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.
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.