When on public transport or walking through crowded central areas such as Sol, keep your bag closed and under your arm or your wallet deep in a front pocket. Don’t take valuables to bars or open areas such as the Retiro park. In a restaurant, your bag should stay in your lap, not hooked on the back of your chair. Most thieves are opportunists, so don’t give them an opportunity.
Beware of doe-eyed children
Within two weeks of opening, a restaurant in Chueca was invaded by a group of scrappy little boys, yelling and making a ruckus. With diners fully distracted, a couple of the kids quickly scampered round all the tables, grabbing as many purses and wallets as they could. Another known ruse by child thieves is to distract your attention by showing you a newspaper clipping. While you are looking at the clipping, another child from the group will be removing your belongings from the table
. . . . and doe-eyed mothers
Another common scam is for a woman to go around a restaurant or plaza showing patrons a photo of her children, asking for money for food. While you’re distracted by her plight, a partner in crime makes off with your wallet, shopping bags, gold teeth . . .
Be aware of how and where you walk
Thieves are excellent at spotting human behaviour: they check you out and size you up. If you are walking alone at night, walk confidently and quickly, as if you know exactly where you are going. If on a small street, walk in the middle of it, away from doorways. Be wary if you’re in a large group of English-speakers: it screams “foreigner” and makes you all targets.
If you do get robbed . . .
Be prepared Have the emergency numbers for credit cards and your mobile-phone provider written in a separate place so you can call to cancel immediately. Make sure a friend has copies of your house keys and keep copies of your passport and credit cards in a safe place. After the fact Take a look in rubbish bins and sewage drains near the scene of the crime. Often, the thieves hide hot goods in such places to avoid being caught in possession and return for them later. Failing that, you may at least recover your empty handbag.
File a report
Although the police can do little about petty theft, it’s still essential to report the crime. Your bank or insurance agencies — if you involve them — will require a police report. It’s also good for local authorities to have an accurate picture of crime rates. Most central police offices, called comisarías, will have an English-speaking officer on duty. If your passport is stolen, contact your embassy.