Yesterday was Gemma's birthday, which we celebrated with tapas, cake, cava and beer at Glaçiar in Plaça Reial. We left at about 2am, and headed through the passage way back onto the Rambla dels Caputxins, emerging onto that stretch with a taxi rank between Ferran and Escudellers, also known as pickpocket central. Here is the basic info you need to know about the 'drunk girl trafficked' scam:
People involved: At least 3 people take part. Firstly, a young blonde woman who appears to be drunk – she's eating a kebab and with her podgy body and blonde hair could have been English… from her accent we think she was more likely from he former Soviet Union; secondly, one Latin-American man with a mobile phone, and a Spanish-looking man with a pony tail.
What happens: blonde girl approaches from the centre of the Ramblas. Apparently drunk, she collapses and nearly drops her kebab in front of bemused locals/marks who tut and then try to help her out of the road. Meanwhile, two men apparently unknown to each other join the melée, eventually making it appear that they're both tying to take the girl away. Ideally, civic attitudes and 'having heard of people trafficking' kick in, making the marks attempt to ascertain whether the 'victim' really knows her new friends. Of course she does, but not it's not how it looks!
At this point, the girl dropped her kebab. Looking back, this could either have been a genuinely convincing piece of acting, or it was a signal to move on to phase 3.
While Gemma's aunt continued trying to establish if the girl was OK, one of the guys managed to move behind me. As he made a grab for my wallet, he nudged me – certainly accidentally – and alerted me to their intentions. I barked "We're going!" in Catalan to Gemma's aunt, and dragged her into the waiting cab. We got away safely and without anything missing.
In all, this little piece of street theatre took about one minute to unfold. It must have been carefully planned and although I think I've heard of something similar, I can't find any references to the scam at the excellent Kovaks PI website. This, like all the most pernicious scams, is based on manipulating a person's built-in civism (rather than, say, their greed or lust, when in my opinion the mark gets all he deserves). As soon as the girl fell over, we were probably at risk of losing our bags/wallets. The fact that my man with the ponytail messed up his move on my wallet suggests that either this particular iteration of the scam is new, or the guy was new to it. It might well be that they thought they'd practice the scam on Saturday night because from today until next weekend, BCN will be rammed with sales executives packing expensive mobile phones and American-style wallets full of cash.
The thing to do, of course, when a girl falls over in the street, is call for the Mossos d'Esquadra (Catalan police force). Likewise, if two men seem to be fighting over a drunk girl who doesn't know either of them, the thing to do is call for the Mossos. Shouting "Mossos! Policia!" might make you look like a berk but there are lots of cops around there and they'll turn up in no time.
Some useful info for visitors to Barcelona:
Catalan police phone number: 088
General emergency number: 112
Police officers on Les Rambles will always be in uniform and will always have an ID card (and normally a gun!)
Kovaks P.I. – the #1 resource for Barcelona street scam stories. Worth a read even if you're not coming to Barcelona