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Pickpockets are prevalent in Madrid and, I suspect, active in all tourist areas. (Note: Madrid was the only place I personally encountered pickpockets.)

My experience:

 In March  of 1999  I spent 7 days in Madrid on two different occasions. On my first visit (lasting 3 days) I had no problems at all.  On my second visit I got hit twice by pickpockets on two different days. I was quick and didn't lose a thing. The first attempt was at a busy intersection. One man pretended to accidentally step on the back of my leg. Yes, my leg! He had to get high enough up on the pants so a dirt mark was evident.  Then apologizing profusely, he grabbed my pants tightly and started brushing at the dirty spot. A second man then tried to steal my camera out of my left front pants pocket. I tell you, he was fast. Still, I had decided something was up and grabbed his hand while it was still in my pocket. I never saw the second guy until I had his hand. Once I had them in hand (pun intended) they quickly backed off.  The second incident was during the 2-4:00 PM time. Nobody was on the streets but the pickpockets and me.  This time there were at least three, maybe more, working together. When I felt my leg get hit I just put my hands in my pockets and stared at the guy, repeating "No." He wasn't happy, but he finally gave up. The one guy working with him (that I could see) appear slightly amused by it all. Luckily, the guy behind me didn't try anything.

Note: If you encounter any force being used by the thief, it is best to cooperate. At least one tourist has been killed trying to resist a pickpocket.

On my second visit to Spain in 2000, despite knowing better, I boarded a very packed metro car at the train station. I soon realized I was surrounded by pickpockets who were constantly changing location in the car in order to put us commuters off balance. One girl had splayed herself out on the floor and was clutching her purse desperately. Thrown off balance by the crowd, I let go of the wallet in my pocket so as not to fall on the girl. With that act, I gave the pickpocket his chance and my wallet was gone.

Despite my close encounters, I talked with many tourists in Spain that never encountered any problems. At the same time, each could report hearing stories from other travelers. One man told me that the Madrid police station has an area set up just for reporting pickpockets. He also told me the line went out the door and down the street.

My last two trips to Spain (2001 and 2003) have been free of any pickpocket encounters, with the possible exception of a minor incident in Barcelona.

Read the "Traveling In Spain Safely" page for all the details on avoiding pickpockets.

I think being alone was one of the reasons I was targeted. On my first visit to Spain I didn't lose anything because I followed the rules. Don't leave anything valuable in your back pockets. If someone appears too friendly or does something slightly odd (distracting), watch those front pockets and put your hands in them.  And, make certain the money belt is hidden under your clothes.

In Madrid, the person that returns eye contact is the one to be most wary of. Beggars, pickpockets and the store cullers (clerks outside the shop trying to get you to come inside) were the only people on the street to make eye contact with me. This rule doesn't necessarily apply to smaller cities.

 

I learned the hard way not to go cheap on a money belt. Check out money belts at my Travel Store money belt page.

Read about other peoples experiences with pickpockets here


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This page last updated May 2007