The most common scams in Barcelona

Unfortunately, scams are commonplace, in Barcelona as in other big cities. Here are 10 common scams so you don’t get fooled.

Photos: Clementine Laurent/Equinox

Anyone who says big city says many possibilities, but also fraud. And like all cities, Barcelona is no exception to the rule. Unfortunately, scams are rampant and it’s important to be vigilant to avoid being tricked. Here are some of the most common scams in Barcelona.

Accommodation too good to be true

A great classic of real estate fraud: fake apartment advertisements. This scam is based on a simple advertisement of an apartment for rent, in very good condition, often furnished, with very nice photos and a very attractive price, explains Laure Condamine, apartment finder in Barcelona. In some cases, electricity, water and internet costs are even included in the price. In short, the dream in Barcelona. But if the interested party contacts the supposed owner, he can only reply by message or Whatsapp. He explains that he is not available to show the apartment and that he has many candidates with good credentials. “You present yourself as an applicant, which means that the interested party has to sell the apartment“, specifies Laure Condamine.

The fake owner then offers the possibility to reserve the accommodation through the Airbnb platform and ensures that the person concerned receives a refund if the apartment ultimately does not match the photos. And here’s the scam: you pay between €1,200 and €1,800 in “reservation fees” for accommodation that doesn’t exist, and after paying the fake owner disappears. A very common scam, according to the housing agent. “People are so desperate when looking for accommodation in Barcelona, ​​everything they see is so ugly and so expensive that when they see an ad like this they hurry up.”

Another well-known type of real estate fraud is subletting. An apartment tenant poses as a landlord and rents out the apartment, often without a contract, without informing the real owner. In this case, the cheated tenant can get into complicated situations, for example, when the real owner discovers the sublease. As this is illegal, the renter who is the victim of the fraud does not have the means to defend himself as there is no legal contract.

How not to fall into the trap:

If an advert seems too good, it is better to do everything possible to visit the apartment and make sure that it is managed by a large real estate agency that is known and trusted in Barcelona, ​​as direct offers do not exist. In general, it is better never to pay anything without seeing the accommodation in question.

The irrecoverable bond

Another very common scam in the real estate world is down payment. It is sometimes difficult to get it back when leaving an apartment, even if it was previously in a bad state, and costs can easily increase without the tenant being able to defray them.

How not to fall into the trap:

When the new tenant collects the keys of the accommodation, it is better to make a detailed inventory, take notes or photos of every little detail (dirt, poor condition, humidity, etc.), check everything and sign this inventory on paper too let by the agency. Thus, the tenant can contest with these slips if he does not receive his deposit when he leaves.

The manipulated car

Unfortunately, scams aren’t just about housing. Buyers of used cars are also concerned, assures Marco Esteban, director of the law firm Esteban Abogados Penalistas in Barcelona. It can happen that someone is tampered with when buying a used car: a tampered with mileage on the meter and therefore very different from the real number, a problem camouflaged at the time of sale but which makes the vehicle very quickly become unusable or the buyer burden with exorbitant repair costs. It even happens that it is a stolen car. And this type of scam can be presented through ads on the internet, but also auto repair shops or unofficial dealers. It is therefore difficult to recognize them.

How not to fall into the trap:

The criminal defense attorney recommends before purchasing the vehicle that you make sure there will be no additional cost to the purchase and that you have the car (or others) serviced by a mechanic or garage before you buy it. “If the seller refuses to have the vehicle serviced before the sale, he must be hiding something..”

The picture fraud

Image fraud or ‘timo de la estampita’ is a well-known type of fraud in Spain, but it is still widespread, explains Marco Esteban. It often takes place on the street, where a scammer pretends to be a person with a certain intellectual disability or a simpleton. He speaks to a passer-by and shows him a real banknote and an envelope that is apparently full of banknotes. The scammer explains to the passer-by that the envelope is full of such “pictures” but he does not want them and offers to sell this envelope to the passer-by for a certain amount of money.

In this scam, a second scammer, allied with the first, can step in and pretend to buy the envelope, causing the passer-by to bid more and fall into the trap. Of course, once the envelope is purchased and the scammer is gone, the passer-by realizes that the envelope does not contain real tickets.

