Pickpocketing in Madrid: Information and Avoidance


One of the less obvious ways to prepare for a stay in Madrid is to educate yourself about the potential crimes that occur there. In fact, this is an excellent practice no matter where you are traveling.

Becoming informed about frequent crimes in a region before you go is the best way to ensure that you don’t fall victim to them. This article gives comprehensive information on where, why, and how pickpocketing takes place in Madrid.

Additionally, you’ll gain insight on the best methods of prevention. The strategies range from being conscious of your surroundings to securing your valuables in well-hidden places on your person or in your bag.

What is pickpocketing?

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Pickpocketing is the informal name for stealing that occurs when someone takes an item from your body, bag, or belongings that lie close by when you’re out and about.

This form of criminal activity can be seen very frequently in public transportation and in commute in general, but it can also take place in less expected places like private establishments.

This article was written to combat the high rates of pickpocketing that happen in Madrid. In fact, there are some people who take up pickpocketing as if it were a normal career and attempt robberies on a daily basis.

Visitors and inhabitants alike of Madrid should feel safe when traveling around the city. That’s why you’re about to learn everything there is to know about pickpocketing in Spain and how to keep it from happening to you.

Why is pickpocketing common in Madrid?

Barcelona is on the very top of the list of the most pickpocketed cities in the world. Following closely behind, the capital is not the worst, but Madrid does come in fourth place. These statistics do not look good on Spain’s behalf. Rome, Prague and Paris are a few of the other areas with more concentrated crimes of this nature.

Unfortunately, it is the bureaucracy, or lack thereof, that amplifies pickpocketing occurrences in Spain. Of course there are sanctions for stealing in Madrid, but a non-aggressive offense will not necessarily put you in jail. For this reason, it’s a crime that you might run into while there.

Pickpocketing that is unarmed and nonviolent is seen as less of a priority by the police. Someone who is convicted of stealing from someone’s person without them knowing will lead to detention, but possibly also release within a few hours. As you can imagine, this might encourage thieves to commit repeated offenses.

In fact, there are even some united pickpocketing groups who work together to cover the districts around town and then share their profits at the end of the night. This concept is similar to that of beggars who create a professional system that works together to gain the maximum amount of “donations”.

Where does pickpocketing typically happen?

In order to better equip yourself to handle an undesired situation, it’s important to know where they usually occur. The general answer to this question is, wherever you leave your valuables vulnerable to others.

More specifically, you will find more stealing attempts in some locations than others. It is best to be on guard of your belongings at all times, but you should be especially alert in the following places.


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For example, pickpocketing could happen to you while at a concert or music festival. In this case, the thief might distract you by dancing too close to you or otherwise distracting you while they fish your phone out of your pocket.

The appealing reason to try to steal at a concert is that, with so many people in the audience, the thief should be able to run away from your view quickly by shuffling through the crowd. This is why you shouldn’t let anyone be able to grab at your things.

Public Transportation

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Alternatively, you could be stolen from while riding public transportation. This is one of the more common places where the crime takes place, due to the fact that people are so close together. 

Furthermore, pickpocketers are likely to be located near an entrance or exit for getting away quickly. This can either mean that they will rob you while you are walking out of a metro station or grab something off of you just before stepping out of the doors of the train car.

Private establishment

The third and most shocking case of pickpocketing is the kind that takes place while you are on private property. You would think that people inside a private place would behave, but sometimes this isn’t the case, especially if you give an opportunity by leaving your bag on the back of your chair.

Occasionally, people who sit on the terrace of a restaurant or bar enjoying a beer may get an unexpected visitor. For this reason, it’s imperative that you keep all bags, cell phones and wallets out of reach when you are sitting at a table or gathered around in a bar.

Crowded areas

In Madrid, there are several crowded spots that are known to be troublesome areas. With tourists, locals, and thieves all walking through a crowded street, it’s much easier for your items to be stolen.

Puerta del Sol, Gran Via and Plaza Mayor are a few of the popular and crowded areas of the city. They often have animated characters for kids’ entertainment and other bustling activities going on, which further add to the easily distracting commotion of the space.

Which are the commonly used pickpocketing techniques?

Typically, we think of pickpocketing as an offense committed by someone who reaches into your bag or steals the bag itself. Unfortunately, this is not the only way that pickpocketers function.

There are some more elaborate techniques that can be used to further distract an individual. From a psychological perspective, this crime becomes easier when you take into account that humans lose alertness in one area when you direct their attention to another.

