I took the subway up to the area around the soccer stadium and when I exited the subway I was approached by a guy who asked for directions. Since I had my tourist map and I was starting to get a feel for the city I began to show him where he needed to go. Suddenly two other guys in black leather jackets approached and flashed us a police badge. One guy had a wire that ran from inside his coat to his ear and he was apparently talking in a very official manner to someone on the other end. The two guys told us that there had been some crime in the area involving credit card fraud and asked for our identification. We both showed them our photo I.D. Then they told me to be quiet while they talked with the other guy. They asked him for his credit card and he volunteered it without an argument. Then they asked him for the PIN number! This is when I realized for certain that this must be a scam. I interrupted them and told them that I had no plan to show them my credit card and that if they were really police they would have to take me to jail before I give them my PIN number. Hearing this, they just walked away.
I personally didn’t make ANY bad experience in Madrid. But I know that there is a potential risk of petty-theft (more than some place in Central Europe). A good friend of mine got into serious problems just because he fell aslepp in Retiro one sunny afternoon last summer, During his afternoon nap his rucksack was stolen. In it there was his camera, money, cell phone, flight ticket to Ghana and the passport with the visa for Ghana… Finally, poor Damian could at least arrange evrerything to go to Ghana for his summer trip.
Madrid is generally safe during the day, with increasing petty and street crime at night. Like most large Spanish cities, Madrid suffers from pickpockets and grab artists who work tourist attractions, train stations, bus stations, and airports. But travellers who use common sense and take basic safety precautions should not expect to encounter significant problems.
Here's a little incident which I'd like to share with you:
A Chinese couple/ friend of mine (from LA, California) checked in to the Hotel Agumar here in Madrid just before 12 midnight. The porter then brought their luggages up to the hotel room... and hung around for just a few more minutes on the pretext of helping them settle in. When he left the room 3 minutes later, the wife found that her Chanel wallet containing US$3,000 cash was missing!
Needless to add, they couldn't find the culprit; the hotel management even had the cheek to claim that they had no such porters on their payroll.
In short, be careful at all times of your belongings and never let anyone in to your room - even if they claim to be the porter. I'm just trying to be extra cautious here, ya know?
I was just thinking that if my friends, that Chinese couple, had brought along their local ATM card instead, this incident could have been prevented.....
Photo below: The Valley of the Fallen.
Before venturing out, please remember a few important tips. This is especially so for those (like me) who stick out as tourists/ foreigners and or can't speak a word of Spanish. :-))
(1) Do not carry money or valuables in your pockets.
(2) You can withdraw all the money you want from any local ATM machines here (just ensure that your ATM card is linked to the 'Plus', 'The Exchange', 'Cirrus' etc networks).
(3) To check whether your card is linked to these major networks, flip your ATM card and check the back of it. Do you see the logos?? If yes, then, NO WORRIES. You can withdraw cash (in Spanish pesetas) from any ATM machines in Madrid or anywhere else in Spain. I highly recommend this method because it is much safer than carrying too much cash around with you and secondly, you'd save alot from the very good interbank exchange rates unlike those charged by your local money changers. Trust me. This method DOES work.... :-)
(4) While on the metro or bus keep all bags and purses close to your body and in front of you.
Apart from the usual sensible precautions in crowds and not leaving bags laying about.
The only Danger here is underestimating this place we went for 5 days and I wish we'd gone for longer loads to see and do, be careful though you might just lose your heart to this vibrant city.
Nuns. You can find them all over the city. They'll get you when you least expect. Be afraid, be very afraid.
On a serious note, you are supposed to be on the look out for pickpockets in the Rastro street market, although the usual precautions should suffice. Madrid feels like a safe town.
I could not believe that New Year's Eve we witnessed 5 people get there wallets and purses (why they had a purse was beyond me) stolen. Towards the end of the night I found a hand in my pocket so I figured I would hold his hand...he removed it but tried yet again. So I must say at least they do not believe in giving up.
Unfortunately as with all tourist areas we have our share of pickpockets. Do take care particularly in crowded areas such as Plaza de España,Puerta del Sol,Gran Via,and Plaza de Colon.
Keep hold of your belongings! So-called 'theft by distraction' is rampant. The police even have this special category on their crime reports for it. Ok, well maybe 'rampant' is a little strong - but just be careful. The way it works is as follows. Someone will come up to you and start jabbering away in Spanish. While you are thus distracting and are attempting to tell them you don't understand a word they are saying (assuming this to be the case), their friend will sneak up behind you and grab your bags / purse / wallet / pocketbook or whatever you may have carelessly left lying around. A variation on this is that you may be squirted with mustard or water or something. Some helpful soul will come up and try to clean you up. In the confusion, his friend is lifting your valuables. This happened to me, and I'll tell you for nothing you only have to take your eyes off your stuff for a second, and it's gone.
Madrid is not a dangerous city if you take some precautions.
If you take your money with you it´s better if you use a special place to carry as an special belt to put it inside or something similar. This is highly recommend in the city centre. The pickpockets are very quick.
Take care if you go to the Rastro (there are too many robberies, not using violence, use to be using tricks)
Be very, very careful of pickpockets in Madrid!! I'm sure you've heard it a thousand times, but trust me, I was a victim! It happened so quickly too, I lost my wallet, cash, credit cards and my train ticket! It was such a hassle going to the police station and all. Places to pay attention: Puerta del Sol and the Prado area.
You want a warning/danger? You know all about the pickpockets in Sol. You know all about mimes and their evil ways. Well, have a care to look out for the fifteen-story giant Diane Keaton, Meg Ryan, and Lisa Kudrow! This is why Madrid disappoints me. Everywhere you look is a giant poster advertising an American film dubbed into Spanish. Every-bloody-where!
Two ladies of our tour group were robbed while strolling the busy streets of Madrid's main shopping belt.
Despite repeated warnings of our tour guide to carry the minimum cash and to leave the passport in the coach, they paid no heed with tragic consequences. The robbers cuffed their necks and literally tore their sling bags off the hook.
Do wear a hidden waist pouch AT ALL TIMES when you travel. Ask yourself which target you would hit if you are a robber and make sure we don't become the unfortunate victim.
Make a photocopy of your passport and avoid hidden and dark alleys. In the above case, the robbers were only waiting in the dark lane for their targets to appear. Better still, learn Aikido, it's both therapeutic and invigorating. Pick up a martial art skill and walk tall with confidence and style!
I have read a lot of stories of Spain not being safe, but from my experience, as long as you use sound judgement and common sense - you'll be O.K. Try to fit in with the locals (ex. if you're coming from North America, try to wear nicer clothes - no t-shirts, shorts, sneakers), and do as the locals do (if you see that women are holding their purses a certain way, do it the same way).