Stained clothes scam

Barcelona-clothes_stain-pickpockets-tourist-scamsBesides the regular picking of pockets, the thieves in Barcelona have developed their own strategy, which may seem a bit more obvious, but is still very successful. This can happen anywhere in Barcelona, but most likely in busy places with lots of people and lots of distractions, for example La Rambla boulevard, the beach and near Port Vell. As a tourist, you always need to guard your belongings at those kind of places, and make sure you read our guidelines on how to keep pickpockets away.

Also called the bird poo scam, this involves a stain on your clothes, not limited to bird poo. This is a very famous but still very effective way to distract a tourist in order to steal his wallet. It can be done in a couple of ways, the first is by staining a tourist’s clothes with something like ketchup or mustard and apologizingly offering to help him or her to clean it off. As they clean it off, they also clean you out. This scam is still popular in Barcelona and many tourists are victimized by this alternative way of pickpocketing.

Barcelona-bird_poo-pickpockets-tourist-scamsAnother method is to get up behind a tourist and spit them in their hair or on their shoulder, or squirt some home made goo that looks like bird droppings on their clothes, and then kindly point it out to them, claiming that a bird just dropped it on them. Coincidentally, they happen to have a Kleenex and/or a bottle of water in their hand to help the tourist clean it off. This gives them a way to build trust (this good Samaritan just brought your attention to the stain and are so kind to help you), and it gives them an opportunity to put their hands on to you, so you get used to their touch and won’t realize it when they’re taking your wallet. They’re most likely to spray someone’s backpack or jacket, as the tourist then needs to take it off, which gives the pickpocket easier access to those hard-to-reach pockets.

There are hundreds of these scammers in Barcelona alone, and the name for this scam is La Mancha, Spanish for The Stain. Almost any tourist visiting the city for a few days will be the target of this scam at least once during their stay. Thankfully, more than three quarters of their attempts remain unsuccessful, most of the times because the tourist is suspecting something is wrong. So if this happens to you, don’t let anyone touch you or even come near you. Thank them for bringing it to your attention (if you really want to be polite), but take your distance and clean it off yourself. And check your wallet immediately, to make sure they haven’t already taken it.

And then there are the pickpockets targeting tourists enjoying a meal or a drink inside our outside.



  1. Karen Voigt says

    Bird Poop Scam May 2017!

