Barcelona police refuse to file reports of stolen phones without serial numbers

The jeans. The pocket.
The jeans. The pocket.

Bob and I visited the Barcelona police station for information and found the usual line of victims reporting thefts. I asked a young Norwegian couple what had happened to them.

They’d been outside Los Caracoles, a popular restaurant, after dinner (and yes, drinks). He had held up his iPhone and taken a few photos.

“They must have targeted me,” the man said, “because as soon as I put my phone in my pocket, a guy bumped into me. The phone was gone in one second and so was the thief.”

“From those tight jeans?” I asked him.

“Yes, from this front pocket.”

“And the iPhone had a rubbery case. It doesn’t slide easily,” his wife/girlfriend said. “The phone will be erased after ten wrong passwords are entered, so I’m not worried about the information on it. I’m most upset about losing the photos of our whole trip.”

The victims at the Barcelona police station.
The victims at the Barcelona police station.

Pretty typical, so far. But here’s what amazed me (and I was right there!). The Barcelona police officer behind the counter refused to take the victims’ report! That’s right—refused to file a report! Because the victims could not provide the serial number of the stolen iPhone, they were turned away. The phone was stolen! Who carries around a note with serial numbers?

In a non-ridiculous world, the Barcelona cop would have said “I’ll take your report, but you’ll have to call in or email your serial number before I file it.”

Or perhaps, “I can’t file a report without your serial number, but you can file one online here once you obtain it.” Did the Barcelona policeman tell the polite victims that it was even possible to report theft online? No, he did not. I told the victims and provided the link. (More ridiculousness: victims who file online must still visit a Barcelona police station within 72 hours of filing in order to sign the report. So if it’s your last day, like the Norwegians, you’re cooked.)

Los Caracoles in Barcelona
Los Caracoles

[5/15/17 edit: In the comments below, Jon pointed out that for a stolen iPhone, “you can log onto, where you can view all devices linked to your Apple account as well as their IMEI and serial numbers.” Great suggestion, though this only works for devices that are logged into your Apple account.]

Next in line at the police station was a woman whose iPhone was stolen off a cafe table. The technique was an improvement on The Pickpocket’s Postcard Trick about which, coincidentally, I just posted. She was at her hotel’s restaurant, using the hotel’s wifi. She, too, was unceremoniously turned away from filing a police report because she did not have her phone’s serial number.

Strangely enough, we watched a few thieves attempt this technique just a few hours later. We were just leaving after a rest and coffee at a cafe on La Rambla. Bob spotted the thieves moments before they struck. I filmed them. They will be my next post.

Another couple I surveyed in the police station: stolen iPhone. As predicted in Summer Scams to Avoid, smart phones are the target of choice this summer. (Not that a wallet is out of danger.)

mossos d'esquadra
mossos d’esquadra

Three facts that surprise a pair of veteran thiefhunters:

1. A pickpocket stole from the tight front pocket of a man’s jeans (I saw the jeans).

2. Barcelona police refuse to file theft reports if the victims lack the stolen item’s serial number! (Stat-tampering.)

3. Barcelona police do not volunteer to victims that it is possible to file theft reports online.

I think there’s going to be more on this issue…

© Copyright 2008-2012 Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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  • Great tip, Jon, thank you for pointing that out! I’m going to add your suggestion into the main article above, to make it more visible. However, note that the iPhone must still be logged in to see its IMEI and serial numbers this way.

  • My iPhone was just stolen in Barcelona this past weekend. The culprit used the “Rolandinho” trick, and by the time I had realized what had happened, it was too late.

    The police station directed me to the nearest Apple store in order to retrieve my IMEI number. Luckily, I figured there was another way to get it. By logging onto, you can view all devices linked to your Apple account as well as their IMEI and serial numbers.

    Hope this helps anyone with the unfortunate circumstance of needing to file a police report in Barcelona for a stolen iPhone. Perhaps there’s something similar available for Android users as well.

  • Policeman are the right hand of thifs in Barcelona.We must cut the thifs ,no ather way.Take alltimes a knife with you!

  • my iphone was robbed by two kids as well on 16th, November. I immediately reported it to the police station and the police station accpeted it. but the point was that I didnt have the IMEI at that time.the police said that only did i got the IMEI could there’s any possibilities to find back the phone. I really dont care about the phone, but the photos i took in it. and now, I got the IEME now and I hope to update the report so that I can get back my phone. and how can i get contact with Barcelona police station. the police station is around the Sagrada Familia. :(

  • If you now have the phone’s serial number, you can call the Barcelona police department to add it to your report; however, the police assured me that they will not provide a copy except in person. It is said that you can file your theft report online here (site in Catalan), but even through GoogleTranslate I cannot find how or where (though I once did, years ago. Perhaps they have removed the function.) Another option, just to get your theft documented somewhere, is to post a report at the bottom of this page.

  • This exact same thing happened to me. I was mugged and the next morning had to take a flight – no chance that I could get the serial number in time. Im now in Budapest, What do I do!?

  • A very interesting and discouraging story. Also very interesting comments from Michelle and Craig.

  • I wonder if the police would have filed the report even if the victims had the serial number. Perhaps they have a long list of impossible questions to use as backup in the event of an (over-)prepared victim. For example, most people aren’t even aware that all phones have an IMEI number which uniquely identifies it and (probably) makes it possible for a mobile carrier to locate the phone and/or block it from the network.

  • This short film will give you an idea of what Spanish bureaucracy is all about:

    If they can find a way to avoid the paperwork and make life difficult, they will. We went through it as we applied to get married in Barcelona.

    Dealing with Catalunyan offices, on the other hand, is almost a joy in comparison to any department which answers directly to Madrid. :.)

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