Tourist scams to watch out for in Spain.
We haven’t yet been scammed in Spain (knock on wood) but we know quite a lot of people who have. Barcelona seems to be the city that comes up most often, but anywhere that tourists frequent are places you might be scammed. Earlier this year we were in Ronda where we saw a couple of elderly tourists get their camera stolen. It happens.
So what are the top tourist scams to watch out for in Spain? We cover that here.
We were checking in to our hotel in Barcelona when the desk manager warned us about pickpockets, especially on Las Ramblas and Mercado de la Boqueria. “Keep your eyes out for the gypsies” he told us.
I’ve heard a million stories of people being pickpocketed in Barcelona. In addition to Las Ramblas and Mercado de la Boqueria, watch out if you get on the metro. It’s where my step-father had his wallet pinched a few years ago (don’t keep you wallet in your back pocket!). But I’ve also heard of people getting pickpocketed around the Sagrada Familia and Park Guell.
The problem, according to the desk manager, is the leniency given perpetrators. Even if caught by police, pickpockets will be back on the street within hours.
As I say, don’t keep your wallet in a back pocket, don’t have your valuables in a backpack, keep your purse in front of you.
ATM Machine scam
We heard of this happening when we lived in Nerja – tourists being scammed by the ATM on the main square (it was a Sabadell ATM and it made me wary because I often used that machine).
The scam in question used a card-cloning device (known as a “skimmer”). The device is placed over the ATM’s card reader slot and copies the details of each card. Once the card owner’s details have been recorded, criminals can access all personal banking details including account details and the pin number used to withdraw money.
So always look for a suspicious looking device around the ATM slot.
Another popular ATM scam is less sophisticated: scammers stuff things into an ATM slot. When you come to use the ATM and can’t use it, a helpful stranger will come to help you out. This often happens to older people who are maybe a bit less sophisticated with technology or who have bad eyesight.
Don’t let anyone help you at the ATM. There’s always an emergency number next to a Spanish ATM that you can dial for help.
One tip that I really suggest: use an ATM connected to a bank and use it in the morning when the bank is open. That way, if there’s ever an issue, you can pop into the bank and have them help you out.
The “You got something on your shirt” scam
It’s a more active variation of pickpocketing – someone stops you and tells you that you have bird poop or something on your shirt. The perpetrators often work in pairs and can look absolutely normal. They’ll pretend to help you out one of them will be doing their best to slip their hands in your purse or pocket.
We’ve heard of an even more aggressive variation of this: they “accidentally” spray or drop something on you and then act all apologetic while trying to help you out.
Don’t let anyone help you. Be wary. I generally don’t like anyone getting their hands close to me so if someone gets in my grill (even with the best intentions), I tell them to back up. Go to the nearest bathroom and clean yourself up.
Gypsy ladies offering you Rosemary
We’ve seen it in many places including where we lived in Nerja. A gypsy lady comes up to you with a “gift” of a little branch of Rosemary. We’ve never accepted it and wave them away. But if you do, they’ll start telling you your fortune and then demand money for it (I’m told anywhere from 10 – 20 Euros). If you don’t pay they’ll make a huge, embarrassing stink over it and won’t leave you alone.
Remember that nothing comes free and wave them away.
“White Mime Scam”
We saw it in Barcelona and wondered exactly what it was about.
It happens in Plaça de Catalunya and you’ll see these ladies in white makeup hassling tourists all day long. “You want photo?” – if you end up having a photo taken with them you’ll end up having to pay. Otherwise, just like the Rosemary ladies, they’ll create a stink.
Why isn’t the police doing anything about this? Why aren’t they clamping down on this kind of crap?
I haven’t seen or experienced this but I hear it happens.
It happens usually late at night, usually to people leaving a drinking establishment (when they’ve had a few drinks). The perpetrators tell you that they’re undercover policemen (they’ll produce fake badges) and that they have to check your wallet for counterfeit money. They’ll take money from your wallet or even walk away with the whole thing.
If ever this happens, the thing to do is to demand that the wallet inspection happen at the nearest police station. Don’t give anyone your wallet.
Ugg, I don’t like taxis. Having travelled the world full-time for 6 years we’ve been ripped off so many times by taxis. Often you won’t know what local rules are and you just fall prey to them. Although not “scams”, Spanish taxis seem to love extracting money from you: money if you put bags in the trunk, money for taking a taxi at night or on Sundays, exorbitant fees when taking a taxi at the airport (during Covid we were at Barajas airport in Madrid. They changed terminals on us and we had to take a taxi from one terminal to another. A 5-minute taxi ride cost us the “minimum fee” of 15 Euros. I was seething).
But besides taxis screwing you over in the normal fashion, there is a taxi scam where the driver will tell you that his meter is broken. He’ll want to charge you a flat (and inflated) rate. Don’t. Get out of the car. This isn’t Bangkok and Spain’s taxis should always have a functioning meter.
One general tip I have about taxis in Spain: try to avoid them by taking public transport. Public transport is excellent in most of Spain and it’s always best to research what bus/metro to use to get to your final destination. This is especially true if arriving at an airport or train station where taxis impose exorbitant fares.
Restaurant charges and menus
In Spain all restaurants are required to show their prices. So if you see a restaurant where prices are not listed, you should not frequent them. Prices have to be included on translated English menus, on chalkboards (restaurants in Spain often have a board where they list their daily specials) and even where the offer is a “catch of the day”. Prices have to be transparent and you can’t have charges like tips or taxes added on to them.
I have a very detailed post on Restaurant laws in Spain here: Restaurant laws in Spain (and what you can’t be charged for!)
Fake Restaurant coupons
You’ll come across strangers giving you coupons to eat at such and such restaurant. When you go to the restaurant and give them the coupon (when the bill arrives) they’ll tell you that the coupon isn’t valid and that you have to pay for the full bill.
This is just a way of getting scammed by a restaurant.
Someone will come up to you asking you to sign a petition or give a donation. It might be for the “Ukrainian war effort” or something like that.
If you want to donate money to a cause it’s better to do it online. Many charities will happily accept your donations. But don’t give money to someone on the street. They may be for real…or they might not be…
Don’t leave belongings unattended on the beach…
It should be obvious but people still leave their things on the beach unattended.
See this post/video of a guy in Barcelona stealing a backpack while being filmed.
If Lissette and I go to the beach, we’ll take turns going on the water. I don’t even trust closing my eyes for a nap on the beach.
When I was a kid I would often travel with my parents and we would go to the beach and leave things unattended. How times have changed.
An offer to take your photo
It doesn’t just happen to the Griswalds, it happens to a lot of people. As I mentioned up top, we saw it happen to an elderly couple in Ronda earlier this year (at the lookout behind the Parador).
If someone offers to take your photo, say “thank you but that’s ok”. Take a selfie like everyone else.
Have you been the victim of a tourist scam in Spain?
Related: How to plan a Trip to Spain
Related: The Best Parador (Hotels) in Spain
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