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How to avoid pickpockets in Madrid

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Madrid metro stationI 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…

policeman - madridTake 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).

Photos originally posted by Antonio Martin and Abdallah Aberouch

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About the author

Venere Travel Blog writer tomoko kawanaka

Tomoko is a Japanese American woman who has been living outside of the USA for 3 years now, quitting her job in Chicago to study in Edinburgh, Scotland and Madrid, Spain. As a small, independent female and ethnic person who enjoys traveling alone, her perspective of the world is a bit different. And other peoples' perspective of her is a little bit different as well.

24 responses to “How to avoid pickpockets in Madrid”

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  1. Marco says:
    January 31st, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    One lesson: don’t go to Puerta del Sol. Madrid pickpocketing expertise came as areal surprise to us, i.e. my wife had her wallet taken off her purse in less than a blink while I was next to her. I mean: we travelled through many places around the world, some of which, like Peru, are known for “making no prisoners” (in particular if you take local buses to go around, like on the La Paz to Puno route), and we always got home with all our belonging, while even locals gor their share. But not in Madrid: I speak spanish, we don’t look like tourists, I’ve been to Madrid before but, at Puerta del Sol, we got hit. My wife felt her purse moving, looked around and a young lady next to her indicated someone running away: it was half a second, I realized the mistake made taking my eyes off to follow her advice, and … she had gone. Simple, easy, … successful. At the police station, we learned that Puerta del Sol is a guaranteed place for this; at the airport, declaring that “no, my ID was in the purse…” they finished the sentence “… at Puerta del Sol, of course”. Just don’t go there, it is not even worth.

  2. tomoko says:
    February 1st, 2008 at 10:47 am

    Puerta del Sol is the meeting point for everyone so it is not unusal to see people just standing around. And if you do notice immediately that you were pickpocketed and the person nearest to you points in one direction, do not be so quick to assume that this person might not be the pickpocket. It happened to me after I noticed my backpack was gone and ran out of the bar I was in. A fat guy on his mobile phone pointed down the road, in which I quickly ran down. He had been communicating to his pickpocket partner hiding in the bathroom of the bar when it was safe to come out and by the time I got back, they were both gone.

    I still go to Puerta del Sol to meet up with friends but now I wear a luggage lock on the zipper pulls of my purse. Not only does it make it easier to feel it moving, should thieves attempt, and they have, but it is also a turn off for those that realize there is a security system on it since they just want to go for the easy kill. It could be the next fashion statement, ladies.

  3. Lyn says:
    February 7th, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    This is a good article. The tips you give for recognizing and avoiding trouble are good. I want to add that most Spanish men carry a small wallet and they put it in a front pocket. While standing in a line or in a crowd they keep their hand in their pocket. I used to think it was just to look cool, but they’re protecting their wallet from pickpockets. I would not advise anyone to carry anything – not even a comb – in a back pocket. Those distract and snatch pairs of people you write about can be a problem, too. And if you do get pickpocketed and people sense you’re a tourist you won’t get any sympathy. I saw this happen a couple of times during the years I lived in Madrid. Spanish people put up with a lot of crap including this small class of foreign criminals who can make a career and a living stealing from other Spaniards and tourists.

  4. Abdallah Aberouch says:
    March 19th, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    Hello. Nice article.
    I’m glad you liked my picture. It really illustrates well your article.
    See you!

  5. JFM says:
    October 2nd, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    Does it do any good to have a decoy wallet with nothing in it in your back pocket? What about cell phones?

  6. Amanda says:
    January 4th, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Wow very interesting article. I am an Asian female from the US, and I”m looking into traveling to Madrid (alone) I’m not sure where to start, I know that I need to save up some money, to begin with. But it’s good to know what precautions to take. Looks like you are very adventurous to travel the world alone. I know I’ll get around to this someday, it’s the waiting part that’s hard. Cool article ;)

  7. Ashraf says:
    September 2nd, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    I just came back from a 1-day stop in Madrid. At the Metro station, I was told that a woman tried to pick my pocket twice. I was buying Metro tickets at the airport station and I was told that the woman followed me downstairs and put her hand in my pocket again. I only felt it the second attempt but I didn’t know my pocket was being picked. Fortunately, nothing was stolen because my pcoket was really packed making it difficult to get things out. I am also lucky I didn’t lose the family passports, although I think I would have felt that. I was lucky again to not lose my wallet, which was in my back pocket, which did not have a button to secure it.

