Every time I think about writing one of the Scams blog posts, I always want to say "well, it's been a while since I've posted about scams..." and to be fair, I think maybe some of the levels of petty crime at least close to me and my knowledge have dropped a bit - but that could also be due to the drop in tourism and visitors to the city, too, right? Either way, I'm not trying to spread doom and gloom within the first month of 2010, but wanted to fill you all in on another technique being used to scam people out of their belongings.
Before I start, I'd also like to give a shout to the mossos (local police) who in late December dismantled a well organised group of 17 Romanian Theives who used the fake Police trick to steal belongings from tourists. I've never blogged about this before as a scam, although I had heard about it. Some of the details the Police divulged were unbelievable, and it confirms my belief that approaching those tourists who are culturally more polite or have a greater respect for authority are easy pickings in the theives' eyes. I could write another post on the incredible things these false Police were able to get out of some of the tourists, but at least something has been done to stop one organised group.
So, the scam I'm going to write about today (I was going to type "new scam" but it's hardly likely to be new) took place at Sagrada Familia, but could take place at any crowded area in the city, and indeed probably does. The only seemingly necessity is for pedestrian traffic to funnel into a fairly tight space - think of any roadworks that force tourists into a smaller section of the pavement/sidewalk, for example.
I was told this story first hand (like the majority of my posts) by some Italians, and while they made a huge error (in my opinion, but I'm sure you'll agree), it could still happen just as easily without the careless nature of these guys.
So, around Sagrada Familia (not inside) pedestrians were passing through a fairly narrow stretch of the surroundings, when the guy was stepped on - a woman walking in the opposite direction to him stepped on his shoe. Naturally in these situations, depsite the fault laying elsewhere, he apologised, and as he turned to face the woman, a guy lifted his wallet from the side pocket of his combat pants (there's the error). They didn't realise this had happened until they reached the tunstyles to pay the entrance fee, as again is completely normal. So the scam works with two people and must be very hit and miss - simply because the thieves cannot guarantee that each time they open someone's pocket or bag, they will find something worth stealing. Although, saying that, it's likely a good days work for them at the hot spots around the city.
How to avoid this happening to you? Well, first off, don't leave your wallet/camera/purse in a pocket which you cannot feel close to your skin - like a side pocket. It's much more difficult to lift a wallet from a front jeans pocket then a back pocket for example. Also, try and be aware of your surroundings at all times, especially when you are forced into a situation where personal space is scarce. Metro stations are a perfect example of this. Having said that, it is extremely difficult to be aware and alert at all times, and the thrives exploit this kind of situation exactly because they know the difficulties involved in staying alert, so don't feel stupid if it does happen to you.
Thinking of visiting Barcelona this year? Check out these self-catering apartments for rent in Barcelona as a great alternative to a hotel. And for a heads up on what's hot and what's not in the city, see this great Barcelona guide.