I am a Japanese American woman: small, fairly innocent looking, usually alone, and a target for pickpockets.
I have lived in Madrid for over 9 months and have experienced a variety of attempted robberies. Unfortunately, one must be very careful when visiting Madrid because one of the sneakiest professions is pick pocketing and rarely can the police do anything about it.
I have only been robbed once (knock on wood) towards the beginning of my stay. I took my eyes off my backpack for 5 seconds and when I looked again, it was gone. These are not street kids looking for entertainment, these are professionals.
Tips for preventing purse snatching
Listed below are some tips on how to avoid being a victim of pickpocketing, whether you are a small, fairly innocent looking person and usually alone or not:
- Do not put your purse or bag on the floor, not even in between your legs. If you have absolutely no other option, make sure that the straps are securely wrapped around your leg and your bag is completely closed.
- Be wary of the metro. If someone is too close to you or is pushing you while you are entering or leaving the car, he/she might be causing a distracting sensation so that you don’t notice he/she is searching through the contents of your purse.
- If someone approaches you on the street and sticks a piece of paper between your face and your purse, beware. While you’re listening to why that person wants your signature or asks you to locate a destination on a map, their hand may be inside your bag.
- If you see a nicely dressed man with his jacket lying over his forearm, he might be a thief. Under his coat is the perfect hiding spot for snatching your valuables.
- If you have your luggage with you and you are switching trains at the metro from the airport line, beware. Thieves will automatically think you are a tourist, especially if you are Asian, and target you.
- If you get on the metro and suddenly you are surrounded by a bunch of people, you might be standing in the middle of a gang of thieves. Usually they don’t move to make room for you or make eye contact, but just keep you trapped so that your eyes look for a way out while someone’s hand is in your purse.
- If you feel your purse or bag move and it is not a blustery day or you are not somewhere packed in like a sardine, look around. If the person standing next to you looks a bit suspicious but does not look you in the eye, beware.
- When sitting in a public place, do not hang your bag on the back of your chair. Instead, keep your bag on your lap or resting behind your body where you can feel it at all times.
As a woman who travels alone, it is especially important for us to be aware of our surroundings. We must always know where our valuables are and protect them. Though this certainly cannot be true for all cases, from my personal experience, the majority of the thieves were men (though one cannot omit women) who looked like they came from outside Spain (such as South America or Eastern Europe) or were gypsy like folk. They normally stake out the unwary on public transportation or in touristy areas.
If you do get robbed…
Take note of exactly what was taken. If it was your wallet, immediately cancel all your credit cards and report stolen identification. Right after a robbery, the thief will try to withdrawal as much cash as possible from your credit cards. If your passport was taken, report it to your embassy or consulate as soon as possible.
You should go to the Police Station and file a report right after the robbery. It will be a lengthy process, for it is a daily occurrence in Madrid. You might spend a good number of hours there until you are finally finished with the bureaucracy. In the majority of cases, your belongings will not get recovered, but you might be able to claim them under your insurance.
Police station where you can file a report from the city center: Calle Leganitos 19 (close to Metro Plaza de España).