  8. tomoko says:
    September 3rd, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    For guys, I highly recommend they use a money belt, one that you tie to your waist under your shirt, especially if you are going to be carrying around passports.

  9. James says:
    October 22nd, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    Me and my friends were targeted every night (at least 5-6 times a night) in Puerta Del Sol.
    It is common to find South American and North African men outside many of the bars and restaurants.
    Their tactic is to talk about Football and then pretend they are Kaka or Ronaldinho trying to take the ball round you. While they do this a second person will stand behind waiting to strike.
    A firm “NO” will send them packing as pickpockets don’t like confrontation. If that doesn’t work a firm push can be used. (they won’t retailiate as they don’t want trouble and don’t want to cause a scene for obvious reasons).
    I enjoyed playing along and then wait till I felt the hand, their reaction to being caught makes it worth while.

  10. Lily Khuu says:
    March 27th, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    Hey thanks for your useful tips. I’m also from Asia and I’ve been living in Madrid for 4 years. I was warned that Madrid is not a very safe city, especially in public transportation like metro or bus. One day when I was entering the metro in Tribunal and soon enough I found out that I was surrounded by a group of suspicious-looking men. I was a bit scared and the car was packed. So I tried to hold my bag real tight and stayed alert. Then I saw a space in between the seats and tried to move there. One of them was following me and so did the rest. I had my bag hanging on my shoulder plus I wrapped both hands around the bag to secure it. In the next stop, they were all leaving but trying also to push me out of the car. I was so mad that I pushed them back but made sure my bag was still ok. Nothing was lost but pickpockets are getting more and more skillful each day.

  11. Hannah says:
    May 4th, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    This is such a useful article! I wish I’d read it before I was targetted by pickpockets in Madrid last week.

    Almost the exact same thing happened as to several above – my partner and I had been out at night near Sol and as we were returning to the metro a guy stopped us to try to sell us silly hats and glasses. Less than a minute down the road, I realised that my bag was open and my wallet and passport were gone; the guy had disappeared into the night. Thankfully, my partner speaks Spanish and we managed to get a police report relatively easily the next morning. The British consulate were also very sympathetic and I got home on an emergency passport (at the cost of over a hundred euros). It will all be covered by insurance, but the little things like old tickets, photos and other ephemera are irreplaceable.

    I would like to reiterate your advice about keeping aware of your belongings and surroundings whilst out and about in the centre of Madrid and the Metro system. This was my fourth trip to Madrid since October, and I had become lax about personal awareness as nothing had happened on my previous trips.
    As well as being aware of yourself, may I also point out the usefulness of keeping valuables in different locations from one another. Losing a wallet is bad, but losing a wallet and passport meant, for me, losing all forms of ID I had with me, as well as all access to money. This was a scary and vulnerable situation to be in, and one which I would not wish anyone to experience.

    Thankyou for informing people about this unfortunate occurence – and reassuing me that I’m not the only one to have been stung!

  12. Michelle K. says:
    May 9th, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    Thanks for the article, and for pointing out that although anyone can be a target, Asians in particular are easy target. Perhaps they assume we are all rich Japanese tourists, or that we’re small-framed and easy to physically overpower, or that we’re too timid to do or say anything once we realize it has happened.

    Today two women attempted to pick-pocket me near Puerta del Sol. I felt so angry and violated I chased them down and took their pictures.

    http://www.imagechicken.com/uploads/1273434294018198600.jpg
    http://www.imagechicken.com/uploads/1273434441078117200.jpg

    There is a website where people post pictures of scammers and pick-pocketers in Barcelona. Perhaps a similar website should be created for Madrid.

