New ‘drunk girl’ theft scam being tested in Barcelona for MWC!

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

5 thoughts on “New ‘drunk girl’ theft scam being tested in Barcelona for MWC!

  1. What a finely orchestrated scam, targeting the civilized passer-by… I’d probably have fallen in that trap :-/

    That Kovaks site looks great, thanks for the link!

  2. @Algernon – if you like the Kovaks site, he has also just published a book of stories from Barcelona. I haven’t received my copy yet but I’ll be reviewing it here soon.

    Yes, the scam was so well planned that really I had to marvel at their ingenuity. Obviously, the fact that I didn’t have anything nicked helped with that.

  3. Interesting story. They’re getting increasingly “sophisticated” with their ploys.

    I fell for one while in The Gotico last a few weeks ago. We were milling about outside a bar deciding where to go next after leaving when two guys approached, one of them in a white Fubu shell suit. I thought, “Who’s this cool customer in the ice white shell suit?”.

    Anyway, White Fubu said to me in Spanish, “¿Donde esta la bar de salsa?”. I said, “¿Salsa? No se”. And then he looked puzzled, came right up to me, put his leg in between mine and said, “¿Sabes? Salsa” and then sort of gyrated while his hand went into my back pocket where I’d foolishly put my wallet.

    Fortunately, I wasn’t drunk enough to not feel it and I grabbed my pocket instantly and he quickly retracted his hand and waltzed off down the street with his mate.

    Moral of both stories, don’t keep anything in your back pockets in Barcelona and you should generally be alright whatever happens.

    And beware of shell suits.

    PS His salsa moves were rubbish.

  4. the new one is the four romanian girls dressed as tourists, maps in hand, they side up to groups and then fleece you. very aggressive; or group of 10 year old kids with clipboards for signing; gypsies selling carnations, buy from a flower shop. All escape police detention.
    always stand back if you see them, go into a shop or something; also make them aware you have seen them but don’t ever confront. Leave well alone. also let others know if you see them tailing them. You can always go up the tourist and tell them to be careful.

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