The peamen – sometimes also referred to as the potato men are the scourge of Benidorm and should be given a very wide berth. They operate in gangs, usually on busy thoroughfares such as the Levante promenade, on the Avd Mediterraneo or around the Indoor Market.
They entice people to stop by shouting and cheering, waving €20 notes that they have supposedly just won by guessing which potato half the pea is hidden under – hence the name. But the ‘crowd’ is actually members of the gang, some of which are Brits to make it look more authentic.
All nationalities have fallen victim to this crime, not solely British holidaymakers and locals here have been complaining about it to the police for years and years. The gangs have lookouts that whistle when they see the police approaching and disband, but quickly reassemble as soon as they have passed.
It is very much a game of cat and mouse, with the local police saying that there is nothing they can do apart from confiscate any money found on them and issue a fine until a change in the law has been passed in Madrid. The police know exactly who they are already.... one politician even said they know the colour of their eyes and names of their children! But what hope of a change in law when the country does not even have a ruling Government and it looks like the Spaniards will be going to the polling stations for the third time in a year - on Christmas Day!
But shockingly one of the opposition parties has proposed fining those that stop to take part – ie the victim, stating that if people do not stop and engage with the scam then the problem will go away! Fortunately the Councillor for Security, Lorenzo Martinez doesn’t seem to agree on that and said that it would be a double tragedy for the victims – once being scammed by the gang then on top of that being fined. Next they will be suggesting fining those that have been mugged for wearing a watch or carrying their wallets with them!
If the police here adopted the British system of patrolling on foot, especially in the areas where the gangs congregate, then the situation wouldn’t disappear but certainly decrease. Apart from the temporary beach police who do walk up and down the front, the rest of the force appear to have an aversion to walking, instead sitting in their cars and driving around.
In order to get funding for more police from central government then two things need to happen. All residents must register on the pardon at the Town Hall and secondly – the one which applies to holidaymakers, any crime, no matter how small needs to be reported to the police – and ensure that you are given a report and crime number. Peamen and especially pickpockets are not exclusive to the Benidorm – ALL resorts and city centres have their fair share. The problem is far worse in say Barcelona and London but simple precautions, such as not taking too much cash out with you, leaving your passports behind and not wearing any obviously expensive jewelry will hopefully lessen your chances of being targeted.