  13. Ken says:
    September 9th, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Got done at Cuatro Caminos. I actually felt I was being followed and should have paid attention to my sensation. I am a big guy and can handle myself but it was the element of surprise. Got on the train and a guy (dare I say Roma or North African) jumped on and tried to grab my jacket from my arms (damn hot in this metro so took it off). Prevented him and actually got him to the floor of the train but could not hold him..at one time his head was outside the train with the doors closing..thought he was going to be decapitated. He got free and then literally rolled out onto the platform. Got my wallet but not my jacket at least (had my passort there). Amazingly the Madrid public are pretty hopeless in helping out. Did the police thing, bank etc but the guy still managed to spend 300 euro at FactoryMadrid. I am waiting for more!! Fact is..how could he spend so much at this outlet without showing ID? I phoned up and seems thay accept just a signature. Crazy place. I am lucky in a sense..I can always recognise the guy..he had particular features and hair. By the way…they travel in groups..his accomplices are a blond woman and I think an Asian girl..she kept looking at me in the train and then followed me up the escalator. As for the police…not interested even with the good description I was able to give them. My advice..don’t carry any bag in the wretched metro and be real alert..not Real Madrid. They can keep this hole.

  14. Gordon says:
    November 4th, 2010 at 2:44 am

    Madrid is notorious.You must always be on your guard. Never shake hands with people that make out to be friendly unless you know them well. My wife has been a victim and my son who now lives in Madrid.
    Thieves work in well organised groupes are very skillfull at their chosen job which they genuinely look upon as there living.Their career.My son is very aware now and has caught columbians trying to dip him.He saved the wallet before they grabbed it and all they did was walk off laughing.He thought better that to take them on for fear of a knife.On the Metro my wife got done.The escalator stopped and a woman grabbed her case to help her cary it up stairs.
    We later found that a purse with cash in had gone.Hand bag zipped back up to stop her noticing too quickly.She had been limping and may have seen to be an easy target.I was just in front trying to make sure we went in right direction.I wonder now are they able to stop escalators to create confusion ?
    Nice city in parts but very expensive especially if some Bast*** wants to make more so ! Take Care !!

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  16. Amit says:
    October 3rd, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    Nice article. Unfortunately, I am reading this after being a victim of pickpocketing. Please be careful of a group of 10 women (Easter European looking, I guess Romanian), who will come to you looking for a signature for a petition that they are filing with UNICEF for the deaf and dumb. They will also ask for a donation. If you refuse, they will ask you to sign their paper only. Once that is done, they will ask you for your ID so that they can verify your name. And that’s the moment, they make their move. They will usually gather around you all at once. My wife’s money was gone from her purse. We only realized after we got onto the metro. We returned but the girls had obviously disappeared!

    This happened near Santiago Barnabeu. Some other friends have also confirmed that the same girls came to them near the Templo de Debod.

  17. Sarah says:
    January 13th, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    Read this too late. Same group of girls/woman just robbed us today. My boyfriend is well over 6 foot tall and well built but this didn’t stop this group of 5 foot women! Also happened at Santiago Barnabeu metro. Let’s hope this bunch of thieves get their come uppance very soon.

  18. Shaunta says:
    January 17th, 2012 at 1:16 am

    Jeez – sure feels good to belong :) Just got back from a shopping trip to Madrid with two girlfriends and I got the “Madrid” experience crossing the street near Puerta de Alcala. As we were approaching the intersection on a green light we were suddenly surrounded quickly and closely by several women. I thought nothing of it until we had crossed and I felt the weight in my over the shoulder handbag was significantly lighter. When i looked down and saw the flap was open I immediately started yelling. Out of the blue a women runs up to me holding my wallet pointing at the bushes claiming she found “found” it there. Of course all the money was gone (160 Euros) but thankfully all of my credit cards and ID was there as well as other stuff. Myself and my friends are pretty sure this was a ruse and the women was part of the scam but I was so happy to have my wallet (Louis Vuitton, $800) and my cards/ID that the cash was an acceptable loss. I even hugged the women who returned my wallet out of sheer relief and happiness at my returned wallet. To add insult to injury there was a policeman less than 200 yards away talking to another tourist couple. For this being my one and only time being pickpocketed after living in Europe for 5 years and traveling extensively I got off lucky. Lesson learned!

