Pigeon poop pickpocket

The pigeon poop pickpocket squirts fake bird droppings on his mark, then points it out and offers to clean it off—while he cleans the victim out.
The pigeon poop perp squirts fake bird droppings on his mark, then points it out and offers to clean it off—while he cleans the victim out.

Barcelona, Spain—The Pigeon Poop Pickpocket got me with a double-blob on my back. I felt it ever-so-lightly and knew instantly we’d been accosted by that infamous and elusive thief. A second later, the thief overtook us, smiled, pointed to my back, and said “bird, bird.”

The Pigeon Poop Pickpocket

What luck! Bob and I were ecstatic to see that we recognized the creep. We had met the pigeon poop pickpocket exactly ten years ago, when he squirted my back with fake pigeon poop about ten blocks from this location. His technique was identical, he looked the same and dressed the same, in shorts, with a cap, backpack, and big glasses.

pigeon poop pickpocket
The pigeon poop perpetrator.

Our excitement impaired our judgment. We should have let the game play out. After all, we were ready for him, with a prop wallet in Bob’s pocket, three hidden video cameras, and two still cameras. Our cash and credit cards were safely stowed in pouches under our clothing. But we remembered how slippery this guy was in June of 1998, that we couldn’t induce him into conversation, that he smiled politely and slowly backed up until he could escape from us.

This time, Bob kept a hand on him in a friendly sort of way and insisted that he talk to us. He didn’t seem to remember us at all. Bob suggested coffee and the thief agreed, leading us to a café a block away. Bob stayed in his face and I had him trapped from behind as we fast-walked and fast-talked. Would he bolt at the intersection? We both noticed that he emptied his goop as we walked. It flew out in big globs as he slyly ditched the evidence. Until he dumped his little squirt-bag, he gestured like a magician: theatrically, as if we wouldn’t notice his tightly clenched fist.

pigeon poop pickpocket
What’s in his right fist?

Moments later we were sitting around a little aluminum table outside a restaurant. We ordered cafe solo, he ordered a “bitter.” The waiter gave him a sideways glance. Was he recognized? The waiter said no, when we returned later to ask. The thief told us his name was Manel, but he was in a hurry, he had to go pick up his children. I respected his desire to be on time for his kids, but Bob wanted to talk now. I’m such a sucker. I believed this known criminal, this con artist with the duplicitous smile. Eventually we agreed to meet in our hotel lobby in an hour and a half. “2:30,” he stressed, “not 3:00.” I’m such a sucker. With his big smile, he backed away until he could lope out of site, pointing to his watch and the general direction of our hotel. Just like ten years ago.

We rushed back to the hotel. If nothing else, we needed to put away our tapes for safekeeping. And I needed to change out of my shitty clothes. He won’t show up, Bob said. But we called our trusty translator Terry, our dear friend Terry, who dropped everything to fly all the way across town on his bike. This is a big deal. Terry’s starting up FluidInfo, the tech company of tomorrow according to the elite circle who understand what he’s doing and fund him. He doesn’t really have time to fool with thieves. But he made time, just in case. He won’t show up, Terry said.

Of course the perp didn’t show up.

The pigeon poop pickpocket in 1998. He just happened to have a packet of tissues handy; just happened to have a bottle of water.
Ten years earlier… The pigeon poop pickpocket in 1998. He just happened to have a packet of tissues handy; just happened to have a bottle of water.

With Terry, we went to the police station to show his photo, again. We did it years ago and he’s still at large, but we wanted to hear what the cops said. Ten years ago the police showed us the three hundred faces in their database, all men who practice la mancha, the stain, or what we call the pigeon poop pickpocket’s ploy. Our man’s mug was not on file then. This visit was unproductive, even a comedy of errors. Predictable, I thought.

The next day we found Kharem approaching marks on La Rambla, and we showed him photos of Manel. No, Kharem said, his name is Miemou. He owns a bar. Bar owners can steal with impunity, Kharem told us, because no one will accuse them. Miemou has a brother also named Kharem, who picks pockets in the Metro. That was Kharem’s story, anyway, which I take with a grain of salt. (I’m not always a sucker.)

