Before coming to Spain, a friend had warned me against pickpockets plying inside the public transport. That Barcelona and Madrid topped the list of cities in Europe (even the world) with the highest numbers of pickpockets. That one should be very careful especially in areas where tourists mostly frequent.
I remember shrugging my friend’s warning, telling him that I had lived in Manila for six years and never had a single experience with pickpockets.That Spain was far safer than Manila. And besides, I have always been extremely careful: hugging my bag or checking my wallet more often than necessary. One thing that will drive pickpockets away is to let them know that you are fully aware of their presence.
When I arrived in Spain, I instantly felt safe and let my guard down right away. My friend was just overacting, I told myself.
I was even a bit surprised at seeing several churchgoers leave their bags while taking communion inside the church. Nobody would dare doing that in Manila.Seeing this made me loosen up quite a bit. I stopped feeling my wallet inside my pocket or carry my rucksack in front of me.
However, it didn´t take long before unscrupulous pickpockets victimized me on two different occasions, swiping my camera inside the metro and nicking my rucksack under the chair at Dunkin Donut´s. My friend was right all along.
From then on, everytime I frequent places like Sol in Madrid and Las Ramblas in Barcelona, known to be pickpocket paradise, I am now back to my bag-hugging self again.
The fellow customers
They pretend to be customers in bars and restos.They buy, sit and observe. Then they see one careless client leaving his/her bag on the floor or under the chair. They love it when the prey is busy with his/her phone or chatting with friends while his/her bag is on the floor looking oh so inviting.
The sandwich makers
If you notice that the person in front of you is walking extra-slow and seems to be following your pace and not wanting to give way, something suspicious is definitely about to happen. Chances are there is someone who is behind you who is also keeping up with your pace. The goal is to “sandwich” you. With their swift moves, your wallet or gadgets will be gone in a matter of seconds. This usually happens when you are about to take the wagon in the metro where it is crowded or on an escalator.
The lost tourists
They look like tourists complete with cameras and maps. They approach their prey holding a map asking for directions. They will conveniently hold the map open while the other hand is under the map smoothly snitching the phone or waller lying on the table.
The Messi wannabes
This usually happens in several empty and narrow streets of Madrid and Barcelona. You are walking and suddenly a group of friendly teenagers appear passing football to one another. They will kick the ball in your direction and before you know it, you are caught in the middle. You try to be friendly and play along but soon you realize your wallet or your phone is gone. So, walk straight and fast and never indulge.
The charity volunteers
They normally ply in parks. They work in groups. They will approach you with a piece of paper and a pen asking you to sign for a petition for a certain cause. When you indulge, they will either ask you to give some donation or someone has stealthily nicked your wallet or mobile.
The shit thowers
They operate in train stations or bus stops when tourists seem lost with both hands full of bags or suitcases. The unwitting victim suddenly feels that something is thrown at him/her and just out of nowhere, someone will shout in his/her direction. “You have kaka on your shirt!” And when the victim checks his/her shirt, yes there is shit-looking stain on it. If this happens to you, don’t panic. It´s not shit until it smells like one. But still, even if it is shit, never lose hold of your belongings. Chances are, the moment you focus your attention on the stained shirt, your suitcase or any valuable will just vanish in thin air. What you do is, look at it and do nothing. Once you are in a safe place, that’s the time you clean it because it´s not shit. It´s either chocolate or whatever. Remember, it ain´t shit until it’s real shit
Yet sometimes, because of circumstances beyond our control, we still fall victim to these pickpockets. Here´s what to do:
- Call the emergency hotline 112. Notify what happened. There is a possibility to catch the pickpocket and return the stolen valuables.
- Call your bank to block your credit cards.
- Go to the police station and report the case. If the pickpocket has used violence, this will be considered a serious case and if caught, the pickpocket can be arrested.
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Nats Sisma Villaluna has been serving the Filipino community in Spain for more than 13 years. His volunteer works include teaching Spanish to Filipinos, and as artistic director of the Coro Kudyapi, a group of musically inclined young Filipinos in Barcelona. His passion to serve the Filipino community now extends to other countries in his role as Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the new The Filipino Expat Magazine.