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Italy - Where and How Thieves Target Tourists in Rome

Rome Italy - a city where many say it all began - and a city where many report is the pickpocket capitol of Italy due to the amount of tourist that visit the city.  Almost everyone going to Italy will visit Rome one time in their life - just make sure you keep track of your wallet and purse while visiting the great sites.

Rome is a very large city packed full with ancient sites, museums, magnificent churches, and excellent food, making Rome an excellent home for pick pockets.  Pickpockets and scams can occur in all corners of Rome, no place is sacred, and it takes a savvy traveler to come out unscathed.  Areas where pick pockets are most active include:

  1. The Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna), the main train station (Roma Termini), the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Venezia, Piazza Navona, Capitoline Hill, the Roman Forum, the Vatican area, popular shopping areas such as Via Condotti, Via Nazionale and Via del Corso, Via dei Fori Imperiali, plus the 64 bus (a.k.a., “wallet express”), 8 tram and H bus that travels between Trastevere and Termini station.
  2. Perhaps the number one location for pick pockets and thieves in Rome may be the main train station, Roma Termini. At this train station, the A and B metro lines cross. When using the metro, secure your belongings when among large crowds. Pickpockets will use this hectic environment to push as if they are part of the crowd, making it difficult for you to notice as your luggage is being lifted or pockets being picked. Even traveling with your wallet in a front pocket with a hand covering it may seem safe, but once a fellow “passenger” bumps into you and knocks you off balance, you will most likely move your hand and leave your wallet open for the nabbing.
  3. Pickpockets have been known for years to target tourists while visiting the Spanish Steps - You can see by the photo to the right how jam packed with tourists the location can become - and likewise how easy it is for pickpockets to operate in the location. Browsing the wares being sold at the bottom of the Spanish Steps may be tempting - but browsers beware - if you are not planning on making a purchase, don’t be surprised if the seller becomes very aggressive and intimidating.
  4. Similar to the pop-up vendors at the Spanish Steps, people selling roses or cheap trinkets can also be very persistent in pushing their goods – even following tourists. If ignoring the person does not work, simply walk away. And be aware of pickpockets in this densely populated tourist hot spot, especially at night.
  5. While strolling around the Vatican City, be cautious of unofficial tour guides offering to share the secrets of the city. You are not obliged to pay these “guides” – rather a tip would be acceptable – and to avoid an uncomfortable situation, ask first if payment is involved. Many of these guides are simply trying to practice their knowledge and skills.
  6. The Coliseum is one of the seven wonders of the medieval world and attracts people and pick pockets from every corner of the planet. Although it is very tempting, think twice before having your photo taken with one of the costumed gladiators – the photo opportunity is not free, rather a customary fee (€5-€20) is expected. This may be a “must-do” for you, but make an informed decision, so you can weigh the costs.
  7. If you love Italy, then the Trevi Fountain may be your ticket to return. Legend says that if you toss three coins in the fountain, then you will return to Rome. You may lose more than just three coins, however, if you are not savvy near this stunning site. Similar to the Spanish Steps, there are sales people with money to be made, by selling junk or stealing. Simply steer clear from strangers and do not make eye contact.
  8. Even during the daytime hours in a nice neighborhood in the Capitoline Hill area, one can find themselves surrounded by a mother and her children insistently begging for money. Sometimes it may feel like an escape plan is necessary as the children try to reach out towards your purse or pockets.
  9. Traveling by coach may seem like a safer method of travel, but it can quickly turn to a nerve-wracking experience because luggage is stored below the bus, rather than on the bus with the passenger. Especially if you are the last passengers to board a coach, your bags may be on the outer side of the luggage hold, making it easy for thieves to snatch them as the coach makes its regular stops.
  10. While dining in Rome, double-check your bill to ensure an extra entrée was not added. Most often this is a simple mistake, but it is also possible that the waiter had other intentions and will not be pleased that you discovered the scam.
  11. Similar to Florence, or any city with train access, beware of helpful strangers offering to assist you with your luggage. Your luggage may simply disappear. Keep your hands and eyes on your luggage at all times.
  12. There are some areas where men may cat call to women, “bella, bella”, meaning beautiful, or even taunt men, “bello, bello” while snatching your belongings without you noticing. This kind of attention makes most people feel uncomfortable and lose track of their surroundings.
  13. Never exchange currency with a person on the street, even if they offer you an excellent rate. Search for legitimate looking currency exchange banks instead to guarantee you receive authentic Euros.
  14. Examine change after making a purchase to ensure that you are not given money in a foreign currency such as Swiss Francs.
  15. Panhandlers and vendors can be found on sidewalks and streets all over Rome. They are often selling counterfeit purses, jewelry, watches, sunglasses, tripods, etc. It may be necessary to walk on the opposite side of the street, or even in the street, to avoid these aggressive salespeople.
  16. There are small gangs of young people who work often in twos. One will slash purses or backpacks and pass the stolen goods to an accomplice to circumvent being caught.
  17. Think twice before purchasing items on the street from an unfamiliar person – such as designer purses, leather jackets, designer shoes, etc. – The person has a sad story with a long tale of woes; they are lost, wallet was stolen, etc. “Can you spot me €50 or €70?”, they may ask. To give the money only seems fair in exchange for the great items they just gave you. Remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. After the man is gone, you notice that the leather is fake and beneath the Made in Italy label, is the original Made in Taiwan label.

