This post is not to scare anyone, so don’t take it the wrong way! It is simply to help fellow travelers be aware and avoid those tricky sticky situations. In Madrid, violent crime is almost nonexistent. In fact, this city is pretty damn safe. I am a 22-year-old girl who feels completely comfortable walking home alone after the clubs close circa 6:30 am.
The criminals in this city are not looking to hurt anyone, but they are looking to take advantage of oblivious tourists. The sad truth is that nonviolent crime, especially pick-pocketing, is pretty common. However, if you are informed, aware and know what to look for, you should be in the clear. Some pretty basic knowledge can save you from a colossal hassle.
7 Sneaky Madrid Pickpockets to Watch Out For
1. The “Innocent”
Perhaps some of the most disturbingly sneaky pickpockets I’ve encountered here in Madrid are those who seem perfectly innocent. These devious children will come up to tables at restaurants or cafes and try to show you some kind of paper, such as a drawing or worksheet from school. I’ve seen children as young as 7 years old try to pull this stunt. While you are distracted by their adorable artwork, they will try to lift something, such as your phone or purse, from the table.
2. The Footballer
Males, especially, need to look out for these guys. The locals refer to this performance as “hacer el futbolista.” These are young boys who act like they want to play some soccer/football with passersby. They will kick the ball to you and pretend to play defense as a method to divert your attention. While this may seem like a harmless pickup game, someone behind you will lift something from your pockets or, if the “futbolista” is feeling daring, they will even go for it themselves.
3. The “Philanthropist”
I’ve run into these pickpockets all over the city, but specifically in the old part of Madrid (near the Royal Palace) and in Parque del Retiro. These swindlers, fluent in English, will ask you to sign something, such as a petition for school, for a cause etc. Once again, this is simply a distraction method to prey on the unsuspecting while they explain their “cause.” One girl actually had the nerve to ask to see my passport one time, definite RED FLAG. (Note: not everyone with a clipboard in Madrid is a pickpocket, but I’ve learned to stay clear.)
4. The Picnicker
The “Picnicker” seeks their prey in the city’s touristy parks, such as Casa de Campo, Parque del Retiro, and Rosaleda de Madrid (around Templo de Debod). They walk around specifically seeking out foreigners, but also anyone who seems to be distracted or may be napping. If anyone comes up to try to talk to you while you are sitting in a park, take notice and make sure you are in control of your belongings. Also, it is very important not to fall asleep in a park with valuables in your possession. It may seem like common sense, but I’ve been at Retiro many a time finding a quick snooze awfully tempting. If you want to take a nap in one of the parks, leave your laptop at home.
5. The Metro Dweller
These guys ride the crowded metro lines around the center of the city (red, light blue, green and yellow). It is extremely important to be aware of your belongings on crowded metros. Sometimes you are packed into the cars so tightly that you are up against other bodies. When you are this close to others, it’s difficult to separate malicious movements from harmless ones. In these situations I make sure to have empty pockets and always keep one hand on the opening of my purse.
6. The Crowd Surfer
These pickpockets hang around crowded tourist areas in Madrid such as Gran Via or Puerta del Sol. Just as in the metro, it’s hard to tell their sly movements from rather innocent ones in these jam-packed tourist areas. They prey on loose pockets and unattended bags. Always keep your belongings close to you in these areas of the city.
7. The Club Rat
These rats frequent touristy clubs such as el Teatro Kapital, Joy and Moondance. What makes this situation particularly tricky is the added alcohol component. Adding alcohol to the mix can obviously cloud your instincts and judgment. When drinking and dancing with friends, the last thing on your mind is keeping an eye out for pickpockets, but you should try to stay aware.
Tips for returning home with all your valuables
- Try not to be flashy with expensive items, especially iPhones. I know it’s hard, but if you want to take a picture, put your phone or camera away when you’re finished. Don’t keep it in your hand or around your neck, while you wander around; this is a blatant advertisement.
- Never put your iPhone, wallet, etc., on any surface such as a bar or countertop. Even if you’re standing right next to it, this is an easy target for experienced pickpockets. (This is a habit I found extremely hard to break)
- Be especially aware of tourist traps. Foreigners and tourists are always prey in unfamiliar areas.
- In crowded areas keep a hand on the opening of your purse or pockets.
- If you’re going out for a night of drinking, it might be a good idea to leave valuables at home. It’s very tempting, but try to only bring the amount of money you plan to spend. Try to come up with a mutual meeting spot so you don’t need your phone.
- NEVER carry your passport with you when touring!! When traveling, bring another form of identification along as well, especially for going out at night. Carrying your passport is asking for trouble. Lock it up in your hotel room and leave it there until you need it.
- Lastly- be aware and trust your instincts- if someone seems too close to you, they probably are.
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