With over 3 million tourists annually visiting for holidays and over 500,000 on day trips from cruises, there will be some crime. Crime statistics show that violent crimes are rare in Lanzarote. The most prevalent crime is theft from a vehicle, so keep everything in the boot when you leave a vehicle unattended.
Although Lanzarote has a small population, they are not without crime. Lanzarote is very accommodating to tourists, but they do have petty street crimes and a few tourist scams.
But as the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had on its’ front cover, DON’T PANIC.
Here are some tips and tricks to foil the criminals’ attempts and help keep Lanzarote safe for travellers.
Try not to attract too much attention by showing off lots of jewellery, your latest €1000 mobile phone or carrying a wallet full of €100 notes. I’m not saying hide away under a rock; you are on holiday, enjoy it. Don’t be too flashy; it draws you to the attention of undesirables.
For men, put your wallet in your front pocket or buy a manbag with multiple pockets and zips. For women, keep your purse in a handbag and keep it in front of you, not at the side and occasionally check it, especially if you head into an exceptionally crowded area.
It shouldn’t need saying, but do not leave bags, luggage, wallets or purses unattended for any reason, as they will most likely not be there when you get back.
Should you suffer a crime against you, call the international number 112 and ask for the police?
Whilst I mention the police, there are three main types of police. More than three areas in Spain have their own police forces Basque Country, Catalonia and Navarre. Still, you won’t encounter them in Lanzarote.
The municipal police are under the direct control of local town halls “ayuntamiento”. They wear blue and white uniforms and usually patrol in white or blue cars. I think of them as armed traffic wardens, but don’t ever tell them that.
The National Police deal with serious crimes such as theft, sexual assaults, violent crimes, terrorism, and drug offences. They are under the direct control of the government. Please don’t mess with these guys; I think they have to exchange their sense of humour for their machine gun.
The civil guard patrol Spain’s highways “traffico” and rural areas, often on motorcycles and quad bikes. They deal with road accidents and act as immigration officers and border guards. They wear green uniforms and olive-green caps.
Do not record or photograph any of the police while performing their duties. Although it is technically not illegal, it is still a pretty grey area; best to avoid it.
Also, don’t call them monkeys “Monos” or make monkey noises. That is the equivalent of calling a UK police officer a pig and grunting, funny, but they really don’t like it!
Car Hire Scams
You’ve arrived in Lanzarote, tired, the kids are grumpy, and now you must collect your hire car. You booked and pre-paid online to make it more straightforward when you arrived.
Car Not Available
The first scam is that they don’t have that model or category available. Now you have two choices; the first option is to cancel the agreement, and the second is to pay extra for an upgraded car you don’t need.
Assuming they have the right car for you, we now enter the twilight world of Car Hire insurance. If you do not take the costly excess insurance, the slightest mark on the returned vehicle will become apparent via a massive charge to your credit card.
Full Tank of Fuel
The petrol scam is well documented. The best system is full-full, and you hire the car with a full tank and return it full. Be aware that it must be full, or they will not refund you for the fuel. Some airports have petrol stations on-site, but they are not always open, and if you fill up elsewhere, the tank will not be deemed full.
You did everything correctly, photographed or videoed the car upon collection, and returned it to prove it was not damaged. Still, your card has been charged for “stains” or “cleaning”. Contact your card company and put it on chargeback.
As you stroll around enjoying the sites and the sunshine, an old lady dressed in black offers you a gift for good luck. Maybe some lucky heather, a flower or a handmade bracelet. Decline the gift and walk briskly away. You are now targeted as a tourist when you take the present as no local would take these gifts.
The other gift scam typically involves bracelets. Someone will stop you and offer to make you a free bracelet in front of you. If you accept, you will quickly find out the bracelet maker now wants to pay and will get agitated and quite vocal until you pay. Just say no firmly and walk away.
Card Shimming, Card Cloning and ATM scams
Card shimming isn’t typical in Lanzarote, but it has been reported. Criminals use a ” shim ” device fitted inside the machine’s card reader. The fact they are inside the machine makes them almost undetectable to the ATM user. The only difference is you may feel some resistance as you enter your card; if you are unsure, use another machine.