    Saturday started out like any other typical vacation day. I woke up when I was well rested and ready to get up and find a new adventure. We spent about three hours walking around town and viewing many of the sites we had not seen during our first days in Barcelona. At about 16:00 we went to a little restaurant that was recommended by Karen’s travel book for Barcelona. It was quaint local spot with no other tourists. It was a tiny little restaurant that spilled out into the street. We sat at a tiny round table that bumped up to another round table that had two little elderly Asian lady sitting at it. It was what you might say, was a cozy sitting situation. We could not read the menu and the waiter could not speak English so choosing our menu items was like closing ones eyes and pointing. Actually it turned out fairly well because we knew the word for potatoes and meat. When it was time to pay the bill, and leave the waiter a little tip the question was, do we put the tip near the street sidewalk side of the table, or on the side of the table next to the two little Asian ladies. I figured the two little Asian ladies was probably the safest.
    We then spent the next couple of hours walking around the old part of Barcelona viewing the varied architecture. In this town all of the corners of buildings are cut off so the intersections look bigger and more sunlight dumps into these intersections. As it was becoming evening we decided to try and find the Palace with the magic fountain. This magic fountain is said to have a beautiful night time display between 21:00 hour and 23:00 hour. So off we set off to find it this magic fountain.
    Wouldn’t you know, as we were headed down a quiet little sidestreet a nice gentleman came up behind us and mentioned that Karen had been dumped on by a pigeon high up in the trees. I turned to look at the back of her hair and sure enough there was a mess in her hair and of course Karen panicked at the idea of diseased bird poop in her hair and yelped a few squeaks and squeals. As I was dabbing the mess out of Karen’s hair the gentleman pointed out that I too had been splattered on my hat, my fanny pack, my sweatshirt and my pants! What an awful mess! As we were trying to clean up this terrible mess the gentleman said to us all we must come with him to get some water for cleaning. He waved us to come across the street but we didn’t understand him and didn’t follow him. He came back and said you must clean up with some water! So we followed him. Fortunately he lived in that area because he opened a door to a courtyard which had probably a bunch of apartments. He ran upstairs and came back out with a little water bottle and some tissues He then mentioned that there was still a big glob of pigeon poop in Karen’s hair and A bunch on my pants and the shirt. I thought I had gotten most of it out of her hair but then saw another glob. He started dabbing and cleaning off my pants while I was getting Karen’s hair. When we got much of the mess cleaned up he went to the door, that lead out of this courtyard, and said goodbye. I was a little surprised that he left us in his courtyard.
    Our next decision was, do we go straight home and shower and clean up or do we still try and find this magic fountain? Well you probably guessed our decision was to try and find the magic fountain. We walked and walked and walked and got confused as to what street were we were on. We stood for 15-20 minutes trying to catch a cab but the cabs were not very plentiful because the metro was on strike and so everybody was using taxis.
    At about 10:45 we decide to give up trying to get to the Magic Fountain and just head home. It took well over an hour to wash the clothes that were soiled by the pigeons and to shower and get cleaned up. It was now about 1 AM in the morning and I happened to check my little metal wallet and guess what! My two Credit cards were missing! Gone. Nowhere to be seen!
    During the entire day the only place I had use the credit cards was at the restaurant. It crossed my mind that maybe I had left the credit card on the table. The owner of our hotel call the restaurant for us and they said no credit cards have been left at the restaurant. Then my thought started to wonder about those two nice little Asian ladies. Right, nice Asian ladies!
    I could not believe that I was careless with the Credit Card’s, and Karen agreed because I am meticulous about keeping all our IDs and the passports and credit cards safely zipped in the safety zipper pockets inside my pants. We then spent the next 30 minutes reviewing the entire day and every time we were near a restaurant or a postcard store and realize I had never used that credit card anywhere else. Then there was a pause. A very long pause. Then Karen’s Eyes snapped wide open and a bright light shown in her eyes. A brilliant realization struck her mind!
    Isn’t bird crap generally white when you see it dripping down statues and the sides of houses and buildings? The bird crap in my hair…..and all of your clothes was not white! Had that nice man taking advantage of us? The more we thought about it the more we realized we had been scammed!!! The man had distracted us by squirting something in Karen’s hair. Then somehow he was able to squirt stuff on my fannypack, my hat, and down the side of my pants. And then somehow he was able to squirt more stuff on Karen’s shirt that she was wearing and which she quickly flung off her back to get the diseased poop poop away from her body. Wasn’t he clever? While we were in the street he was stretching tightly my pants as he was scraping off the bird poop ….wink…. wink…. wink, he was actually taking my metal wallet out of my not easily zipped pocket. Then once we were in the courtyard he ran up the stairs to get the water bottle and tissues and then he continued cleaning my pants ….wink…. wink …..wink…while he was putting in the wallet back in my pants. He had evidently taken the two credits cards out of my wallet when he run up the steps to get the water.
    It was them about 2:30 AM in the morning and I realized I had to activate my phone and call my credit card companies. Fortunately I had been wise enough to keep the numbers and passcodes and telephone numbers for both cards on my phone and on Karrens phone. I called the main credit card company I’ve been using and sure enough there had been a $560 charge to it about an hour after our interaction with this kind gentleman. I then called my other credit card company and learned it had been charged $560 twice.
    Well it was now 3 AM in the morning and I knew I had to get some sleep. I slept soundly . . . for three hours. At about 6 AM my eyes flew wide open and I was as wide awake and rested as I have been on the entire trip. This is after only three hours of sleep. My mind why was churning and clicking and trying to figure out how I could catch that man. Could I find that same street corner and bang on that apartment doors and tell everybody in that complex about that mean man? How could conscientious me have fallen for a scam call the ‘Bird Poop Scam’?
    Once I reflected back on our scammed experience, I recall strongly some uneasy feelings in my gut. Unsure of feelings that I simply disregarded! First, I thought it strange to go across the street to get water. Second, Karen and I were hesitant to go into that man’s courtyard. Karen glanced at me before stepping in and then I simply followed her. Thirdly, I thought it strange that he was so meticulous about getting the bird poop off my pants instead of off my neck and my skin and Karen’s hair. But I left that go also, Silly me. And then there was his exit leaving us in his court yard so abruptly and that seems a bit strange too. But who has time to react all these gut feelings when you’re freaked out and trying to get diseased bird poop out of your clothes and hair and skin?
    I’m watching you…..Nice People! Bring it on you bad people….try and scam me again….I’m now wiser and will get you!

    PS….Sorry little elderly ladies for suspecting you!

  2. Vincent Botha says

    28/5/2019 outside the Omnium just arrived from the bus station with all my luggage waiting for keys to get into the hotel when a young man walks past and drops his wallet in the street about 3 meters from me. I shouted at him and told him he had dropped his wallet. He picked it up thanked me and moved off then stopped a little way off then hung around doing nothing in particular. I then spotted another chap on my left leaning against the wall when he saw I was looking at him he ducked into a shop entrance. A cleaner lady in the hotel opposite side of the road indicated that there were 3 of them and that I should be careful. When I said to the thieves I knew what they were up to they laughed and all three walked off down the road. Close call.

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