Walking up to an automatic ticket vending machine at the Atocha train station, we were trying to familiarize ourselves with its functions when a young, clean cut, amenable Spaniard came to our aid. Within the 20 minutes he assisted us, he walked off with J.J.’s wallet that contained 1 debit card, 1 credit card and 1 savings account card from 3 different US banks. J.J. also lost his US passport ID card plus about $400 in euros.
In hindsight, there were a number of telltale signs. The man claimed that first machine that accepts cash was not working. We transferred to the next machine. The man stood so close that I am certain that he noted J.J.’s PIN number He claimed that he was also going to a station where we have to transfer train to the airport. But then at the last minutes, he said “good bye” claiming that his friend was waiting for him. He was unsure of the layout of the station and took us up and down the stairs. Taking escalators, twice they stopped in the mid-flight allowing him to get close to J.J. to assist in carrying his baggage. Perhaps the escalator stopping was instigated by him or his accomplices. I thank him for his help but did not take his photo for our blog.
Reporting a theft to security and airport customer service agents proved to be pointless. J.J. and I proceeded to the airport. After the two of us checked in, we located a McDonald and J.J. began the stolen cards reporting process. In a matter of 70 minutes, the thief had already withdrawn nearly US$2,000 from 2 accounts.
The two of us have met countless strangers all over the world who selflessly gave us assistance when one was needed. Unlike large cities in Italy where we exercise extra cautionary measures, here in Spain, we were relaxed. Perhaps too relaxed. This was a good lesson. We will no longer accept unrequested assistance from strangers.
Recalling that our dear friend Niké, an Italian who speaks excellent Cantonese approached a group of Chinese tourists in Vatican square asking if they needed help in Mandarin. She told us that they stared at her and walked quickly away. Niké’s interpretation was that these Chinese tourists thought she was a sophisticated thief. I had a similar experience. When I encountered an American woman trying to take her selfie in front of a famous temple in Japan, I asked if she would like me to take her photo. She exclaimed, “No, no, no!” and walked off quickly. I suppose all of these individuals had unfortunately experiences with scoundrels.
To summarize, today was a good day. There is property loss, but no physical harm. The incident reminded me to be focus on the present moment, to be mindful and count our blessings.
Aloha -- Cathi