The pigeon poop pickpocket’s ploy is this: The perp sneakily throws or squirts something onto your back. Then he politely points out the mess and offers to help you clean it off—while he cleans you out. This is a perfect con. (Con comes from confidence, right?) He plays the good Samaritan. He gains your confidence. He creates a strategy to touch your body wherever he wants to, wherever the disgusting mess supposedly is. A pickpocket can’t steal without touching, right? Why wait for an opportunity? That’s for amateurs. Create one! I call these thieves strategists and they are devious. Look, he makes you grateful to him. He desensitizes you to his touch. And he employs the yuck factor, taking advantage of the truth that bird shit directly triggers the ick region of the brain, a highly effective distraction.

pigeon poop pickpocket
This guy got it good.

FAQ:

How is the goop applied to the mark?
I begged the pickpocket to show us his tool, both this time and ten years ago. No luck. It seems to be a small plastic bag. I watched his hand like a hawk and never caught a glimpse of the thing. Neither did I find it when I returned to the scene later and searched the pavement. Other practitioners surely have their own inventions. In Las Vegas, we saw a team use the same technique, but one of their members spit into the victim’s hair. And here’s a photo of a victim who was doused with brown goo. Must have used a water pistol.

What is the stuff made of?
I felt that our perp’s formula has changed from ten years ago. Then, it was more a striated mix of blackish and white stuff. This time, it was pure beige. It dried to a soft, waxy cake with a texture similar to cheap chocolate, or white chocolate. I was not a dedicated enough researcher to finger the stuff, smell it, or taste it. It definitely stimulated the ick region of my brain.

Does it wash out?
Mine did. Another perp’s formula might not.

Is this strategy unique to Barcelona?
Not at all. In fact, most of the 300 perpetrators the police had on file were South Americans. The spitters in Las Vegas mentioned above were from South America, too. In New York, the method is identical but the perps squirt ketchup or mustard on the mark near a street-food vendor; hence, the “condiment caper.”

Any other clever twists on the theme?
Some perps dirty their male marks’ jacket. The clean-up process involves removing the jacket, the better to clean it, which gives free and easy access to all pockets, including the difficult-to-reach inside breast pocket.

Copyright 2008-2013 Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

This is a follow-up to my recent overview Barcelona Street Crime Today.

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17 Comments

  • Pigeon poop happened to me today in Buenos Aires near Casa Rosa. “Bird dropping” followed by assistance from a helpful female bystander. I got lucky – they only took my purse with cash and one credit card. It’s difficult in this city if you are a female travelling alone – wouldn’t recommend it to be honest, just too hard. Also re money generally. Can’t use the ATMs so you more or less have to carry wads of cash. Pity – because BA is a magnificent city. Very friendly police officer though – he drove me back to my hotel which was exceedingly nice as I smelt like rot! Don’t get caught out!!!

  • Good report, Erika, and good advice. I wish I could shout it from the rooftops: Don’t let anyone help clean you off! Try not to let strangers touch you. It goes against our nature, and the thieves know it. Victims of this filthy trick are grateful for the nearby good samaritans. Later, the horrible truth shakes their faith in mankind.

  • The same thing happened to a friend and I as we were walking down Avenida de Mayo, almost to 9 de julio. They sprayed what smelled like feces and urine on us and we thought it came from above in the balconies. Two ladies were offering to help us clean up and acted apalled and surprised that it had happened to us. Little did we know that they were they offenders. They robbed us as they were cleaning us up…everything. camera, phone, wallet, cards, money, passport. If this ever happens to you, hold your items tight to you and walk to a safe place!! REFUSE HELP!! Go into a cafe bathroom and clean up. Trust no one!!
    Also, dont expect the police to help much. They record your info, put it into a pile and then leave you to the streets to fend for yourself. They didnt even offer us a ride back to our hostel, which was an hour and a half away walking in the dark, shaken up and reeking of foul piss on our clothes from the thieves. The police did not care.

  • Barcelona on Wednesday I was actually hit on by a pigeon over my glasses or was I? No one tackled us I would have been very cross.
    On Thursday afternoon Nov 14 2011 less than 300 yards from a police station at Playa Espanya we were attacked in daylight on the pavement, by a Morocan. We wrestled, I was shouting “help us in Spanish” no….. “help us” in Spanish….as he took my wallet, he was covered in some sort of grease so I could not hold the bastard, and it ended up on my clothes…….He fled on a bicycle which we think was held ready for him by 2 elderly men who then disappeared as well. Knowing Barcelona by reputation …..I had left the credit cards and passports in the room safe , AND I was not hurt BUT we will never go back there. Apparently the only place as bad is the Paris underground. .

