Airport Info Travel Advice for visiting Tenerife Thieves and Pickpockets

Thieves and Pickpockets in Tenerife

The majority of people who visit Tenerife never encounter any problems with thieves or pickpockets. However, gangs and individuals do operate on the island, just the same as in any other touristic location, therefore it is good to stay alert.

Where do Thieves and Pickpockets Operate?

Thieves and pickpockets like crowded places, where the general hustle and bustle helps them to operate unnoticed. Even better is a place full of people in holiday-mode, who may be slightly less careful and vigilant than during their normal day-to-day lives.

Therefore, be aware when you arrive at the airport, when using public transport and when visiting busy markets or one of the many tourist attractions on the island. Carry your passport, money and personal belongings in a safe place and do not leave them unattended at any time.

How Do Pickpockets Operate in Tenerife?

Thieves and pickpockets rely on going unnoticed or gaining your trust. Therefore they try to blend in as much as possible. They often achieve this by dressing like tourists. Crowded places can provide a perfect “working environment” for pickpockets, as here they are able to get very close to their potential victims without arousing suspicion.

Professional pickpockets frequently operate in teams of two or more. Distraction is the key to their success. They will often pose as someone trying to be helpful or in need of help.This may divert your attention and allow the thief to come close to you or even make physical contact without alarming you.

Whatever trick is used, the thief will always try to achieve two objectives: To get within close proximity of you and your belongings while at the same time diverting your attention elsewhere.

Common pickpocket techniques

Some tricks are fairly basic while others are well-thought-out and practised. Thieves and pickpockets can be very creative and, therefore, the individual scams and techniques that are used are far too numerous to list. They may also differ, depending on the setting. Here are some scenarios that will give you a general idea:

Asking for help

In town: “How do I get to…?”

The pickpocket poses as a tourist who is lost. He or she is produces a map and asks you to help them work out which way to go. While you are distracted with the task on hand, and with their greedy fingers shielded by the big map they are holding, the pickpocket is able to access your pockets or your bag unnoticed.

At the beach: “Would you mind taking my picture, please?”

This is a technique that usually involves two or more scammers. One of them approaches you and asks whether you could take a photograph of them. While you are busy trying to work out the camera and finding the best angle for the photograph, the thief’s accomplice uses the time to rifle through your bag or takes off with it altogether.

In the supermarket: “Could you help me, please?”

Another “shopper” asks you for help in finding a specific product or in getting an item from a high shelf. Meanwhile, the accomplice uses the opportunity to get your money or bank cards out of your bag.

Offering help

“Let me help you with your bags”

This may be the most obvious trick but it is still successfully used by thieves. If you have just arrived and are struggling with a heavy bag or suitcase, the friendly person offering their assistance may simply be a kind individual who would like to help out. On the other hand, it could also be a thief preying on unsuspecting tourists, who will use the opportunity to run off with your bag before you have the opportunity to do anything about it.

“Let me help you clean up this mess”

If you find yourself covered in ice cream by a “clumsy” stranger bumping into you, be wary if the person in question or another passer-by gets too close to you in a very “helpful” attempt to wipe down your clothing. You may find afterwards that it is not only the ice cream that was removed from your person but also your money, jewellery or other valuables you might have been carrying on you.

Creating a log jam

This technique requires several pickpockets working together and is successfully used on buses or other public transport. When the bus reaches a major stop, one or two of the gang position themselves in such a way that the exit is partly blocked. All the passengers wishing to get off will need to squeeze together to get through the door. This is a fantastic opportunity for another pickpocket to position him- or herself amongst the alighting passengers and to steal from pockets, handbags or rucksacks.

Other pickpocket distraction techniques include…

  • Asking for a lighter.  While you are being distracted searching for your lighter, the person can use the opportunity to snatch your purse or wallet.
  • Dropping keys, coins or other items in front of you and “struggling” to pick them up. While you are trying to be helpful in retrieving the dropped items, the thief can use the opportunity to help themselves to your money or valuables.
  • Variations of the “ice cream accident” (see above). The thief may squirt some liquid or other substance on your clothing to look like bird droppings.  They then come over to you and offer to help remove it, which provides a perfect opportunity to access your pockets or bag.  

