No one wants to think about having their belongings stolen while abroad because it’s human nature to assume that everyone is kind and wouldn’t dream of messing with strangers. But it’s naïve to adopt this mentality in crowded cities that are full of tourists and goodies to be taken. Take a precautionary approach to visiting these places rather than cross your fingers and hope that nothing bad happens.

Throughout Europe, pickpocketing is a common method of theft targeted at tourists, but the way people accomplish this sneaky task is often different. In Spain there are a few scams that have become prevalent. Use this list of Spain scams to stay alert and stay away from these sticky situations.

The Bird Poo Scam

You’re enjoying a nice walk along La Rambla in Barcelona when a local man starts making hand motions and pointing at your jacket. You look and there is a nasty, disgusting blob of white stuff stuck on your back. The man starts flapping his arms around and points to a bird. Darn—a bird has pooped on you! Fortunately, the kind man has a bottle of water and a handkerchief to help you get the poo off. Unfortunately for you, as he cleaned up your jacket, he also cleaned out your bag, pockets and wallet. By the time you realized what happened, he is long gone with all your goods.

“I’ve Just Been Robbed/My Bags Were Stolen” Scam

A flustered woman with sunglasses on approaches you and asks desperately if you speak German. She looks like a tourist and no matter how much you insist that you can’t speak German, she manages to convey to you that her bags have been stolen, or her wallet was taken or her papers are gone. She is a tourist and needs to go to the police and she is apologising effusively and being very polite while remaining dishevelled. The right thing to do would be to give her some money so she can get back on her feet since you hope someone would do the same for you, right? Wrong—she’s lying!




She’s a local looking to scam tourists by pretending to be one, and if you frequent a busy area enough, you’ll likely come across the same woman or man with the same hurt/scared expression exclaiming to anyone who’ll listen that she was just robbed and her bags were taken. Be careful whom you trust!


The Pea and Cup Game Scam


You’re walking through a square and you see a street game going on up ahead. The host of the game has three cups and under one of them is a pea. He shuffles the cups quickly and then takes bets on which cup the pea is under. You watch for a moment and realise you know exactly where the pea is every time he shuffles! And the other players are putting down some serious money—you could be making money!


The host will probably notice that you’re interested and ask if you want to have a bet, after all, you know where the pea will be. Finally, you place a bet and once he starts shuffling the cups, something will impair your line of sight or distract you and before you know it, you’ve lost the pea. You lost your money and are left wondering what just happened.


Fake Policeman Scam


You and your family are wandering around Barcelona and a man comes up to you to ask, in broken English, how to get to the Sagrada Familia. You quickly scramble to share directions and send him off towards the architectural masterpiece. Moments later, two men will approach you and start flashing official-looking IDs all while claiming that they are undercover police officers. They explain tersely that the man you were just speaking with is a well-known drug dealer and that you and your family are now considered material witnesses and they ask to see your passport.


They may require you to pay a “fine”, search you (and steal your valuables while they’re at it) or they may just grab for your wallet and get out of there. Be sure to ask for details about their local law enforcement agency to ensure these people are legitimate. Or, if you can insist that you will go with them to the local constabulary to make your statement instead of submitting to a search or statement while on the street. It will likely dissuade fake cops from pursuing their scam.


Gypsy “Lucky Lucky Heather” Scam


It isn’t unusual to find older gypsy women hanging around religious sites throughout Spain, and most of them are harmless. The “lucky lucky heather” gypsies are not so innocent. They will come up to you and push a scrawny-looking bit of heather into a buttonhole or pin it to your clothing. You’ll refuse and try to push them away but they will insist and tell you its “lucky lucky,” tell you it’s a festival day, promise to do a little flamenco dance for you or as a last resort tell you it will only cost one cent.


Most people will pay the one cent just to be rid of them, but no one has just one cent in their pocket. These pushy women will help you go through your purse to find the one-cent coin and while they are poking around in your purse, their fingers will help themselves to your euro notes too.


Now that you know what scams in Spain to keep your eye on, you are better prepared against the people who may not have your best interests at heart and really just want what’s in your wallet. To truly be protected consider buying an international travel insurance plan from Cover-More for protection against lost or stolen goods. This way, even if something bad does happen and your wallet, camera or purse becomes misplaced or stolen, you will have a back-up plan to replace what is gone.


Image courtesy of Flickr user Stephen Depolo.