Eight scams to avoid in Madrid

Visitors coming to Madrid are often nervous about being targeted by scammers. A legitimate fear if you don’t understand the language and are reliant on the kindness of bilingual strangers to help you navigate your way around a foreign city. As problems can start as soon as you get off the plane with unscrupulous taxi drivers hoping to drive up your fare, I’ve put together a little list of the most common scams doing the rounds and how to avoid them. This post is regularly updated as I hear about new scams.

The taxi scam

To avoid getting ripped off, only use the official Madrid taxis

While most taxi drivers are honest folk, a few might try to hike up the fares of fresh-faced tourists. This is particularly true if you don’t speak the lingo. However, with a few precautions, you can easily avoid being scammed. First off, only take official Madrid taxis, which are white with a diagonal red stripe across the door. The second thing to bear in mind is that any trip from the airport to somewhere in central Madrid should cost no more than the fixed price of 30 euros. Unless your destination is outside the circular M30 you should refuse to pay anymore. If they do try to pull a fast one, demand a receipt and take the license number. For any other rides, always make sure the meter is on and bear in mind there is always an obligatory minimum fare to pay that can be much higher if you’re picked up from the taxi rank of a train station.


While there is little violent crime in Madrid the metro is notoriously full of carteristas that is pickpockets, so you should always keep a careful eye on your belongings. While most people are aware of this threat, they can get caught out by “skimmers” when withdrawing cash. These are devices placed over the card readers of ATMs along with hidden cameras that can clone your card along with recording your PIN. The fraudsters then empty your account! Spain’s national police issued a warning about this back in October 2023, so it’s one to look out for. To avoid getting stung, always take out cash from well-lit machines and check for signs of tampering.

Tickets to the Prado

Be sure to buy your Prado tickets from the museum’s official website

Even though I’ve lived here for an entire decade I almost fell for this one when I was trying to buy Prado tickets for my mum last summer. What happens is that when you Google “Prado tickets” the top result takes you to a site that sells you them as a third party pocketing a whopping three euros in commission. This swizz relies on the mark’s laziness – my worst vice! So scroll down to the actual official Prado website to get entry at cost price, which at the time of writing is €15. If you don’t get them online you’re in for a massive wait at the ticket office, so do try to skip the queue at all costs by buying them beforehand.

More recently, mirror sites, such as http://delpradomuseo.com, have also been tricking customers into buying tickets that don’t exist. With this scam, be wary of cheaper-than-usual entry charges. The website mentioned, for instance, was charging tickets for as cheap as €7, far below the actual price of entrance to the museum.


This one has particularly affected BiciMAD. Gangs place fake QR stickers over actual ones redirecting customers to another site when they go to pay to hire a bicycle. To make sure you don’t get caught out, check the QR code is not stuck on.

Padding the bill

Be sure to check your bill against a menu when dining out

Again, another one I fell for once before being schooled by a more astute friend. The first time it happened I was charged €6 for breakfast at my local cafe. While this was about five years ago, in my barrio inflation has yet to catch up with this outrageous price. The second time I was presented with a suspiciously large bill for breakfast, I was in central Madrid with my friend who demanded to see the menu (la carta in Spanish, the word ‘menu‘ here rather confusingly refers to a set lunch). It soon became apparent that there had been a 40% markup on our breakfast.

When challenged, the waiter backed away waving his hands and said he’d gotten confused when pressed on the matter. Confused? Hmm! Nothing to do with the fact that we were a pair of guiris (that’s pallid Northern Europeans to you) chatting away in English a stone’s throw from Plaza Mayor! The moral of this story is that you should always ask for a menu and check prices before ordering. Any establishment that doesn’t have prices clearly displayed is out to suck you dry.

The clipboard scam

This pickpocketing scam cropped up on Reddit Madrid recently. The target is approached by someone with a clipboard and asked to present ID to sign a petition. This shows a waiting thief where the wallet is kept. As the robbery is carried out, the mark is kept distracted by the person wielding the clipboard, their partner who has been watching the whole thing, can sneak in and take the wallet. Apparently, placing the clipboard over a phone while you’re out having a coffee is another tactic. The moral: keep your eye on your phone and a tight grip on your wallet.

Accommodation scams

Accommodation in central Madrid can be prohibitively pricey!

This one goes out to the digital nomads or anyone else hoping to stay in Madrid for any extended period of time. First off, I have terrible news for you. Renting in Madrid is an absolute nightmare. Many people turn up for appointments to view properties only to be told that they’ve already gone to a customer who put in a bid sight unseen. Not only that but the costs involved are utterly prohibitive for many: you’ll be expected to pay a month’s rent for the deposit, another month’s rent to cover the agency fee and a further month in advance! Worse news of all is that many agencies require you to have a NIE (national insurance card) or residency card, Spanish bank account and proof of income.

No surprise then that shady companies are thriving and worse of all sketchy types are demanding deposits and rent for flats that don’t even exist. The result is that if you object to the estate agencies fleecing you in a brazen act of daylight robbery (one month’s rent is an extortionate amount to pay for their services), you are left vulnerable to nefarious types who will take your hard-earned money and run. Apart from demanding to see the ID of anyone you deal with, there’s no simple answer to this conundrum. However, if you are looking to rent a shared room, it’s worth doing some networking first. You might be able to rent directly cutting estate agents out of the deal. And if you’re only staying in the city for a matter of months it’s better to go the Airbnb route.

If you do opt for Airbnb, be mindful that this is the company that is partially responsible for overheating the housing market in the first place so your Spanish neighbours may well give you the stink eye for a while! The best way you can get them onside is by showing them you are not a fly-by-night tourist. So don’t make too much noise at night and always greet them with an aggressively cheerful ‘hola’ in the hallway – no Spaniard can stay mad at you for that long!

The parcel scam

Due to import taxes, parcels from the UK are no longer a delightful surprise

This last one piggybacks onto the legitimate parcel fees imposed by the Spanish Post Office. Being British, I used to be exempt, but now I too along with the long-suffering American community have to pay to receive any parcel sent from outside the EU, even if it is a gift. So these days I ask relatives to refrain from sending me anything. And this is the reason why I knew the following message sent to my phone the other day was an absolute estafa (con).

For those of you who can’t read Spanish, the sender is pretending to be affiliated with the Spanish Post Office and asking me to pay 2.64 for a parcel that is “ready to be delivered”. Hogwash! Just so you know, if you do receive a parcel, the postman will either knock on your door and ask for the money or leave a slip in your postbox telling you when and where it can be collected.

A final word

The good news is that while there are always shady types ready to relieve you of your hard-earned euros, most Madrileños are kind at heart and only too eager to help foreigners negotiate the big bad metropolis. For instance, if you’re being careless with your valuables on the metro or in a bar, nine times out of ten, a kindly citizen will tap you on the shoulder and tell you to watch out for pickpockets: as I mentioned in an earlier post, such robberies tend to be opportunistic. Happily, Madrid is by and large a very safe city.

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