There is an alternative to this scam, without banknotes, but with a supposed winning ticket that is actually worth nothing. This is the lottery ticket scam or “Tocomocho”.

How not to fall into the trap:

These types of scams are well known. It is better not to trust people asking for money, especially if they are strangers.

The love cheat

Another well-known scam still happening today. The love scam or “estafa del amor” is simply to meet a man or woman and start a relationship, be it in person or over the internet. After a few days or weeks of the relationship, the lover (who is actually the scammer) demands a sum of money from his victim for some reason and then disappears with the loot.

Barcelona scamHow not to fall into the trap:

In general, you should beware of people who demand money if you know them little or badly, warns the criminal lawyer.

identity theft

The “supplantación de identidad”, in Spanish, can happen in many different situations: looking for a flat, answering a job advertisement… The scammer poses as a homeowner, real estate agent or employer and asks for victims (by phone, email or even physically) for his personal information: last name, first name, date and place of birth, address, ID card (or at least a photocopy) and sometimes even his bank details before disappearing. With this information, and even without a bank account, the scammer can open phone lines, take out loans, or even make purchases that bill or charge the victim.

How not to fall into the trap:

Not entrusting your bank details to someone or a website you don’t trust seems almost obvious; but personal information is also valuable and should not be passed on lightly. If someone requests a disproportionate amount of information before the supposed employment contract has been mentioned or the accommodation has not yet been inspected, caution is advised.

professional fraud

The “simulación de profesión” or professional fraud is widespread, in France as in Spain. The scammer pretends to be a repairman, electrician or plumber, for example. He goes to his victim, who is called, for example, via an advertisement on the Internet, and examines what is not working or damaged. He then claims he needs to buy a part to make the repair, demands money from his victim, goes out to buy the part and doesn’t return.

How not to fall into the trap:

It is best to always contact a specialist you trust, who is known or recommended by friends or family, for example. In general, you should not pay until the repair is complete.

The fake charity scam

Donating is great, but it’s better if it’s for a good cause. Fake charity scams, or estafas de caridad, are common. The scammers take advantage of their victims’ solidarity and make them believe they are raising money for a charity, when in fact the money is theirs. Of course, having received the gift, the so-called association disappears.

How not to fall into the trap:

Marco Esteban advises to always check whether the clubs or organizations claiming funds actually exist. A simple search on the Internet is enough: if the club does not have a website, if it is not present on social networks, if there is no press article talking about it, it means that it does not exist.

The fake gold ring scam

Another type of scam that can happen to anyone, on the streets of Barcelona or anywhere else: “la estafa del anillo”. The scammer approaches a passer-by, presents him with a gold ring and asks if he hasn’t dropped it. Even if the passer-by refuses the ring, the scammer will offer to sell it to him, arguing that it is gold (or some other material or gemstone). If the passer-by buys the ring, the scammer, after disappearing with the money, finds that the ring is actually worthless.

Barcelona scamHow not to fall into the trap:

It’s always difficult to judge the value of something unless you’re a professional; It is better not to take risks if you have any doubts about what you are buying or about the reliability of your seller.

Bank Mule Scam

This scam, called “mulero bancario” in Spanish, is a type of scam where the victim is involved in the scam themselves. For example, scammers publish a job offer on the Internet. The offer is ideal: just an hour or two of work from home and the money paid on the same day as the key. It is simply up to the victim, who responds to the job offer, to receive an amount of money into their own bank account and transfer it to another account, withholding a percentage of that amount.

In reality, the scammers first stole another person’s bank details and emptied their bank account by making a wire transfer to the second victim, known as the “bank mule”. The latter then sends this sum to the fraudsters and thus unknowingly participates in the scam. Scammers use this banking mule to cover their tracks because when the first victim reports the scam, the police go straight to the banking mule that received and transferred the money. This second victim must therefore repay at least the entire amount of money that she herself is accused of stealing.

How not to fall into the trap:

If you are aware of this type of scam, you should not trust job ads based on bank transactions as you never know where this money is coming from and where it is going.

Also read: The pandemic has deterred thieves in Barcelona

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