11 Travel Scams to Avoid in Spain

Relaxing on the beach
Relaxing on the beach | © igorovsyannykov / Pixabay
Tara Jessop

No matter how well travelled you are it seems that scammers and con-artists are always coming up with new ways to help themselves to your money or valuables. Not only does falling prey to these scams risk ruining your holiday, it also encourages scammers and makes it more likely that they’ll strike again. Keep your belongings safe and save yourself the frustration by avoiding these common scams in Spain.

The sob story

There are infinite variations on this common scam but all involve someone catching your attention with a true sob story and ultimately asking for your financial help. They will explain that they were robbed and left without papers or money to get home and may ask if you could lend them money to get to the police station / contact their family / etc.

No price menu

There are a number of ways which some restaurants try to con tourists, one of which is to get diners to order off a menu with no prices. This could either be a board hanging from the wall with ‘daily specials’ or a hand-out menu with no prices printed. The restaurant may seem inexpensive but it won’t be the case when you get handed the bill. By law restaurants need to have their prices on display and don’t hesitate to ask for the price of any dish if you’re not sure.

Make sure your menu has clear prices

The pea and cup street game scam

This is a well-known scam which has caught many a traveller out around the world. You come across a person with three cups under which they hide a small ball or pea, leaving those watching the game to guess under which cup the ball is. After a few rounds you will realise you knew each time where the ball was and might decide to give it a go yourself. However, the person will then use distractions to change the ball’s location and leave you out of pocket as you realise the other people participating were in on the scam too.

The football scam

This is more of a sly pickpocketing technique than a full blown scam and involves a group of people playing football. They may come up to you and suggest you get involved in the match. While you’re caught up in the game some of the players will take advantage of the situation to help themselves to the contents of your pockets.

Beware the football game

The petition scam

Another common pickpocketing technique involves a group of people soliciting you to sign a petition. The bogus petition will usually be for some charitable cause and they may even ask you to make a ‘donation’ there and then. However, more likely they will simply take advantage of the cover of the petition papers and your state of distraction to search your pockets for any valuables.

The lucky rosemary

Typically this scam involves older ladies standing around popular tourist sites or religious sites handing out small pieces of rosemary, apparently for good luck. The twig will be thrust in your hand and then you will be asked to make a donation for the ‘gift’. If you refuse they will start to make quite a scene so you will more than likely agree to give them a few cents. However, while your wallet is out you may find that the ladies help themselves to more than just the few coins you were intending for them.

This rosemary might not be so lucky

The fake restaurant voucher

This straight-forward scam involves someone giving you a voucher with an attractive discount to a nearby restaurant. You decide to take up the offer, get to the restaurant, order your food and tuck in to your meal. Only when you get the bill and present the voucher are you told that it has expired or is not valid on what you ordered and are left to pay a lot more than you expected for an unmemorable meal.

The taxi fare scam

Spain generally has very safe and reliable taxi services which are licensed and function with clearly visible meters. So you should be weary of taxi drivers asking you to pay up front or telling you that their meter is not working. Never hand the driver money before you have reached your destination as you will likely be left on the street before you do so. As for the broken taxi meter, if you don’t know what a reasonable fare is to agree on beforehand, simply get out of the taxi and wait for the next one.

Only trust licensed taxi drivers

The fake police

This is a slightly more sophisticated scam which has fooled numerous travellers. The plot starts with you being approached by a friendly passer-by asking you for directions or some other piece of innocent information. A short while after you have spoken with them you are suddenly approached by two people claiming to be undercover police and presenting phoney badges to ‘prove’ their identity. They explain that the person you spoke to is under investigation and that you are now a witness. They will then ask to see your passport and even to search you, which is when they will help themselves to your valuables.

The Trojan horse suitcase

Probably the most far-fetched and possibly also the toughest to detect, this scam has been reported on long bus journeys such as from Girona to Barcelona. A person boards the bus with a large suitcase which they place in the hold. When the bus begins its journey, a pickpocket climbs out of the bag and goes through the contents of the other bags in the hold. The person then climbs back in to the bag before the bus stops and is carried off the bus. By the time the owners of the other bags notice their belongings are gone it’s usually much too late to do anything about it.

Mind your luggage

The group photo

This may sound too obvious but you’d be surprised by the number of people who get caught out by this scam. While standing in front of a popular landmark, a kind passer-by offers to take your picture with your friends. Charmed by their smile, you accept and go to stand with your friends. Only by the time you’re ready to smile the passer-by and your camera are both gone.

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