  19. Amit says:
    January 17th, 2012 at 10:34 am

    Sorry to hear that Sarah. Before this incident happened with us, I was taking pictures of the Barnabeu. Luckily, I caught two of the girls on one of the pictures I took, which I gave to the police. But I have no news obviously from them. Let’s hope they do something about it!

  20. John Smith says:
    October 13th, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    Cannot believe I got pocketpicked yesteraday outside of the madrid METRO. Went to the Police station and found whole bunch of people trying to file police report. This is a very serious problem here in Madrid If not necessary, I strongly suggest you guys to avoid coming here.
    I was very carefuly already but they were too good. You can’t really do anything to avoid them.

  21. Nate Tung says:
    October 16th, 2012 at 12:10 am

    Pickpocket is terrible in Madrid. We were extremely careful knowing how serious it is. Unfortunately, no matter how careful we were, we still got hit. The thief opened the purse and unzipped a small compartment in just a sec, the wallet just gone. Fortunately, there isn’t much in the wallet. Therefore, I guess the lesson learned is to bring nothing in the purse.

  22. Valter JR says:
    September 2nd, 2013 at 3:19 am

    I should have read this article 4 weeks ago. Unfortunatly I’ve been a victim inside a Starbucks Coffee located in central Madrid (next to Museum del Prado). A guy approached with a piece of paper asking for money. He took my wallet that I had left over the table. I didn’t notice at that moment, only 3 minutes later, when I stood up to leave the restaurant. That was the last day of my staying in Madrid and I got really mad that night. First: NO waitress wanted to call the cops. Second: There was a camera over my table and it hadn’t been turned on. How come do they have a camera if they don’t switch it on???? A spanish women who was sitting next to me took his phone and finally called the cops. After that, I went to a police station at Calle Huertas to fullfill a complaint form. That was supposed to be a tourist police station and nobody there knew how to speak English! I had to wait for over 30 minutes for a translater. And to finish my night, I had to get back to the hotel by walking, what took me over 2 hours, because my subway pass was inside the wallet. Everything I lost that night: My US$300 Ermenegildo Zegna wallet, all my credit cards, my subway pass, the hotel magnetic key and 115 euros. The guy who robbed me was probably from Romania (according to the cops). Be aware when you travel to this city! After visiting almost all european countries I have to admit that Spain is the WORST one! I’ll never be back either to that city, or to that country or to that place again. NEVER!

  23. Nina says:
    December 3rd, 2013 at 9:42 am

    Don’t go to Madrid. It’s not even worth it. My husband and I went to Mercado San Miguel market to buy some confectioneries in there. We stopped at one booth selling all sorts of flavor for yoghurt. While my husband was busy choosing the flavor, I was trying to take out my purse to pay for it. After paying, I tried to put my purse back inside my sling bag only to found out my husband was buying another one. To make second payment only then I realized my purse was gone with my sling bag left unzipped. I knew there was someone next to me accidentally hit my bag. But now I believe it wasn’t accidental.
    We tried to reprt to the police. You can easily find them on the streets but not even one policemen helped us to make the report. We were directed from one policeman to another until we had to wait for a translator. The translator wasn’t there and we had to go to another police station which was like ten minutes walk. In the end we gave up knowing that the policemen couldn’t do anything much, what more save our 800 euros that was stolen.
    To us, other cities like Barcelona, Seville etc are much more worth visiting not because of what had happened in Madrid but because other places are so much more beautiful. To an extent, we even regretted coming to Madrid and made it as our longest stay.

  24. Dutch tourist says:
    January 2nd, 2014 at 2:01 am

    My wife got pickpocketed from her iphone during new years eve on puerta del sol. Later we realized we walked into a funnel where people are ‘blocked’ and ‘cornered’ ; disgustingly obvious i am afraid to admit.
    There is no camera or police surveillance, tourist are easy bait.
    Madrid police just shrug and file…….


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