Beggars and Cons, Rome
Step 1: A man approached us asking for directions to the "Colosseo". I didn't speak Italian and told him so.
Step 2: A second man (well-dressed in a suit) appears about a minute later and shows us his POLICE ID, and asks for our passports. (What he doesn't know is that we'd been warned about this modus operandi...)
Step 3: He's jabbering away in Italian to someone else who just turns out to be the first man who'd asked us for directions (thereby confirming we were tourists). Then we are interrogated as follows, "U speak English? Good! do you know this man? You were talking to him... was he trying to sell u drugs? This area is where deals take place, so I have to check your documents and money"... More jabbering in Italian, and the first guy shows the plainsclothed "cop" his documents and money which are promptly checked and returned to him.
Step 4: The "cop" asks us for our documents and money so he can CHECK them!!!
(When it's happening, it's so smooth and so fast, that my brother was actually going to hand over his things to the guy. I actually yelled at him not to and told the "cop", "We don;t have our passports with us, but we just shopped at the UPIM store (a large department store), so if you wish we will come there with you and you can check the cash we paid there."
What freaked me out was how fast the guy's intimidating tone changed. He said it was ok and actually SHOOK HANDS WITH US before the two of them disappeared. We were left stunned and thanking our stars we'd bbeen warned that this could happen.
In retrospect, it seems so easy to figure out that it's a con-game, but at that moment, u tend to think "Drugs? no way!! here, take and check my papers, money etc. It's all in order..." No prizes for guessing that the money wouldn't be returned...
The sheer brazenness of these people scared me, esp. since it was in broad daylight with so many people around. Luckily for me, it was really my first day and I was 10 times as careful afterwards...
Some of the street vendors in Rome have become very aggressive. Several times on our last trip we were approached by roving street vendors who actually put things in our hands and then insisted we pay for them. When we would try to hand the stuff back, they wouldn't take it, holding up their hands and still insisting that we pay for it. The first time this happened I was stunned. I though the man thought I had dropped something and was giving it back to the person who had dropped it. After several attempts to hand back the shirt that was thrust into my hand, saying it wasn't mine, being told he wanted 10 euros for it, I finally said I was leaving. That was when the man took back his shirt. After happening to us on several occasions, we decided that being polite is not the way to go. You have to play your own scam on them in order to get rid of them.. My sister just started putting the items in her bag and saying "thank you", and walking away. The vendor would follow her and ask her for money, saying that she must pay for the item that was given to her. She would say "No, you gave me this as a gift", then ignore them. At that point they would insist on getting their item back and leave. I guess the vendors would spread the word to their friends at that same location , becouse we wouldn't be bothered at that sight for the rest of the time we were there.
This happened to us at the forum, the spanish steps, piazza del popolo, and trevi fountain. Just be aware and don't be afraid to get aggressive in your response to them. They expect us to be to polite to say no not for us to give them a hard time.
Always count your change right there when you get it. I got stiffed 50 Euros somewhere in Rome when I wasn't paying attention. Ash was smarter - he caught on to it immediately when they tried to short-change him in a restaurant.
So, no matter if it's a street-vendor, a store, or a restaurant - always count your change immediately!
A young guy grabs my husbands hand and starts weaving a string bracelet on his wrist, chatting and joking around to keep him from walking away. So then another guy comes up to me going, LOOK! LOOK! He keeps trying to grab my hand. Since my husband is already trapped I stand there and let the guy do a bracelet. Then they ask for 50 euro! My husband gives 5 euro, and the guy acts all insulted. I give my pocket change, about 2 euro, say that is all we have, and walk away. I guess they think Americans have no concept of how much money a euro is and will think 50 euro for a piece of string is a good deal! If you do not respond well to strangers coming up and grabbing you, keep an eye out for these weavers and stay away from them! They will run up and take your hand before you know what is going on.
Since my last stay in Rome I have noticed that the number of what can only be described as "annoying/disquieting con men" has risen exponentially to the number of visitors. The area most affected is of course the city center, close to the main archaeological sites and attractions (Colosseum, Trevi Fountain ... ).
Tourists should beware of 3 main kinds of con: The Rose Scam, The Picture Scam, The Gladiator Scam.
The Rose Scam: a guy holding in his hand a bunch of very questionable roses walks up to you girls and puts a Rose in your hands. He will tell you it's free 'cos you're so pretty (and don't get me wrong ... you are but that's another story ;). He then proceeds to pester your husband/boyfriend or whomever is accompanying you until he pays him a totally arbitrary/outrageous price for the "free" rose. Since they work in groups I have seen them get violent with tourists who refused to pay so beware of these guys, avoid making eye contact and do not accept anything from them.
The Picture Scam: a guy will come up to you holding a Polaroid camera and will snatch a picture of you near a monument, requesting afterward that you pay (too much) for it, because apparently you didn't dodge fast enough :) Ridiculous I know ... still avoid those guys as well.
Last but not least ...
The Gladiator Scam: if you're a big fan of Russell Crowe and have an acquired taste for cheesiness go ahead and take a picture with one of those guys who parade up and down Rome's historic sites dreessed up as gladiators. Still make sure you set a price with them beforehand, otherwise they'll try to rob you blind :)
Sometimes there are gypsies aggressively begging in or near the train station, on subways, etc. You need to pay attention if they are around, but don't worry obsessively. Most of the time, especially on my last few visits, I don't see them and am not bothered by them.
However, it can happen. It is especially disturbing if a young woman carrying a baby accosts you.
A good strategy is to say, "Vai via!", (vye VEE-ah!) It means simply "Go away" but they'll be surprised that you said it!
