Security Briefing: Crime
The information below has been excerpted from the following: 1) the US Department of State's "International Travel" website (travel.state.gov/travel/), 2) the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's "Smartraveller" website (www.smartraveller.gov.au), and 3) the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office's "Foreign Travel Advice" website (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/). Additional information is available from these sources. World Trade Press annually assesses the information presented on this page.
United States: Department of State International Travel Information
While most of Spain has a moderate rate of crime and most U.S. citizen who travel to Spain each year have trouble-free visits, street crimes against tourists occur in the principal tourist areas. Madrid and Barcelona, in particular, report incidents of pickpocketing, mugging, and occasional violent attacks, some of which require the victim to seek medical attention. Criminals tend to frequent tourist areas and major attractions such as museums, monuments, restaurants, outdoor cafes, Internet cafes, hotel lobbies, beach resorts, city buses, subways, trains, train stations, airports, and ATMs.
In Madrid, incidents have been reported in all major tourist areas, including the area near the Prado Museum, near Atocha train station, in Retiro Park, in areas of old Madrid including near the Royal Palace, and in Plaza Mayor. There have been a number of passport and bag thefts reported at Barajas Airport, local hotels, as well as in El Rastro (Madrid’s flea market) and in the Metro.
In Barcelona, the largest number of incidents reported also occurred in major tourist areas--on Las Ramblas, El Prat Airport, Sants train station, inside Metro stations, in the Sagrada Familia area, in the Gothic Quarter, in Park Güell, in Plaza Reial, and along Barcelona’s beaches. There have been a number of thefts reported at the Port Olimpic Area and nearby beaches.
Travelers should remain alert to their personal security and exercise caution. We suggest that travelers carry limited cash, only one credit card, and a copy of their passport; leaving extra cash, extra credit cards, passports and personal documents in a safe location.
Be especially careful in crowds. Avoid placing passports, cash or other valuables in the outer pockets of backpacks or purses. Pickpockets often use the cover of a crowd to rob unsuspecting tourists and visitors. Do not leave belongings unattended in public areas. Do not put purses on the floor or on the backs of chairs at restaurants. Keep valuable belongings within sight and within easy reach at all times in public areas to reduce the risk of theft.
Thieves often work in teams of two or more people. In many cases, one person distracts a victim while the accomplices perform the robbery. For example, someone might wave a map in your face and ask for directions, ”inadvertently” spill something on you, or help you clean up bird droppings thrown on you by a third unseen accomplice. While your attention is diverted, an accomplice makes off with your valuables. Thieves may drop coins or keys at your feet to distract you and try to take your belongings while you are trying to help. Physical assaults rarely happen. In the past, such attacks were initiated from behind, with the victim being grabbed around the neck and choked by one assailant while others rifle through or grab your belongings.
A group of assailants may surround the victim in a crowded popular tourist area or on public transportation, and only after the group has departed does the person discover he/she has been robbed. Purse snatchers may grab purses or wallets and run away, or immediately pass the stolen item to an accomplice. A passenger on a passing motorcycle sometimes robs pedestrians. There have been reports of thieves posing as plainclothes police officers, beckoning to pedestrians from cars and sometimes confronting them on the street asking for documents, or to inspect their cash for counterfeit bills, which they ultimately confiscate as “evidence.” The U.S. Embassy in Madrid has received reports of cars on limited access motorways being pulled over by supposed unmarked police cars. The Spanish police do not operate in this fashion. We encourage U.S. citizens to ask for a uniformed law enforcement officer if approached.
Theft from vehicles is also common. “Good Samaritan" scams are common, where a passing car or helpful stranger will attempt to divert the driver’s attention by indicating there is a flat tire or mechanical problem. When the driver stops to check the vehicle, the “Good Samaritan” will appear to help the driver and passengers while the accomplice steals from the unlocked car. Drivers should be cautious about accepting help from anyone other than a uniformed Spanish police officer or Civil Guard. Items high in value like luggage, cameras, laptop computers, or briefcases are often stolen from cars. We recommend that travelers not leave baggage in plain view inside parked cars, and keep doors locked, windows rolled up, and valuables out of sight when driving.
While the incidence of sexual assault is statistically very low, attacks do occur. We recommend that U.S. citizens remain aware of their surroundings at all times, and travel with a companion if possible, especially at night. Spanish authorities warn of the availability of so-called "date-rape" drugs and other drugs, including GHB and liquid ecstasy. U.S. citizens should not lower their personal security awareness because they are on vacation. Be cautious in bars and clubs where alcohol is served. Never leave your drink unattended and never accept an open drink from a stranger. Incidents have been reported of people falling victim to serious crime after having drugs slipped into their drinks.
A number of U.S. citizens have been victims of various scams in Spain. One scheme involves a U.S. citizen receiving an email or telephone call requesting money to assist a relative or acquaintance who has allegedly been arrested, detained, robbed, or injured in Spain. Often, it starts with a call impersonating a grandchild supposedly arrested in Spain, asking the grandparents not to inform the parents. If you receive such an email, we recommend that you not send money. Other scams include lottery or advance-fee scams in which a person is lured to Spain to finalize a financial transaction. Often the victims are initially contacted via Internet or fax and informed they have won the Spanish Lottery (El Gordo), inherited money from a distant relative, or are needed to assist in a major financial transaction from one country to another. For more information, please see the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web page onInternational Financial Scams.
