The Pigeon Poop Pickpocket Ploy

The Pigeon Poop Pickpocket Ploy as perpetrated in Barcelona is devious. We discover the original Pigeon Poop Perp, who pretends to offer goodness. In response, naturally, his victims trust.

Pickpocket in Barcelona, Spain. The pigeon poop pickpocket ploy.
The pigeon poop pickpocket. He just happened to have a packet of tissues handy; just happened to have a bottle of water.

The leisurely ploy is perpetrated by the “clean-you-off-clean-you-out” good samaritan impostor. Bob and I met many of his victims before we finally found him—or rather, he found us.

We’d been staking out a suspicious trio at Temple de la Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s spectacular cathedral and Barcelona’s number one tourist attraction. It was a long amble back to La Rambla. We zigzagged south and west block by block, with no particular pattern. It was a pleasant route we invented, strolling past fabulous architecture, under lush green trees, while a cool wind blew and pigeons cooed.

At the corner of Consell de Cent and Girona we saw a beautifully ornate pastry shop facade which reminded us of one in Palma de Mallorca. We decided we’d peek in, see if they served coffee. We were still debating and postulating about the pickpocket team at La Sagrada Familia as we crossed the street in front of the pasticeria.

How the pigeon poop pickpocket ploy works

Pigeon poop pickpocket ploy
This guy got it good.

As I stepped up onto the curb I felt a slight wetness on the back of my knee below the hem of my skirt, as if I had splashed in a puddle. Not impossible, since it had rained recently. The rain had actually been the day before, but I just sort of knew it had rained, in the back of my mind, without really thinking about it.

Reflex made me glance into the street for the source puddle but in that same instant I knew there was no puddle. I asked Bob to look at my back but I knew what it was. I was horrified and exalted simultaneously. We were about to meet a charlatan, a gentleman thief with a fiction, an ersatz Samaritan and the most elusive of pickpockets.

Bob confirmed my disgusted suspicion: I had thick blobs of brown yuck on the back of my clothes, and so did Bob.

In that instant of offended confusion, while we admired each other’s backsides and laughed and grimaced, before we could organize our thoughts in that tenth of a minute, a man in shorts swept up to us, map in hand, sunglassed and baseball capped.

“Iy, look,” he pointed out. We swung around. “Bird, bird.”

Where did he come from? Out of the blue, it seemed. Still, we knew who he was. We knew what he was.

“Come, I help,” he offered with compassion and authority, ushering us into the pastry shop we’d been headed for. He already had a neat pack of Kleenex tissues in one hand, a small bottle of Evian in the other. He was more prepared than we had expected. Bob put his video in record.

Employees didn’t seem surprised in the pastry shop. They observed our intrusion with the vague interest of ranch hands regarding mating dogs. The man-in-shorts pressed a tissue into Bob’s hand and turned me around by the arm.

“You clean,” he said to Bob politely but insistently, indicating my back. He didn’t want to appear unseemly. You clean her and I’ll clean you—out. That was the idea. We’d heard the story many times from victims. While the husband cleans the wife, the man-in-shorts cleans the husband. Rather, he pretends to clean the husband. What he cleans is the pockets. And disappears before you know it.

Neither of us were good researchers this time: I didn’t cooperate fully, out of repulsion. And Bob was too busy filming to do his part. He was supposed to clean me off. But every time the impostor coached Bob in his role, Bob just said okay, fussed with his new camera, and failed to come to the aid of his wife. How could he videotape the scam if he were a participant? But how could the game continue without all the players?

Our man-in-shorts got frustrated and tried to slip away. We managed to waylay him though, outside the shop. We tried to get him to talk to us, to show us his squirt contraption, to tell us where he’s from. He was insistent about no video, no camera, but he didn’t rush off too obviously. He backed away slowly, trying not to look suspicious. Finally, he broke into a little trot and dashed into the handy metro stairway. Was its proximity coincidental? We think not.

Questions about the pigeon poop pickpocket ploy and M.O.

Barcelona police, it turned out, had been looking for the man-in-shorts for years. They knew his M.O., his territory, and that he was Peruvian. And they knew he always wore shorts. That was it. They now had his scam and his face on video.

We walked back toward La Rambla looking over our shoulders, hyper-observant. Bob and I disagree on the participation of the pastry shop people. I say they were in on it. I say the man-in-shorts buys his bread there and always leaves a hefty tip. I say they were awfully quick to bring out a roll of paper towels and laundry detergent when the man-in-shorts left. I say everyone’s a suspect. Bob says it’s impossible, they couldn’t be in on it. It just happened to be the corner where opportunity struck for the man-in-shorts. He couldn’t do his thing on only one corner in all the city.

