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Barcelona is a safe city, but, familiarise yourself with current scams, risks, advice, etc, below. But please remember the vast majority of visitors are not affected by crime. Help yourself to improve those odds even further. Forewarned is forearmed.
Be alert, as in any large city. The central part of Barcelona, especially always crowded La Rambla, is renowned for petty crime, such as pickpocketing and bag snatching, so be watchful when sightseeing, taking pictures or watching street artists. Pickpockets are known to be crafty when devising ruses to dupe tourists out of their money. Avoid the lower half of La Rambla, below the Liceu Opera House at night.
Pickpockets frequent the metro or bus at rush hour or during any crowded perioed - while everyone is crowded together they get infront and behind you so you are trapped, then as the next stop comes up they start to push you out of the way, at the same time going through your pockets. It is easy to think you are just being jostled by the crowd when in fact you are being searched. This probably the most common form of petty thievery - it is important to take precautions to avoid this from happening to you. Ways to minimize the risk: keep your passport in your hotel safe and bring only a photocopy with you, bring a replaceable photo ID, bring only 1 credit card at a time, minimize the amount of cash you bring. Keep your valuables (including cameras and electronic devices) in either an interior sealed (buttoned or zipped) compartment inside a closed bag or purse or in a front double buttoned pocket in cargo shorts. Before entering a crowded area, make sure your valuables are secured and that you carry your purse bag with the strap over 1 shoulder and with the bag under an arm (thieves can sometimes sneak their hand into your bag if you do not carry it close or can use a small sharp object to slice the strap and snatch the bag or purse).
The safest thing to do is to not respond to anybody unknown to you who comes up to you on the street, no matter how safe they appear to be. Seemingly benign people can turn dangerous in a heartbeat. Criminals are known to pretend to be hurt, and even dress up in women's clothing, asking for assistance in the street. When the unwary tourist approaches them, however, they will rob him and run off.
Don’t take any valuables with you, keep your bags closed and don’t carry money in your pockets. Also be cautious when using public transportation. In restaurants always keep your bag or backpack beside you or between your legs on the floor so you can constantly see it. Overall, Barcelona is a safe city where violent crimes are rare. In restaurants, do not hang your coat over the back of a chair if it contains a wallet. Don't leave your purse on the floor next to your feet at a restaurant. The thieves get behind you so you can't see them, then they reach under your chair to grab your purse. The safest way to go is to keep your purse on your lap at all times.
Don't put your camera down on a cafe table in front of you, you could be approached by children as young as 9 or 10 offering newspapers, they pop these on the table and when you refuse to buy they take the paper away along with your small belongings, cameras, lighters etc.
One scam to be wary of, is when on the street you may be told or find that a bird has pooped on you - beware the good samaritan. A number of cases have been reported on the web of people being sprayed with bird muck like substance. The good samaritan who comes to your rescue with an offer of water, not only helps clean your jacket etc but he also helps himself to your belongings.
More recently crooks pretending to be undercover policemen have asked tourists for identification, or have accused them of collaborating with known criminals and have threatened them with arrest. The 'police' ask for identification, particularly passports, and credit cards or wallets which they then disappear with. As of April 2008 there are plenty of police patrolling tourist areas so tourists should be familiar with their uniforms. Unless you are drunk, disorderly or involved in some sort of crime it's very unlikely a policeman will ask for your ID.
Another scam uses distraction - a cell phone is dropped and broken in front of you. Commotion ensues as a person in front of you is trying to pick up the pieces of his cell phone. You get bumped by other "witnesses" around you who pick pocket you.