Further Precautions to Take on Your Tenerife Holiday

When we are in holiday mode, we tend be more relaxed and care-free and we sometimes forget about some basic precautions we would always take when at home. Thieves will use this to their advantage, so don’t give them the opportunity!

Your hire car

Do not leave any valuable or important items behind in your car. Put bags or clothing, etc in the boot of the car. This will reduce temptation and avoid the car from being broken into.

Be wary of another potential scam that involves slashing the tyres of your hire car. If you return to your car and you find that the tyres are flat, consider that these may have been purposely vandalised.  Professional thieves or pickpockets will offer to help and, whilst doing so, one of the party will take your purse/wallet or bags from the car.

Your holiday accommodation

The same rules that apply at home also apply to your holiday accommodation.  Ensure you lock all doors and windows when you leave your accommodation and lock valuables and money away.

Do not leave the front door open or unlocked when spending time in the garden or by the pool. An easily accessible holiday villa is a perfect opportunity for a thief to snatch a few items while you are sunbathing or chilling in the pool.

Your credit card

Never hand your credit or debit card over to a shopkeeper or waiter without accompanying them.  Most restaurants will bring the card reader to your table or it will be at the till.

How You Can Avoid Becoming a Victim

Being aware of some of the common techniques and remaining alert while on holiday will go a long way in helping you avoid becoming a victim of pickpockets or thieves. Remember that, while you are on holiday, the criminals aren’t!

When on the lookout for potential victims, pickpockets will usually go for the most lucrative-looking and easily-accessible target. You will be a less attractive option if you don’t wear expensive jewellery or clothing and if you keep your cash and cards out of sight and reach.

Travel tips to deter thieves and pickpockets in Tenerife

  • Don’t carry too much cash or wear expensive jewellery when out.
  • Remove any important documentation and large amounts of money from your wallet.
  • Whenever possible, keep all important documents and cash in a safe at your accommodation.
  • Be aware of your personal space and alert to anyone who gets too close.
  • Never carry your purse/wallet or phone inside your jacket- or back pocket.
  • Do not place your wallet/purse in an easily accessible pocket in your rucksack.
  • Carry larger amounts of cash or valuables close to your body (e.g. in a small pouch under your top).
  • If you are carrying a handbag with a long strap, place it securely with the strap lying across your body.
  • Keep in physical contact with your belongings at all times.
  • In a café or restaurant, keep your bag on your lap or place your leg or the leg of your chair through a strap on your bag or rucksack.

How to prepare before setting off on holiday

  • Do not travel with expensive-looking suitcases or bags, as these are more appealing to potential thieves than a slightly tatty-looking bag.
  • Take two purses or wallets on holiday with you. One can be used for small amounts of money and kept easily accessible for your little purchases. The other is used to store your cards or larger amounts of cash. This will need to be carried in a safe place and only come out if you are making a bigger purchase.
  • Make a note of contact numbers to cancel your bank cards in the event they are stolen.
  • Photocopy all your important travel documents and keep the copies in a separate place from the originals.
  • Leave valuable jewellery or watches at home.
  • Download a “find my phone” app and ensure your phone is password protected.

Reporting a Crime in Tenerife

The emergency number for police, fire and ambulance in Spain and Tenerife is 112. In tourist resorts, English speakers are usually on duty.

If you have been a victim of crime you must make a report (“denuncia”), to the police.  You will need to produce a copy of this report, if you make a claim against your insurance company for any items that have been stolen.

Policia Local.  The local town force deals with relatively minor issues such as traffic control and protection of property.

Cuerpo Nacional de Policia.   Deal with slightly more serious crimes than the Policia Local.  They are usually the point of contact for robbery, street crime etc in urban areas.

Guardia Civil.  The Civil Guard has the greatest powers and is responsible for general policing in rural areas.  They deal with serious issues such as anti-terrorism, weapon control, drug smuggling etc.

Please see here for further information on reporting emergencies in Tenerife.

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