This concept gives way to the mischievous idea that someone could steal the watch from around your wrist without you feeling if they simply point out something that is happening on the other side of the street.That’s why being alert at all times is the best way to combat pickpocketing.

Tag Team

Counterintuitively, pickpocketing may frequently involve a distraction by more than one person. For example, you might be shocked when someone runs into you, so much so that you don’t notice the second person who took your phone from your backpack at the same time.

Sharpen your protective abilities by always keeping the idea in your head that something that might seem like a total accident was really a planned attack against you. This will increase the chance that a team of pickpocketers will be unsuccessful in robbing you.

In more serious cases, it’s possible that you could be approached by more than two people and crowded around by the group. This is easy to do in a place that can already get crowded like a bus.

Petition Scam

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This technique is quite unethical and very unexpected. Occasionally, a pedestrian can be robbed by someone who seems to be asking for their support. If you are approached and asked to sign a petition, be aware that a signature may not be what they truly want from you.

In this scenario, the pickpocketer will pass you a clip board and ask for a signature or a donation and manage to steal your phone, wallet or other valuables, either from underneath the clipboard or from inside your bag.

That means that there could often be another person present looking to steal something from behind you. In extreme situations, scammers might even use a fake arm to distract you while they reach into your pocket with their real arm.

ATM Withdrawal

A technique that’s notorious for being common in France, you may also run into trouble while trying to get cash out of the ATM. Ideally, there would be no one around while you are getting money out.

Pulling your wallet out and dealing with the cash that you receive from the machine can be a sketchy thing to do in the presence of lurking thieves. Use the ATM sparingly and use the utmost caution when you do.

If someone asks you to give them money or for other distractions while you are using an ATM, be alert and tell them to leave. Some people will send their children to have them beg you at an ATM. Don’t fall for this dangerous ploy.

What can I do to avoid an incidence of pickpocketing?

If you are always on guard when other people are around, you will surely decrease the likelihood that someone will steal from you. After all, pickpocketing is an opportunistic sport, so just do your best not to leave your items up for grabs. But don’t worry, it’s not a problem that you will run into every day, but rather something to be aware of because it does in fact happen.

In the metro, make sure not to put anything valuable in the exterior pockets of your bag, or even just within easy reach inside. Hopefully, if someone were to try to take something out of the front pocket of your backpack, they’d find a pack of gum rather than a smartphone.

If you are at a crowded concert, it’s best not to have your phone or wallet in your pocket. But, audience members often attend events like this without a bag to have less to carry around. In this case, you should definitely check your pockets periodically to make sure your belongings are still with you.

This is especially true if you notice that someone bumped up against you or is annoying you by dancing to close to you. Sadly, there are some people who will buy a ticket to an event just to profit from the loose belongings that they find throughout the night.

The high rate of pickpocketers in Madrid means that you are at additional risk when you go to concerts or festivals there. Nonetheless, you should still leave the crowd to go after the thief even if you think they have already left.

Personal Experiences of PickPocketing

While living in Madrid, I have seen two instances of pickpocketing happen to friends I was with.  Fortunately, neither attempt was successful. This goes to show that although it might happen to you, your awareness could save you from losing something valuable.

In one scenario, a friend’s phone was stolen from his pocket during a music festival and we had to act quickly and run after the pickpocketer. The criminal got annoyingly close and was bumping into the side of his body where his phone was in his pocket.

We were able to confront him and scare him into dropping the phone to the ground for us to retrieve. Even though it may seem like it’s too late, there is still hope. Just remember to act immediately upon noticing that something isn’t right.

Another time, a boy came up to my table while I was having a drink at a restaurant and asked for money to get something to eat. He put a restaurant menu on the table with the intention of taking my friend’s phone out from under it. Thankfully, he smacked the menu down on his phone to prevent the robbery and the guy left.

The mentioned techniques and scenarios are only some of the potential things that could happen in a pickpocketing incident. As previously explained, being alert is the best way to prevent unwanted trouble of any kind.

Pickpocketing is not something to develop a phobia over. Nor should you leave your phone at home because you’re too worried it will be stolen. Rather, keep all of the above details and suggestions in mind to behave in the safest way no matter where you are.

This information’s usefulness stretches beyond Madrid and should be something that you are aware of in every city. Being cautious with your belongings is a habit that one must develop in public places.