Madrid.—British tourists coming for an Easter break by the Mediterranean are being warned to look out for their valuables when visiting busy urban areas.

British Consulates in Spain are reporting rising trends in the number of street crimes involving stolen passports, money and other valuables. A stolen bag leads to frustration, extra costs and lost holiday time as tourists deal with the consequences.

The British Consulate in Barcelona, one of the most popular visitor cities in Europe, issued 1320 emergency travel documents (ETDs) in 2012 - some 75% of which were the result of stolen passports. This was an increase of 19% from 1072 during the previous year. During the first two months of this year, the number of ETDs issued was 120, a 20% rise on the 100 provided during the same period last year.

Meanwhile in Madrid, the British Consulate issued 362 ETDs during 2012 – the equivalent of one a day – up 23% from 294 the previous year. During January and February this year 50 were issued, a 10% increase on the 45 during the same period last year.

An ETD – which enables a traveller to return to the UK if they have lost their passport - currently costs 115 euros (approx 100 pounds).
Dave Thomas, Consular Director for Southern Europe, said: “Unfortunately we have seen increases in pickpocketing and distraction thefts. We urge holidaymakers to keep an eye on their belongings at all times. We want to reduce the numbers of British visitors who come to us for help over stolen passports and belongings, so they can get on with enjoying their Easter breaks instead of spending their precious holiday time in our consular offices”. The three main methods used by city criminals are: l Pickpocketing on public transport and in busy areas. l Distraction techniques (asking victims for help or directions, spilling something on clothes and offering to help). l Unattended bag / handbag snatching in hotels, restaurants, cafés, airport and train stations.
Anyone can be a victim of city crime. Julie Crossley, a family careers support advisor from Hemel Hempstead in Herts, and a regular visitor to Spain, said: “We have been travelling to Reus airport for the last nine years and had never experienced any crime against us or anyone we know, so it didn't even enter our heads that we would become victims ourselves at such a relatively quiet airport. My husband was looking after our bags as I visited the ladies, was distracted by someone asking where the exit was, and had no idea our travel wallet had been taken. And we would say we are seasoned travellers. Don't be complacent”.

A Palmer, a chartered tax adviser from Harpenden in Herts had a similar experience: “On the last day of our holiday in Sitges we were sitting outside a cafe near the train station with our four children and our luggage. A local man pulled up in his car and asked for directions, which made us look away from our bags. His accomplice took one of the handbags which contained valuables including all our passports. When we realised, we felt so foolish for being duped and wished we had checked our hand luggage before we responded, rather than after. It seems so obvious looking back.” Albia Begum, a travel journalist from Lancashire visited Madrid: “I was playing a game with people at one of my favourite hostels in the heart of Madrid, and I left my bag under the table to go outside for five minutes. When I returned the game was over and my bag was missing. I had lost my passport, personal possessions and a huge amount of cash. I tried everything to look for my passport - searching every room in the hostel, leaving a poster, and asking if any security cameras were on but nobody could help. I had to apply for an emergency travel passport, pay for my visa again to go to Mauritania in Africa, and use more money to pay for my stay at the hostel. No matter where you are in the world, you or your personal possessions are not safe, even for a second....” British Consulates in Spain are working with local police, tour operators, airports, ports, car hire companies and main railway stations to help tackle city crime.