    According to experts they had an “open door” policy 2 years ago for refugees and have been paying ever since,and a type of Mafia are there in force…..and the police really do nothing except fill in insurance claims. There was a queue yards long in the police station of people ( some had just arrived and been attacked at the rail station) waiting to complain and cursing the place. Matt has a buddy from school , a Ryanair pilot now lives there, goes to a gym, and tried to fight them off. As a consequence he got a severe kicking and properly beaten up. When you get done there are unseen bastards lurking in case it goes wrong …..otherwise they try for no violence and no knives! Easy answer….DONT GO!! PG

  • Jan, thanks for sharing your pigeon poop experience and today’s street crime scene in Buenos Aires. Congratulations on foiling five theft attempts. For some, that can leave a sour taste of a place. Your success proves that the best travel accessory is a nugget of cynicism or a granule of skepticism.

    For another report of the Pigeon Poop Perp at work in Buenos Aires, see my post on Street Crime in Buenos Aires

  • BUENOS AIRES

    I was on my own when I was sprayed on my back pack and legs with a smelly grey substance on Av 9 de Julio. When I felt it on my leg I turned around immediately and saw a man doing a U turn right behind me. Next a female accomplice stopped and said how it was caused by the air conditioners on the buildings and offered to get me some paper. When I found a tissue in my pocket, I told her I would be fine. Then another female accomplice appeared with a bottle of water offering to wash it off. I thanked them and said I would be fine and that my hotel was close by, then left.
    Another day we were walking down Florida unaware that a couple were following us closely. She used her scarf to cover my husband’s camera case while she unzipped it. My husband felt the pressure, turned around and grabbed her arm. They made out that they were innocent of course.
    In twelve days my husband and I had five incidents. In 2007 we were there for 14 days and we did not have one incident.

  • My buddy and I just got sprayed by a trio of Buenos Aires Birdshit Bandits, the concoction was a white milky liquid that had bits of seeds mixed in it. We were walking through a park on Libertado. Can you imagine? These guys go home and take a mortar and pestle to birdseed then mix it with (milk/yogurt?? who knows). First they got my friend – I was 20 feet away and looking in other direction, then saw that he had something on his back and that a man and a woman were trying to help him clean it off with pocket napkins and a bottle of water. As I went over to see what was the deal(I thought he had slipped and fell down, the ground in the park was muddy & slippery). I was amused thinking he had just dunked his butt in the mud, he was obviously not hurt, and when I moved toward him the third guy who was now behind me said ‘the birds got you too’ – he must have sprayed me with the stuff as soon as I turned toward my friend. Since we both had our wallets deep in front pockets, our birdshit bandits didn’t get so much as a centavo, but probably had a good laugh on us. We immediately got in a cab back to our apartment to change clothes(they really doused us him especially) and on the ride we determined that it had to have been an attempted scam as we saw few birds and to get us with that much it would need to be a) a flock of birds) or b) a friggin constipated condor. The best part was coming home to internet access and seeing the posts like this one so we knew we weren’t crazy. We were lucky in that we had safeguarded our valuables, reason # 6,437,101 to keep your wallet in your front pocket vs. back. I will repost this in a few other spots to warn others – my hope is someone will be forewarned and when it happens to them *please* find the birdshit solution, take it from them, and spray the shit out of them with their own crap.

  • Thanks for your comment, Andy. Do you think you recognize this particular man? If so, can you remember any details you’d like to share? Date, location, M.O., all of these would be interesting for me to log. Our research continues.

    Also, it’s useful to report your experience to the local police and embassy or consulate. Maybe you did so, or perhaps the time it would take was not worth it or possible. Reports help the local government understand the extent of their problem, and allows consular offices to warn potential visitors, when warranted.

    Thanks a lot for writing. I know how maddening it is to be had. These guys are real pros.

  • This fucking bastard stole my wallet. As far as I am concerned he should have his hands crushed. The time and expense this caused to replace the stolen items has been immense.
    this may so cs

  • ‘A pickpocket can’t steal without touching, right?’

    Wrong. Some can. They close their eyes and concentrate real hard and achieve a rudimentary form of telekinesis. ;)

  • I thought people (tourists) were aware of this scam and it would seem obvious to me that the whole distraction were a ply to pick my pocket.

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