J. S. Brody, an advertising executive in New York City, was a victim of the man-in-shorts. He remembers being astonished at the amount of bird droppings on his backside and his mother’s. “What do you have here, eagles?” he’d asked. The pigeon poop pickpocket ploy had taken place several blocks away from the pasticeria. For the clean-up operation, the pigeon-poop practitioner had drawn them into the lobby of an apartment house. So much for my theory on location.

Exactly ten years later—to the week!—Bob and I were strolling in the same neighborhood when we were squirted once again. We were astonished to see recognize the very same pigeon poop pickpocket. Read about our reunion with the pigeon poop pickpocket.

Pigeon poop pickpocket ploy
The pigeon poop pickpocket—exactly ten years later.

Adapted from Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams
Chapter Seven: Scams—By the Devious Strategist

All text & photos © copyright 2008-present. All rights reserved. Bambi Vincent

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  • BJ, thanks for sharing your pickpocketing incident! You have the great distinction of being the first victim to write me about Girona!

    It sounds as if you’re doing everything correctly, with the cross-body multi-zip bag (worn in front!) and awareness of the people around you. How, then, did they manage to get so close to you? And getting the purse out and unhooked, even opened? How did you not notice? I don’t mean to be critical, because travel is distracting, for sure. I’m just curious.

    I haven’t been to the German Garden. Is it full of people or were you somewhat isolated? In any case, where was your guide? She should have been keeping an eye out for characters like these.

    Did the girls actually have an older man watching them, who came to accost you? What happened then? This is all very interesting…

    To answer your questions, there are many pickpockets who prefer to leave the wallet with the victim. For one reason, the victim may not notice as quickly, giving the thieves more time to use stolen credit cards (if they take them).

    Am I right that the girls did not get anything from you?

    Also, about Barcelona police, their hands are tied, they’re fed up, and in your case, wouldn’t care about a theft in another city. They only care about Barcelona.

  • I stumbled onto your post. We were victims in Girona on our 3rd? day of a very long trip. I was very careful. Didn’t take a back pack for that reason- we knew to be careful.

    3 seconds in the German garden balcony. 2 young ladies were walking fast following us up the wall so we pulled over to let them pass. I lifted my camera to take a picture of the view and in that time Hubby noticed my cross over multi zipper purse (in front of me) open and someone between us. She had my tiny travel wallet out of the right zipper section (I didn’t take it out the entire trip so nobody saw where it was), unhooked from the purse, and unzipped with the money exposed. He grabbed her.
    We yelled at them and tried to get attention for anyone to come help but everyone ignored us and no police were to be seen. Then the ‘thug’ came. We didn’t back down, but what do you do with them when you caught them? We spent the rest of the tour looking for police- walking. The station was locked. That figures. Our guide did nothing- or even let us tell the busload (this was our first stop) of other tourists.
    We went to 2 Barcelona stations when we returned from tour. (care on las rambles like you said). They didn”t even let us into the station or write anything down. Nothing. I had photos of the girls.
    I should have dumped out the other ladies big open shoulder bag to see what else they took, as I rummaged for any more of my stuff. I thought of that after.
    Why did she open the wallet and not just take it?
    Hubby had noticed them in the garden and was keeping an eye on them.
    I think the entire city is in on it. Why have police? thanks for a place to vent. Pics are going onto Trip advisor, etc!

  • Leyla, what an experience! I haven’t heard of that tactic, and certainly not in Istanbul. Sorry to ask this, but are you male or female? It would be especially shocking to hear that a woman was groped in Turkey. As to your guide… well, he should have it coming, or at least tried to bust the gang up as they surrounded you. Where was he? What happened after that? Did you continue with him? I’d love to hear more of the story!

  • On the first night of my first trip to Istanbul, I was walking with my guide (who I’d hired via the itenrnet) when four gregarious young men seemed to appear out of nowhere. They approached me and with wide smiles and loud tidings (I’ve no idea what they where saying) they energetically shook both my hands and patted my shoulders and back. Within moments they began to close tightly around me, and what I thought was the welcome wagon became a group grope as two continued vigorously shaking my hands and arms while I felt unseen hands up and down my body. As I struggled to detach myself, their friendly frenzy seems to intensify as they shook, bumped, and accosted me in tight formation. Just as I was about to yell for help, all four dashed away into the night. I felt me back pocket, which was now wallet-free.Exasperated I screeched to my guide, I can’t believe I just got mugged by four Turkish teens! With a sneer he informed me, They were Kurds. Like that somehow made a difference to me.

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