There are many illegal, unmarked taxis in Rome waiting for inexperienced tourists. Only use taxis that are registered, with some sort of a driver identification card, and make sure it has a meter. If the cab does not have a meter, settle the price before entering the taxi. It is a good idea to ask all taxi drivers for an estimate of a fare before traveling, so there are no surprises in the end.

Why You Should Think Twice About Throwing Money Into the Trevi Fountain

This is a great video that shows gypsy thieves going into the Trevi Fountain and removing change in front of hundreds of witnesses.  Keep your change in your pocket unless you want to donate it to thieves.

Pickpockets and Transportation in Rome

Traveling by Metro in Rome is quite convenient. There are only two lines and they stop at nearly every tourist site. Because of this, many pick pockets work the trains in the hunt for unsuspecting and unfamiliar tourists. Below are some specific techniques to watch out for when traveling by metro or bus in Rome.

  • Shortly before a metro arrives, the station may begin to quickly fill with people. Two or three men approach the platform together and then split-up, as if they are not together. The two men are observing the other passengers. The men disembark at the next stop, successfully walking away together with the wallet of an unassuming foreigner.
  • The metro train is full and a fellow passenger motions that there is more space in his wagon. Once you make your way to the empty wagon, accomplices move in and separate you and your travel partner. Once you are separated, you concentration is on not losing your partner. In the meanwhile, the helpful passenger has his hand up your shirt, unzips your neck pouch, and removes a €50 bill without you noticing.
  • Some skillful pickpockets may even remove your wallet, lift the cash, and place the wallet back in your pocket – without you feeling a thing.
  • Entering a train in a crowd is dangerous for the unfamiliar. It is better to stay back and let the crowd enter first. When entering with too many people, it is quite easy to be separated from your group, and once you are alone, you are a target for theft.
  • Anytime you feel a fellow passenger on a bus or train bump or touch you, even gently, this is a sign to immediately check your surroundings. The pick pocket may not be stealing from your, rather their hand is in your travel partner’s pocket.
  • Be aware of the age old saying "things may not seem as they are."  look at the photograph to the right.  It looks like a poor old lady begging with a tin cup, wearing a bonnet and dress and walking stumped over with a walking cane.  It reality, it is a young person (or healthy adult for that matter) who dresses up like that just to work on the sympathy of tourists.  You will be able to spot this scam when the beggar seems to hide their face - look out for so
  • Watching Italians argue can be entertaining because the language is so beautiful it seems like art. But as you are paying such close attention to the argument while waiting at a train stop, another person may have their hand in your purse. Once you realize your wallet is gone, you also realize that the argument was planned beforehand to distract you.
  • Because all walks of life use public transportation, you will have the opportunity to experience them at the metro stations. A scruffy, homeless man who appears to be drunken trips and falls onto a business man who is standing at the ticket machine. The homeless man apologizes and walks away – with the business man’s wallet.
  • Sometimes there are people who seem out of place, such as the man with an ill-fitting suit. The more you look, you notice that he is very preoccupied with his surroundings, and he happens to be moving toward you. This is a strong signal, that this person has marked you as a target.

Scooter Thieves

This is becoming less common than say 10 years ago, but it does still happen now and again. Scooters are everywhere in Rome, and normally they are used as a quick form of transport along the cobbled Roman streets. However, every now and again an opportunist thief will be on the saddle, looking for innocent victims to rob. It is simple, they look for a bag or camera hanging loosely off a shoulder, drive up and snatch it. Therefore, this is another reason to keep your valuables close. If this does happen to you, then just try to kick the bike away, or at least try to get the number plate and report it to the police.

Additional Ideas to Keep Your Belongings Safe from Pickpockets

Here are a few unique items that can help keep your valuables safe from pickpockets:

  • To avoid asking a stranger to snap a photo of the two of you, the Quickpod Compod Slim Tripod is an excellent solution, as it allows you to hold the tripod and snap your own photo.
  • The PacSafe DaySafe 100 is a slash proof, snatch proof and tamperproof bag with an inner security compartment inside that locks closed and can even be locked to a secure fixture.  The outside pockets of the bag feature security zippers that keep the pockets that you cannot see security from slick fingered pickpockets and street thieves.
  • Women may enjoy the convenience of a multi-pocket security handbag with a feature to lock the top zipper of the bag and a slash proof shoulder strap while men may appreciate the compact PacSafe MetroSafe 200, which can be worn as a shoulder bag or a waist pack.

If you would like to provide additional security to your valuables when visiting areas that are known to be frequented by pickpockets, you may want to consider any one of a number of ingenious travel security products that have been specifically designed to give travelers additional peace of mind when traveling.  Some of these products include special slash proof bags with locks, special hidden money and travel document holders, hidden money belts and wallets, neck pouches, and wrist, arm or leg wallets. To view a variety of these items, many including demonstration videos that show how they protect your valuables, visit www.corporatetravelsafety.com.

To fully educate and prepare yourself for a chance encounter with a petty thief, check out "Traveler Beware, an Undercover Cop's Guide to Avoiding Pickpockets," an audio book by Detective Kevin Coffey.  All of the cutting edge travel gadgets discussed here, as well as the "pickpocket training" CD to give you peace of mind when traveling can be found at www.corporatetravelsafety.com.