Lessons Learned From Being Robbed in Madrid

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Being Robbed in Madrid

You always think that it will never happen to you. You like to think you are travel-savvy. And you imagine it won’t impact how you think about travel. But it could easily happen to you. We learned some lessons when I was robbed in Madrid!

We were in Madrid, Spain for the start of a long visit to Spain. Madrid had never really been on “the list” but we found we really liked Madrid. We stayed in a great hotel in a good part of town to be close to the action.

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In September it is still warm and the patio culture is alive and strong. We could sip our drinks sitting on the cobblestone streets watching life go by.

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If you want art and culture, it is not hard to find. We got a Madrid pass and rushed through 3 great art galleries. Next time we will pick one and enjoy it at a slower, leisurely pace. Walking around the city, there is architectural beauty in the well-preserved buildings everywhere in the city.

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We really enjoyed our short stay in Madrid and knew we would be back. On our last day, we packed for our train trip later in the day to Malaga on the south coast. Heading out for breakfast, we carried iPads and computers to the large local cafe for breakfast. We were excited to start planning the next stop on our Spain trip.

Little did we know that we would learn some hard lessons that morning from being robbed in Madrid at 9:30am.

You May Not Be Safe In Well-Lit Places With Little Crowds

We all know to protect our valuables when walking on badly lit streets or in dark places. Crowded places like subway cars are breeding grounds for thieves.

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Our breakfast spot was a brightly lit cafe. We went to breakfast well after the crowds had left. But that did not stop us from being targeted for having my purse lifted without us even being aware. Who would expect to be robbed in Madrid at breakfast?

We later figured that sitting in broad view by a large picture window may have helped to target us. Since we had packed for the day, we were carrying more stuff with us than we normally carried for a day trip. And it was all visible through the window. There is a reason why spies choose to sit with their backs to a wall!

Trouble May Come in Pairs

We were seated on the lower level of the cafe with a few other diners. A young couple came down and stood slightly behind our table. It looked like they were waiting for the bathroom. They were dressed in clean clothes and as a couple, set off no alarms for us.

The young woman bent down, sort of like she was tying her shoes. We figured that was when she silently managed to grab my purse without me being aware.

David later was so upset as he actually saw the woman bend down. He never saw her remove my purse and her actions never triggered a concern. He watched them walk out and never noticed if they held my purse or had managed to pack it away in the backpack they were carrying.

For the remainder of our time in Spain, we were hyper-alert to couples that seemed to be casually moving about us. We would watch both people, always assuming one was the lookout while the other attacked. When one of the pair was on a cell phone, it caused us to be on guard for a move.

We have travelled a lot since that trip and we are not quite as paranoid. But we remain far more wary of people around us.

Keep Your Eyes On Your Things

I must admit to being a bit cavalier about my purse before this event. I would always keep it close to me and figured I would know if it was moved. But how wrong I was.

I now never set my purse down without it being strung around my body. I buy purses with long straps so I sit with them around my waist and in my lap. And sometimes I even resort to fanny packs!

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Both of us were distracted by our e-things. We were chatting about our plans and engrossed in doing our internet searches. To a thief, we must have looked like the perfect pair to pick. We had lost our real sense of surroundings.

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It was a great reminder to us about being careful about settling into a public space with so many distractions. We love to work and have a coffee so this is a hard one to follow. We are just far more alert now after being robbed in Madrid!

You Can Lose A Lot If Your Purse Is Stolen

I lost a lot when my purse was stolen. My favourite wallet contained about $500 in cash that we had just got from an ATM for our coming trip south. I travel with 2 credit cards. One credit card is for most purchases. A second credit card with a very low credit limit is used for online purchases and places that I trust less. I lost my drivers license, my health card and a whole bunch of other things I could not name from my wallet.

But I am so thankful that we had left our passports in the hotel safe. That would have created an additional nightmare. A lost passport would have to be replaced before we travelled too much further.

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Processes Are Well Established To Deal With Tourist Theft

When we arrived at the police station, they had a special desk with an English speaking officer. The officer handed me a large binder. The binder had phone numbers for a wide number of places that I would need to call to have cards reported stolen. It was the first thing he had us do before he even took a report.

It was clear that the Madrid police had a lot of practice dealing with minor theft like this. The process was well established. And the police quickly discounted any hope that the thieves would be caught or my purse found. Even if there was video in the cafe where we had breakfast!

We were amazed to find that the theft of my purse and identification must have been entered into some master database. A year later we were doing a transfer on the way home through the Munich airport. The officer on duty was taking a long time with my passport. He then asked me about the being robbed in Madrid and replacement of my identification. Don’t ever think there isn’t a big database in the sky!

When we returned home, we immediately reported the theft to our insurance company. While our policy does have a clause to cover this, by the time we factored in our high deductible, it was almost not worth reporting. Check your insurance policy details!

How Vulnerable Are You If You Lose Your Phone?

My purse also held my iPhone and a good set of noise cancelling headphones. Losing the phone caused me the most immediate anxiety. While the loss of a very expensive phone was upsetting, I was more concerned about the personal data on the phone.

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Luckily the iPhone has a good system for shutting down the phone if you think it was lost. Before I left the cafe wifi, I had already set my phone to delete all data as soon as it got a signal. But this did not stop my worry. I was concerned that the phone would end up in the hands of a pro who may know how to get data off without signalling to the network and being erased.

