Expat Guide to Personal Security in Spain

Most of the expats in Spain live on one of the Costas. Along the south coast, mugging and hand bag snatching is prevalent, so expats need to be aware of the need for good personal security.

The earliest experience we had of this was in Guardamar in daylight when our own personal security was put to the test. My wife, Joyce, and I were sat on a bench on the front admiring the view, when we were approached by a youth asking for the time. He was not satisfied with our reply and grabbed my wife`s watch wrist and pretended he was reading the time, but his other hand had wrapped around the straps of her handbag and he tried to pull it off her shoulder. Fortunately, it was a cheap plastic handbag and the strap snapped. When I confronted the assailant he ran off empty handed, and I fell whilst chasing him. Later on I was told that a gang of mates would have been hiding around the corner to sort out anybody following. From this moment on, my wife never carried a handbag. Only enough money needed for that day was taken out by us. Whether you live in Spain, or are a holiday maker, the advice is to carry a limited amount of cash, and only one credit card. Leave extra cash, extra credit cards, passports and personal documents in a safe location. Put anything you are carrying in a hard-to-reach place and try to avoid carrying all your valuables together in a purse or backpack.

Some find a money belt is useful to wear.

Another favourite trick was the “razor blade.” Somebody would be driving and a passenger with a blade would jump out, slash the bag handle and drive off. It is all done so fast you hardly realize what has happened.

If you drive around Spain, there can be gangs waiting at roadside cafes. They put a nail in one of your tyres to create a slow puncture and when you have driven a few miles and pull in to look at your tyre, they pull in as well and rob you whilst you are changing wheels.

The US Department of State issues some excellent advice for its citizens visiting Spain, though in reality much of it could apply to a traveller from anywhere and to any country being visited.

“ There have been reports of thieves posing as plainclothes police officers, beckoning to pedestrians from cars and sometimes confronting them on the street asking for documents, or to inspect their cash for counterfeit bills, which they ultimately “confiscate” as evidence.

The U.S. Embassy in Madrid has received reports of cars on limited access motorways being pulled over by supposed unmarked police cars. The Spanish police do not operate in this fashion. American citizens are encouraged to ask for a uniformed law enforcement officer if approached.

Travelers should remain alert to their personal security and exercise caution. We suggest that travelers carry limited cash, only one credit card, and a copy of their passport; leaving extra cash, extra credit cards, passports and personal documents in a safe location”

Another trick is being followed from the airport, and whilst being overtaken by the following car, they point to a flat tyre or some other problem and signal that you should pull in to rectify it. When you get out, there is no flat tyre or problem, only the robber with a knife asking for your valuables. These are usually known as “Good Samaritan” scams.

Common sense alleviates a lot of these problems e.g. when carrying your shopping back to your car from the supermarket, look around before you open the boot. It is when you open the boot and start to load your groceries that you are most vulnerable with your handbag, car keys and so on. And, when leaving your car remember if you leave items on view like luggage, cameras, laptops, or briefcases they are an easy and tempting target for thieves.

Right hand drive cars are often targeted, because only the British normally drive them, and as everybody knows we are “super rich”, so beware. The Moroccans and Algerians get blamed for most of the petty crime on the Costas, but I am sure that the Spanish are not totally blameless.

Taxi Drivers

Some of the taxi drivers are in collusion with robbers, especially coming from the airport. The driver drops off his customer and then phones the robbers advising them of how many are in the party, the address, types of luggage etc. Within hours the property has been broken into and usually passports, cameras, phones, cash and cards are taken.

Security On Villas

Alarms on villas help as they are fairly new to Spain. If your villa is alarmed and those around you are not then they will be targeted first. In Spain, by law, you should not have an outside bell on the alarm, it should be connected to an alarm company who will phone the local police to come out and check (though not always as quickly as we might like).
Good grills, which are a feature anyway, should be fitted, along with solid doors. Park off road when possible (cars left unmoved on a road for more than a month are considered abandoned by the police and can be towed away).

There are many market days in Spain and pick pocketing is rife, so carry your money, as little as possible, in a safe place with a zip up pocket or money belt (bum belts).
Do not carry valuables over your shoulder.

The Police

If you do get involved in an incident and the police are called in, the police do not take a statement at the scene, but tell you to go to a designated police station. That is where the particulars are taken, in Spanish only, so you will need an interpreter with you. I was witness to a road rage in Spain, and confronted the assailant, who was punching the elderly driver of the other car. The police were called in and they told me to go to a police station about 8 miles from the incident with an interpreter and the elderly driver, and give my side of the event. They told the assailant to get on his way. The elderly driver thanked me for my assistance but said it was a waste of time trying to pursue it.

Remember that just because the weather is hot, the people are friendly, you are in a relaxed frame of mind it does not mean you won’t be a victim of crime. Remain vigilant just as would back in the UK, take sensible precautions, and you will drastically cut down the risks of losing your possessions.