Italy – Tourist Scams in Florence

BY Beth Williams

Florence, Italy is a must see city for most tourists, and therefore popular for pickpockets and scam artist too.

Traveling through Florence, Italy can feel like wandering through an open-air, living museum. The most remarkable, most stunning collections of art are there to be discovered, but beware o the wittiest scam artists who will attempt to steal your personal treasures are there too.

Favorite Pickpocket Scams in Florence 

While a pickpocket could strike anywhere in Florence,  specific areas known for pickpockets include the Basilica of San Lorenzo and Market, Ponte Vecchio, the main station Santa Maria Novella, Pitti Palace, Battistero off San Giovanni, Piazza Michaelangelo, on the Via dei Cerretani from the train station to the Duomo, Galleria degli Uffizi (Museum), the Duomo and Piazza Signoria.

Public transportation is also a magnet for pick pockets frequenting bus lines 12/13 to Piazza Michelangelo and 7 to Fiesole. Lastly, beware of crowded corridors of trains.  The following are just a few of the more “reported” incidents of pickpocket scams reported by travelers that occurred in and around Florence Italy:

  1. The vicinity of the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge has always been a haunt for thieves. Teams of busy pickpockets specifically look for tourists unaware of their surroundings visiting this famous spot.  Many times the pickpockets are gypsy children who work in teams – one distracts the tourist, while the other removes something from their travel bag or purse.  Be very mindful of your possessions at this location.  Other scams popular at this location include gypsies who pass a tourist a baby, or a doll to catch them off guard. At the same time slightly older children pick their pockets.  Other pickpockets use the age old scam of the paper flower to distract.  This bridge is also an attractive area for children to steal from tourists who are busily window shopping or taking in the beautiful view of the city and Arno River.
  2. The Market in Piazza di San Lorenzo is a prime target for pick pockets as well. It is very easy be distracted by the wares being sold with the vendors trying to win your attention, plus the magnificent basilica in the center of it all. This is an area where you should pay very careful attention to your wallet, watch, or any valuable that you want to keep. Be mindful of who is near you and try to avoid this area at night.
  3. The Uffizi Museum is one of the oldest museums of the Western world. Unfortunately, it is possible to be overcharged for your ticket to view the exhibits. Prices are always posted, so double-check that you are charged the correct amount and receive proper change.
  4. Although some areas such as the Pitti Palace, surrounded by luxurious shops, appear to be an area where you can let your guard down, even a purse under a café table behind a small fence can be up for the taking.
  5. Be wary at the central train station, Santa Maria Novella, for little girls who grab anything they can reach and pass it off to another little girl who then runs away. It is very difficult to catch your stolen belongings because the girls continue to pass them off to one another and eventually disappear.
  6. Overcharging tourists is common too. If there is no price tag and salesperson does not offer a receipt, you have most likely been overcharged.  It is law that stores provide customers with receipts to ensure that stores record sales and pay appropriate taxes. Further, by not providing a receipt, it makes it impossible for you to dispute the charge or report the overcharge.
  7. For many it is heart wrenching to see the old, poor woman with young, crying children beg for money on the street. While your heart may tell you to give a Euro or two, listen to your head because once you give the woman, or group of women, money, they may persistently follow you begging for more.
  8. It is safest to use an ATM during the day and during bank opening hours. If you, for some reason, do not receive the money from the ATM, you then have the opportunity to immediately ask for assistance from bank personnel. Better yet, don’t use a ATM, go inside the bank.
  9. Internet Cafes and Laundromats are typically frequented by foreigners and the pickpockets know this. If you are using either be wary about another customer asking for assistance with a machine or having a question about the computer. If you get up from your chair, take your travel bag or cell phone with you. If you don’t the customer’s accomplice may steal it as you are distracted.
  10. Even in a bar you can be victimized. A man pretending to be drunk rests his hand on your shoulder and asks, “How would you react to this?” As he steps on one of your feet your attention goes immediately to the odd situation and your foot. While you are distracted and perhaps disoriented, another man goes for your cell phone, without you noticing.

Pigeon Caller Scam

This is a scam that plays out through-out Italy.  While the “Pigeon Caller” Scam is not too sneaky, if you know about it before hand. If you don’t you could be out a few of your hard earned Euros.  The Pigeon Caller Scams works like this.  You walk through a main square or tourist location when a man, woman, or even a child walks up to you, grabs your hand, and for some odd reason, opens your hand and places “corn” inside it.   When you begin to wonder what is going on, the “Pigeon Caller” whistles. Suddenly pigeons cover your arm – some may find this offensive, other may think it is cute.  Either way, the Pigeon Caller now has you half-way into his scam, as he or she finishes it by going for your camera and says he will take a picture of you with the “cute birds.”  If you don’t stop the “Pigeon Caller, he/she will take your picture then demand a heck of a lot of money for taking the picture.  You would be surprised how well this scam works, and that tourists pay the majority of the time.

Lesson Learned– Having peace of mind while traveling comes from knowing many of the scams that may be targeted against you “before you go.” That’s how to make yourself a “smart traveler.”  If you want additional protection against sneaky pickpockets and sneak thieves you might want to consider traveling with travel gear designed to keep your valuables secure.This type of travel gear has features designed to thwart thieves so you travel worry-free. Check out all the anti-theft travel gear, here.