Polizia! (poh-leet-TSEE-ah!) - which means "Police!" - is another good word.
Also, it pays to be suspicious of anyone who offers to help you if you haven't asked for any help. This is especially true around train stations. Do NOT let anyone take your ticket to "help" you find your train. As my VT friend and Rome guru, Bill McCalpin, says, just put on your New York face and New York attitude.
Italians in tourist towns see so many tourists, it is possible, but unlikely they will try to help you unsolicited. Often, only a con artist is there to "help."
Unfortunately all around Rome you will see people begging for money, men and women both young and old alike, sitting on the streets with cups or hats in front of them for money. But there are also people begging at Roma Termini (I had a lady come up to me and put her hands in my face for the change from the train ticket I had just bought from a machine). It is up to you whether to give your money to these people or not, this is just to tell you that they are there and there are quite a number of them.
There is absolutely no way that you will be able to see Rome and all its sight and NOT be confronted by some type of seller or con artist. They line the streets and alleyways to all of the sights. Most are fine and are just trying to sell you knock-offs of designer sunglasses, purses, and belts. They are truly harmless, and just trying to make a living... however illegal it is. Most of these guys are illegal immigrants that are trying to feed themselves and their families from the profits they make here, so don't get angry at them. If you don't want to buy, simply don't make eye contact, and if they approach you, just say "No Thanks."
Remember, it does the world no good to argue or be angry at these people.
The beggers on the streets are a major annoyance, especially since some of them are in 'real' need, but how can you tell. My wife goes out of her way to help, and I on the other hand, am a real skeptic. I guess we cancel each other out.
I see some of these people, with twisted limbs, lying on the cement for hours on end, and shake my head in wonderment. Are they for real, or will they be picked up later this evening by Mercedes. As I say, I'm a skeptic.
I get annoyed by the outstretched hands at every church entrance, with the familiar sing-song tone.
My tip, give when you 'feel' it is right. I'm tough, but I give probably twice (?) a day. I hope my decisions are sound. My wife on the other hand.....
Both of this beggars, on a first view, look old, sick and poor and many people gives them a coin. I was watching both for a couple of minutes but none of them have rised head up. Than I came closer in order to give them a coin but my attention was cought by the look of their hands. Fact is, their hands are young and the skin is smooth and well nourished. Definetely this are not hands of those who have hard way of living. Anyway, I gave up of giving them coin.
Next time you're about to give your hard-earned cash to that elderly woman with the pathetically twisted body who is begging near one of the major sites or churches in Rome (usually the Forum, Coliseum or Campidoglio) -- take another look.
Hmmm. Notice that she is bent over, so low that you can't see her face. Notice that her face is completely covered. Take another look at the hand accepting the donation (if it isn't covered by a worn glove). It looks younger than mine!
If you want to pay for a street performance, go ahead!
All around town you will see elderly women in darkly colored clothes with mysterious limps. Whether or not they are faking, I don't know. But, once again, these people normally are of no harm to you. If yuo chose to drop some change in their hats. If not, don't bother them, because just their presence should not bother you.
When I was in Rome, my boyfriend and I were stopped by this man asking for directions. He also kept asking if we were American, which both of us thought was pretty strange after the incident. Anyway, this other guy walks up to us and flashes his "police badge" at us and asks if the guy is trying to sell us drugs. Later on, he asks to see our passports and money. Before I knew it, he had his hands on our money, but I stopped him from taking it from us. We suspect that they were cons working as a pair. A tip would be not to go walking about after 8pm in the summer as these people get more daring. Also, if you go and have pizza, always ask for the price first. This guy didn't even weigh the pizza and that tiny slice cost us 6 euros!
Holiday of a lifetime. You work hard all year to earn enough to see the Eternal City. And then as soon as you land, there they are. BEGGARS. Sometimes they are dirty, filthy, vile drunks and drugies. Often they are dressed nicely. And then they have the children. Sick, twisted women with access to a Socialized Government Housing and Benefits Scheme. And they take babies into dirty areas and use them as bait. Sick. Take the kids off them I say. If they cannot feed them, as they say, why allow it to go on? A few coins won’t help, but the orphanage will.
LIARS, DRUNKS, DRUG ABUSERS, THIEVES. Would you give money to drug dealers? No? Then don’t give the beggars money. You just make more Beggars! Where do you think their next high is coming from? You! Don’t do it.
Pay in smaller bills or count out the money as you are paying!
When paying for a taxi cab-- be especially careful. I am fairly well traveled and thought I was smart enough as I had never been a victim of crime in Europe.
I was with a large group of people including kids. We had to split up and had to take three cabs. The cab ride was something like 43 euros. I handed the cab driver a 50 and started picking up my bags. He had his had open and said that I only had given him a 10. Sure enough, there was only 10 euros in his hand He had dropped us off at a busy intersection with virtually no sidewalk so everything was very hectic. I looked at my wallet (I had just gone to the ATM machine at the airport) and saw several larger bills so I didn't think much of it.
A friend I was travelling with that had taken another cab told me his cab driver pulled the same thing on him. When we got to our room-- we counted our money and realized we both had been taken. I was out 90 euros-- the 50 I had originally given him then the 40 I gave him when I 'thought' I might have given him the wrong bill. The group in the third cab paid in denominations of 10 euros so they were fine.
** Don't let the cab driver drop you off at a busy intersection where someone can grab your bags. We were told that sometimes, they 'help' you with your bags to the sidewalk only to have someone in a bike or motorbike waiting to pluck it. Always COUNT OUT THE EURO DENOMINATION AS YOU'RE PAYING! We found out they target people traveling with children-- heavy intersection, excited kids, different currency all make it too easy!