VICTIMS OF CRIME
If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. We can:
- Replace a stolen passport.
- Help you find appropriate medical care if you are the victim of violent crimes such as assault or rape.
- Put you in contact with the appropriate police authorities, and if you want us to, contact family members or friends.
- Help you understand the local criminal justice process and direct you to local attorneys, although it is important to remember that local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime.
- The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Europe, including in Spain and Andorra, is 112.
Please see our information for victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
Australia: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Travel Advice
Petty crime, such as pickpocketing and bag snatching, is particularly common in tourist areas and on public transport in large Spanish cities, especially Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville. The perpetrators are often highly skilled at stealing valuables, including passports and money, without attracting the owner's attention.
Thieves often work in gangs and use various ploys to distract the attention of tourists. For example, a criminal may use large maps or offers of assistance to distract a traveller's attention, while an accomplice steals the traveller's belongings. Thieves have posed as plain clothes police officers and, while pretending to enquire after identification, have stolen money and credit cards from tourists' wallets. Tourists are sometimes intimidated into providing the pin number for their ATM card.
Incidents of drink spiking, followed by theft and sexual assault, have been reported.
Thieves commonly target motorists. They might try to convince you to pull over because of an apparent problem with your vehicle, or offer assistance to change a slashed or flat tyre. While one assists you, an accomplice steals from the car. Cars with foreign number plates are often targeted. Thieves have also broken into caravans and motor homes, particularly in public parking areas.
There are a number of elaborate scam operations based in Spain. Travellers should be cautious about travelling to Spain in response to a letter advising of a sudden financial windfall. Inheritance scams and Spanish lottery scams are the most common form, but other scams also operate in Spain. Inheritance scams typically involve receipt of a message, purporting to be from a lawyer in Spain, informing an Australian that they have received a substantial inheritance from a previously unknown relative who died in Spain. Scam lotteries based in Spain claim to represent Spanish state lotteries. If you receive unexpected correspondence from Spain asserting a financial windfall you should look carefully into the claim before sending money or travelling to Spain.
If you have been a victim of a Spanish lottery scam, we recommend against travel to Spain to seek restitution. Instead, obtain legal advice. See our travel bulletin onInternational Scams.
United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office Foreign Travel Advice
Most visits to Spain are trouble-free, but you should be alert to the existence of street crime, especially thieves using distraction techniques. Thieves often work in teams of two or more people and tend to target money and passports. Don’t carry all your valuables in one place, and remember to keep a photocopy or scanned copy of your passport somewhere safe.
Many people have their passports stolen while passing through airports, either on arrival in or departure from Spain. Take extra care to guard passports, money and personal belongings when collecting or checking in luggage at the airport, and while arranging car hire.
In some city centres and resorts, thieves posing as police officers may approach tourists and ask to see their wallets for identification purposes. If this happens to you, establish that the officers are genuine and if necessary show some other form of ID. Genuine police officers don’t ask to see wallets or purses.
In any emergency, call 112. To report a crime, including stolen property and lost or stolen passports, visit the nearest Policia Nacional or Guardia Civil Station to make a police report (denuncia). If you have had belongings stolen, you will need to keep the report for insurance purposes. If your passport is lost or stolen, you will also need the report to apply for an emergency travel document from the nearest British Consulate and to apply for a replacement passport when you return to the UK. Make sure you get a ‘police report’ (una denuncia) and not a ‘sworn declaration’ (una declaración judicial), as the latter may not be accepted as evidence of the crime for insurance purposes, or when applying for your new passport.
Personal attacks, including sexual assaults, are rare but they do occur, and are often carried out by other British nationals. Be alert to the possible use of ‘date rape’ and other drugs including ‘GHB’ and liquid ecstasy. Buy your own drinks and keep sight of them at all times to make sure they aren’t spiked. Alcohol and drugs can make you less vigilant, less in control and less aware of your environment. If you drink, know your limit - remember that drinks served in bars are often stronger than those in the UK. Avoid splitting up from your friends, and don’t go off with people you don’t know.
There has been an increase in reports of burglaries in areas with holiday accommodation and residential areas in major cities. Make sure your accommodation has adequate security measures in place and lock all doors and windows at night or when you aren’t in. If you’re a tourist and are concerned about the security of your accommodation, speak to your tour operator or the owner. Make sure you know the contact details of the local emergency services and the location of the nearest police station.
When driving, be wary of approaches by bogus police officers in plain clothes travelling in unmarked cars. In all traffic-related matters, police officers will be in uniform, and all police officers, including those in plain clothes, carry official ID. Unmarked police vehicles have a flashing electronic sign on the rear window which reads Policía (Police) or Guardia Civil (Civil Guard), and normally have blue flashing lights. Genuine police officers will only ask you to show them your documents and will not ask for your bag or wallet/purse.
If in any doubt, you should talk through the car window and contact the Civil Guard on 062 or Police on 112 and ask them to confirm that the registration number of the vehicle corresponds to an official police vehicle.
Be aware of ‘highway pirates’ who target foreign-registered and hire cars, especially those towing caravans. Some will (forcefully) try to make you stop, claiming there is something wrong with your car or that you have damaged theirs. If you decide to stop to check the condition of your/their vehicle, stop in a public area with lights like a service station, and be extremely wary of anyone offering help.
Only use officially registered or licensed taxis.
Copyright © 1993—2024 World Trade Press. All rights reserved.