Never let your card leave your hand. Do not hand your card to a waiter or shopkeeper; pay at the table, bar or till. It only takes seconds to clone your details.
Also, get and keep a receipt for every transaction. Receipts will allow you to dispute later inflated or erroneous transactions.
Bird Poop Scam
This is an unsophisticated misdirection scam designed to pick your pockets. You are enjoying your walk around Lanzarote when white blobs appear on your shoulder from nowhere. An accomplice has thrown these, but you look to the skies cursing the innocent bird. A friendly “local” offers help to clean you up whilst picking your pockets.
Rip off Restaurants
By law, restaurants must display all food and drink prices, and the menu must include IVA, the Spanish equivalent of VAT. The main scams are menu items priced as “Market Price“; this is often done for fresh fish, which is illegal as the price for that day should be displayed as price per weight.
In tourist areas in Lanzarote, you may get a voucher for a discount, a free drink or another enticement to go to a specific restaurant. After eating and drinking, you hand your voucher over only to be told it has expired or is not valid on that day.
There is something you can do to fight back if this happens. Ask for the “hoja de reclamaciones” or complaints book. By law, every business in Spain must carry this official book and offer it up when asked. Suppose the establishment refuses to provide the book? In that case, it is a grave offence, and you should call the Municipal Police.
You will still be expected to pay for everything in full and then make a claim. You can claim later by going to the local town hall if you feel uncomfortable or intimidated. Explain you would like to make a complaint about an establishment; you will find them very helpful.
As in any enclosed space, keep valuables close by. Do not put money, valuables, or important documents in your luggage. The luggage systems are not secure, especially on buses where it is a free for all collecting luggage. The driver will open the luggage compartment and allow you to grab anything.
Crime on the Roads
Lanzarote still allows car hire companies to decorate their vehicles with logos. The logos make you instantly recognisable as a tourist and, therefore, more of a target for crooks.
The modus operandi is based on getting you to stop. Thieves can’t rob you whilst driving on the road at 80kph. If you are being flagged down by anyone other than the police, continue to a safe public, busy space and investigate.
Street and Beach Crime
Every city and town has a dark underbelly, and Lanzarote’s are no exception. Night time brings better pickings for opportunist thieves. You’ve had a great day, a few “vino collapsos”, and your guard is down as you walk back to your hotel.
Try to stay in busy, well-lit areas and keep your personal belongings hidden from sight. Thieves are like vampires. They like dark, unpopulated regions to carry out their dastardly deeds, and the garlic you had in your meal isn’t going to help you.
I shouldn’t have to say it, but don’t drink and drive. The limits in Lanzarote are lower than in the UK, and you should have a zero alcohol policy if you are driving. Remember, you are in a different country, and how other drivers use the road can be a shock to some.
It is an offence even to touch your mobile phone, so don’t. Driving in flip-flops is illegal, and so is not wearing a shirt. I was hoping you wouldn’t ask me why; I don’t make the rules. If you drive in Lanzarote, make yourself aware of the rules and avoid being distracted by all the beautiful sites.
Holiday clubs sprung up from the ashes of the unscrupulous timeshare industry, but the tactics are still the same. The difference is you have a cooling-off period in which you can cancel.
It works that you get approached in the street and receive a free scratch card, which is always a winner. If you are approached, politely decline and walk away.
Drugs and Illegal activities
You will forgo all Police protection if you are involved in illicit activities. The police often do stings and have been known to set up honey traps, a tactic not used in the UK.
Date rape drugs are available on prescription for insomnia in Spain. Do not leave your drink unattended; try to stay within a group or have a wingman watching out for you. At the first sign that something is wrong, ask the barman for a taxi home.
Despite bringing up several ways in which your visit to Lanzarote can be disrupted by pickpockets or tourist scammers, on the whole, Lanzarote is very safe for travellers.
Modern policing methods and the Spanish policy of having a visible police presence on the streets mean crime levels are low and keep Lanzarote safe for travellers.
Bring some common sense with you, and don’t put the rose-tinted glasses on just because it is sunny and the drinks are cheap. The island has an outstanding reputation, and I want you to have a great holiday there.