lapels, just a normal summer t-shirt) and then held out a hand with 3 x 2 cent coins in it, suggesting they give them a tip (and a small one at that). One of the ladies also had a white plastic bag in her hand, folded over to the length and breadth of a typical TV remote control (sorry, first thing that comes to mind, but you get the idea).

The embarrassed girl, a few steps away from her boyfriend, then began to look in her bag for her wallet - presumably to offer a few cents to the women to get them away. AS SOON as the girl got her wallet out and opened the zip compartment, where the coins would be kept, the Spanish woman use the folded carrier bag to cover the girls wallet and "help" her look for the other money - when I'm sure her deft hands would have taken some notes. Fortunately the girl became suspicious, took two steps back, returned the flower and walked to meet her partner, slightly flustered but wallet in tact.

This all happened at about 10:30am in the centre of town, and whilst the tourists moved on, the two women stayed exactly where they were, looking for new prey. I could not believe the brazen cheek (only ONE flower, so they expect to be rebuffed?!) and attempt in broad daylight. I expect that the thieves prey on those tourists who for sheer politeness and an inability to communicate would comply - i.e. the Japanese couple were a perfect mark. I kicked myself for not taking a photo, at least on my phone, but will update this post if I see them again, as a warning to others.

How to avoid this happening to you? Do NOT let anyone come close to you offering flowers - or if they do, politely decline. If the flower is placed upon you, take it out and return it. Some of the Indian and Pakistani immigrants do sell flowers on an evening or occasionally during the day, but usually have a full bunch of flowers which are wrapped in cellophane, etc. These women had one loose carnation, cut short, but with no frills. This is one that I had never seen before, but witnessed it in broad daylight in the main square, so be aware. As ever, this post is not to scare, rather to inform, and I also must point out that I've been here for almost 10 years, and that's the first time I've seen it, so don't be put off by my blog posts on Barcelona scams - Barcelona is a great place!

For planning your trip against any possible mishaps, see this detailed Barcelona Guide and check out my other recent posts on Barcelona Scams:

The Walking Tours Scam
The Restaurant Overcharge
The School Questionnaire
The Postcard cover up
The Reverse Parking Scam
3 Cups Scam
The Map Readers Scam
The Football Dance Scam
The Flat Tyre Scam
The Ketchup Squirt Scam
The Dancing Dollies Scam

For your accommodation needs in the city, try apartments for rent in Barcelona as a great alternative to your typical hotel room.


David Brydon said...

update. This post was actually written on 16th July, and I have been back armed with a camera to the same spot 4 times since then in an attempt to try and find the same women, but to no avail, sorry - if anyone has a pic, I'd love to use it!

Anonymous said...

Hey David. Me and my wife were almost fulled by this scam. At some point, when they were trying to grab my wife's wallet to pick the 5 cents coins, I "violently" told the women: "STOP, GET OFF!!!". This happened this week at the Plaça Espanya, in front of the Fira entrance, during the morning.

David Brydon said...

That's another excellent way of getting rid of them - casuing a commotion, just that often people are a little shy to do so. Well done to you for shouting, and thanks for giving out another location! Beware everyone!

Anonymous said...

This happened to me on a bank holiday evening, before Christmas (La Purísima). I took a walk hand in hand with my beloved down Rambla Catalunya, down the Rambla and into the Plaça Reial and sat outside the Glaciar in the pleasantly warm evening air. My wallet was firmly in my front pocket. Hubris reigning, I smugly thought it was nestling in secret safety.
I drank my "mediana" while observing the usual antic gestures of the nutters, niños and tourists thronging the square. Why ever do they queue for so long to go into that restaurant?
Eventually, we wandered through the backstreets to Sant Josep Oriol, La Plaça del Pi and then to the Liceu Metro.
Stopping at the barrier I removed my wallet, took out my ticket and prepared to put it into the slot. It was bent at one corner. To straighten it out I put my wallet into my front pocket again, before I had gone through the barrier. I noticed a presence at my side. No sooner had I put my ticket to the slot I noticed the presence disappear and so did the weight in my front pocket. I whipped round and just saw a young man pass my wallet to an accomplice and run up the stairs. Shouting at the top of my voice I grabbed the other young man by the jacket while waving my fist under his nose. My wallet miraculously appeared on the floor by him. My wife also grabbed him. “I didn’t do anything’. It wasn’t me. It was a Moroccan…” My impulse to dot him on the nose disappeared with the appearance of my wallet and the miserable creature’s pathetic squirming. Nothing was missing…
Knowing that petty thieves dread being involved in a fracas and charged with robbery with violence, I also knew that there wouldn’t be a real fight, especially with the group of several Catalans closing round to see what was going on. I let him go and he ran off, chattering in what sounded like Rumanian to his pal at the top of the stairs.
I was annoyed with myself for allowing someone to put his hand into my pocket, annoyed the pocket wasn’t deep enough to be a safe refuge. Annoyed that I had put my wallet into my pocket before going through the barrier. If had gone through, I would never have got my wallet back.
So, at the metro barrier:Take out your ticket. Keep a grip on your wallet. Put your ticket in and go through. Put your ticket away. Stow your wallet safely, once through.
There are a few descriptions of scams and comments by people who have seen them, and in one case tried to stop them here:
Kind Regards

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Anonymous said...

I was given a similar warning in Malaga some twenty years back - 'watch out for the gypsy flower-sellers' said the girl at the hotel desk. Now I pictured someone sitting in front of large flower-baskets in the style of the late Buster Edwards at Waterloo, and wasn't too worried.

About to cross a road - a lady of maybe sixty blocks the way, thrusting a carnation at me and smiling. A younger woman with her.

"Cuanto es ?"

"Una peseta - para fiesta" (it was nearly Christmas and large fireworks were being sold from open street stalls - not at all like the UK)

(Rapid calculation - about 0.5p. Much too cheap to be kosher)

"No. No peseta. No fiesta"

Would you believe, she wouldn't take no for an answer, stepped up to me and started pinning it. I leapt backwards about a yard. Which pulled her left hand (empty) out of my right-hand rear trouser pocket.

Impressive - my eye had been on the hand with the carnation, had not had a clue.

I spoke to them both in English then. They seemed to understand and went away.

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