As soon as we had finished at the police station, our hotel extended our checkout time and I spent an hour very quickly changing all the critical passwords. I made sure that iTunes, email, online banking and online store accounts all had a new, radically different set of passwords. If my phone managed to get online, none of the stored passwords would work. Hopefully this would also protect most of the data stored electronically and accessible from my phone.

Identity Theft Concerns

For months after my purse was stolen I worried about identity theft. The thieves had key pieces of identification and maybe access to other personal data from my phone. I had my banks put alerts on all accounts. My credit bureau report was watched to make sure that no new credit cards were issued. Any new subscriptions to anything were reviewed.

I got lucky and it appears that the thieves just wanted the cash, other valuables in my purse and a phone they would just wipe clean. And we weren’t hurt when the thieves got my purse. Getting robbed in Madrid could have been so much worse!

Lost Trust

The biggest things I lost from being robbed in Madrid was some innocence and trust. I felt like a target. We were embarrassed that we had been taken so easily. And we watched everyone as if they were threats.

This hyper-sensitivity almost had us cancel parts of our Spain trip. But in the end we were not going to let them rob us of the pleasure of travelling. We continued on to enjoy the south coast of Spain and an awesome few days in Grenada.

There Are Many Lessons Learned From Being Robbed in Madrid

We learned some important lessons and had other things reinforced from being robbed in Madrid:

  • Anyone can be a target and it can happen almost anywhere
  • Thieves may be indistinguishable from everyday people
  • If you are not paying attention to your surroundings and your valuables, someone else may be
  • The more stuff you carry with you, the more you have to lose
  • Send your phone an “erase all” command and change all passwords immediately
  • Be wary about the people around you, but not overly paranoid
  • Don’t let the thieves win by sending you packing for home!

We thought we were pretty savvy travellers and knew high risk situations. This experience in Madrid reinforced that you need to be more alert all the time!

Did you learn something from our lessons from being robbed in Madrid? Do you have other tips to share?

About TravelAtWill 397 Articles
Travel blogger and photographer! Scuba diving, luxury cruising, chocoholic, sea and sunshine addicts, camera attached and just generally curious! Join us on our adventures!


  1. We were robbed from a Nomad truck in Botswana. We flew into the Okavanga delta for two nights and our Nomad guide instructed us to leave almost everything in locked lockers in the Nomad truck. We foolishly obeyed even though taking everything would have worked under the weight limit for the airline. Later we found out that this Sitatunga camp a\had been robbed before and we notice on Trip Advisor that another Nomad truck had been robbed afterward.
    Unlike you we found the police fairly unhelpful. Possibly because Nomad had encourage everyone to open their lockers and therefore had obliterated fingerprint evidence even though the police had instructed them to wait.
    Nomad and Sitatunga gave us a big run around, denying any responsibility. Nomad told us our agent that we had a copy of the police report and told us that our agent had a copy. Eventually 2 months later we got a copy from Sitatunga.
    Nomad told us Sitatunga would file an insurance claim (and that Nomad would closely monitor the situation to ensure our interests were kept at top priority) and we filled out more forms. It was more than four months later that Sitatunga finally indicated that their insurance would not cover it because Nomad had left the truck unaccompanied. Nomad refused to do anything but did offer a 10% discount on any future trip. The irony on that one is that Nomad had sent all our passengers (including those not robbed) a form email reminding us that Nomad’s policy is to offer all returning passengers a 10% discount.
    If you go on a tour check the tour operater’s reputation and history very carefully and keep your valuables safe, regardless of their instructions!

    • Linda, Thanks for sharing your story! I am sure we all count on tour operators being much more responsible that this. A great reminder about checking on a tour company’s reputation thoroughly, especially if your safety is at risk. Linda

  2. I had my wallet stolen at Madrid Airport. I was in a convenience-type store looking at books. I had my across the body bag just on my shoulder with the top zipper open and my wallet on top. The store was not crowded. My traveling companion was in another store. We were on our way home after a trip to Italy. I did not notice anyone near me. I reported it to airport security and filled out a form. I could not stay to get any results because I had to fly home. I didn’t have much American money in it, so Ii cancelled all my cards and applied for a new driver’s license. I let my guard down with the purse not thinking anything could happen in such a beautiful airport. Just remember, you are never secure wherever you are.

    • Loretta, Thanks for sharing your story. I agree how important it is to keep your attention on your purse at all times. It takes such a little distraction to have it lifted. I watch far too many women with your purses wide open and worry they will learn the hard way. Linda

  3. My husband and I are retired and travelling the world too Linda. Thank you for this post.
    Funny you mention Madrid as it’s the only city where I actually witnessed theft crimes years ago and felt eerily unsafe.
    I always try to be careful when travelling but anything can happen anywhere!
    I didn’t know you could send your phone an “erase all” command.
    I appreciate this tip and will look into it immediately before we’re off again in Sept.
    Happy travels!

    • Grace, Thanks for writing. It was a very unsettling affair but I finally decided I was not going to let it stop us. We almost cancelled Granada – which would have been such a major error! We will go back to Madrid as a gateway into Spain I am sure, but I will be ever more diligent. Enjoy your travels. We are “grounded” for September this year as I am working but are heading out in October again. Linda

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