Be careful of people with a clipboard asking you to sign a petition. They work in pairs so as you are reading the petition and talking to them their partner comes into try and pickpocket you. Most occurences of this scam have involved groups of teenagers, but a recent report involved a group of children around the age of 10
For the last couple of years there has been the danger of "Car attacks". Tourists are warned on some embassies' websites but not all. It occurs on the large streets leading outside Barcelona (eg Avenida Meridiana) but is also occurring now on more central boulevards like the Avenida Diagonal. The procedure is simple and very efficient. It targets tourists driving a foreign car and leaving Barcelona (their car may look more heavily loaded than Barcelona residents'). At some moment, these tourists are warned that a rear tyre of their car is getting flat. The warners are several "friendly" men in a car and another man on a motorbike. The tyre was previously punctured, when the tourist car was stopped at a traffic light. While the tourist stops and pulls all the luggages fom the trunk, all the valuables left at the front of the car are stolen. It is not limited to small bags, nor avoided by letting the doors shut (if unlocked). To help the thieves take the heavier stolen things away, the motorbike man comes back and draws the tourist's attention by gesticulating some information about a nearby workshop that could help. Stopping in an open space like a public place with many ordinary citizens walking and being able to see what is happening is absolutely useless, for the robbers are several, have a brilliant logistics and are so expert that they can remain unnoticed by someone still in contact with the car. Another reason why the locals will not react is that the situation is truly dangerous. A spanish friend had the tyres of her car punctured after she had advised Swiss tourists, whose tyre was getting flat, to drive without stopping until the next petrol station. More regrettable is the lack of warning from the state of Catalunya and the Mayor of Barcelona. There should be a warning in all the hotels and car parks where the tourist drivers go ! Finally, there is little hope that the stolen objects with no commercial value will be brought back to Barcelona's "found objects" service. Motorbike youth also operating in circle near Colon statue (oct 14), offering help and slashing tyre.
Recent scams for people on foot include "Football", e.g. 1 or 2 guys (more if there are more in your group) try to start up an impromptu match along La Rambla. The end result is really good fun, until of course you realise several wallets and even watches or rings are missing. Another is the "Club Ticket" where someone is handing out cards to a local club, where if you accept the card they then suggest "before you go there, you have to learn how to samba!" The impromptu samba lesson includes a full pickpocket experience.
Carry only the cash you need, never a passport, and only ever one of your credit cards in a safe place (around your waist). For photo ID, use a Driver's Licence or ID card that is the same size as your credit cards. Even if you lose this photo ID, the loss will not prevent you from boarding an international flight.
If late at night do not "Ramble" and stay complete out of physical contact / reach. Have a safe and fun day and night in Barcelona.
Prior to travel, do make an inventory of valuables (jewelry, electronics, cell phones). On the inventory, note the value, serial number, IMEI of cell phones, if appropriate. Get travel insurance that does cover theft in amounts that could replace the valuables you are bringing with you. If you do get robbed, then you should report the theft within 24 hours. Stop everything, do not pass go, and go report this to the police right away (at least within 24 hours for to qualify for insurance coverage). The police station is in the center of the tourist district at Placa Catalunya (not labeled up top, but at the bottom of the stairs it says "Mossos d'Esquadra" - which is Police Force in Catalan). It can be hard to find, but go to the Apple store at the northern corner of the square and the "Mossos d'Esquadra" is down an unlabeled set of stairs across the street. It is open from 8 AM to 10 PM and there is an interpreter (multiple languages) on duty from 10 AM to 10 PM. During high tourist season (July and August) there is a reliably a very long line of tourists from many countries who have been robbed trying to file police reports every day - expect to wait 30 minutes to make the report and then another 1-2 hours for the report to be filed and copied for you. During this time they will ask you to call your credit cards to cancel them from a free telephone. There is a similar mob of people filing reports of being robbed at Placa Espanya but the interpreter is there 24 hours. There are many smaller "Mossos d'Esquadra" scattered throughout the city - they are much less busy and much faster, but there is no guarantee that there is a translator, though almost everyone speaks English to varying degrees. What to bring when you file the report: a copy of your identification if you have it available (not required if it was stolen, of course), the location (or bus line or metro line if that is where it happened, and between which stops), the time of the event (if you noticed it - otherwise the range of times it could have occurred), a description of what happened, a description of perpetrators (if you saw them), a list of the items taken (including cash, credit cards, identification cards, cameras - with estimated value, cell phones with IMEI numbers and estimated value, and other electronics preferably with serial numbers and estimated value). They will try to put this in the police report to maximize your ability to get this covered by your insurance - but remember, most of the time nothing is covered if more than 24 hours have elapsed. If you don't have your IMEI you can go to the Apple Store across the street to recover it from your iCloud account. You can also use the browsers on their iPads to try to shut down your phone or some other accounts. To shut down your credit cards, just use the phone the police provide you and use the free numbers they provide to shut down your accounts.
Wherever you go, use common sense. A visitor recently took the Aerobus from the airport into town. He put his cameras, cell phone, wallet and passport in his daypack and didn't keep an eye on his belongings. He thought he and his wife were alone on the bus but a man was in the back. At the first stop, the man jumped up, grabbed the backpack and exited the bus. Common sense would have prevented this but apparently the guy was crunched down in the seat and hard to see until too late.