Swift swiper strikes

Carrer de Ferran street lampBarcelona, Spain—We’re walking along Carrer de Ferran, a block off La Rambla. Instead of paying attention to the street scene, I’m looking for a wine shop. Ana is cooking dinner for us and we’re already anticipating the cozy evening. (Dinner turned out to include a sensational artichoke risotto, the cheesy sort that begs for overindulgence.)

So we’re ambling among the eclectic mob on Ferran when half a block ahead I notice a boy unfurl a piece of paper. It could have been a folded brochure or magazine page. He unfurls it with purpose, turns and walks toward me, but on the other side of the street. He’s got my attention. In a few seconds, he reaches the bar directly across the street from me, where people sit behind small tables at the open front. The boy lays his paper on top of a table, waits half a beat, then picks up his paper and scuttles back to the corner where I first noticed him. I see an empty spot on the table.

Carrer de FerranI grab Bob, who is ten feet ahead of me. “Postcard thief,” I say, “let’s follow!” I don’t mean someone who steals postcards. I’m referring to the method Kharem demonstrated years ago.

Meanwhile, the thief has met a girl on the corner, and he gives her something. We rush to catch up with them, pulling out cameras that had been retired for the evening. The boy and girl turn down an alley. Bob and I trot to get close, then stay ten or so feet behind them as we strategize. I want to confront them right away since I know they just took something. We close in and I come around the girl’s side.

The pickpocket\'s accomplice“Give me the wallet,” I say, my hand out. I know she still has it. I know she has no choice. We’re in a plaça now, with lots of people around. I repeat my demand a couple of times.

The girl looks at me like I’m crazy, her fingers to her chest, shoulders hunched. “No have,” she says, or something like that. I put my hand on her. She immediately twirls out of my grasp so I turn to the boy.

“Give it to me,” I say. “I saw you take the wallet.” I hold up my camera. “I have photos,” I lied. “He has video.” I point to Bob, who is filming.

The pickpocket denies that he stole a wallet.I reach for the boy, and they both take off, full-speed. “Cartaristas!” Bob shouts, mostly as an experiment. His Swedish-accented Spanish reverberates throughout the land. Every head in the plaça turns to look at us. No one seems to look at the fleeing thieves. We let them go.

Backtracking, we return to the bar. The victim is clearly looking for something. He’s only just discovered his loss.

Bar table in open window“Is your wallet gone?” I ask him in a breathless rush. “I saw the thief who took it! I’ve just been chasing him!”

“No, my mobile is gone,” he said. “It was right here.”

Shit! If I had demanded they give me the phone I would probably have gotten it back!

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

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8 Comments

  • Somebody should have adverted you of some places at Barna (well, almost everywhere, also Madrid, and other popular cities). In the most touristic places, the carteristas and all kinds of m0f0s are widely known. In order not to get swept, just don’t put anything away from your hands. Everything you bring must be your phone (on your trousers, any pocket, but never on hand), your documentation, and money. DO NEVER bring a bag or whatever, and of course if you bring it do never in your life put it apart from you. And always look at your sides. If someone is a suspect for being a thief, nail your eyes on him/her, as if saying “I got you, watch out, take your way back”.

    As from the pictures, I guess they were romanian gypsies. Here in Spain it’s a plague (it’s known they are flown away from Romania just for normal romanians to get rid of them). They know a thing or two about stealing. Local gypsies are a different kind. Romanian, well you know… There are also young morocco boys doing the same thing.

    Living in Madrid gives one eyes in his/her neck. Whenever I go outside I suspect from anybody like those. Thus, I am never surprised. I have more problems with airport personnel (they stole me a camera because of me being stupid) than with people like that.

    So next time you come to Madrid or Barcelona, follow my advices. Ah, and you’d better go to other places; check Asturias (Ribadesella), Ibiza, Gerona… there are fewer m0f0s. But there are.

    Well, as in everywhere. Or not?

  • Distraction thieves are often pickpockets, and vice versa. It’s a fine point. From the victim’s perspective, valuables are gone, and it doesn’t much matter if they disappeared from a pocket, purse, or tabletop. Or… maybe it does matter. One has a right to assume that items tucked into pockets are safe. Violating a pocket is much like burglarizing a home–as opposed to leaving a wallet/phone/camera exposed on a table.

    Anyway, charlie, you’ve asked a good question. Do these young thieves also steal items from a person’s body, as Kharem does? Perhaps some distract thieves are afraid to risk that physical contact. But in my research, most do cross over. There is little to risk in failure. The pickpocket gets a glowering look or a shove, then moves on to the next mark.

  • do children thieves (gypsies) start out as distraction thieves then move up to pickpockets or do they pick pockets as well??

  • Many start before birth! In utero. Then, as infants, they’re passed around like props because a “mother” with child usually won’t be arrested. In many countries, it’s a matter of survival–homeless kids grow up on the streets and theft is their only meal ticket. These kids? Impossible to say because we didn’t get a chance to speak with them beyond the initial accusation.

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