Pickpockets and Purse-Snatchers, Rome

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  • sue_stone's Profile Photo

    Keep your hand on your wallet!

    by sue_stone Updated Nov 7, 2004

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    beware in crowds

    Yes, the usual warning - be very wary of pickpockets, especially when catching public transport or when in one of the main tourist areas in Rome.

    We were on a crowded bus and witnessed a pickpocket in action - the person standing next to us was silly enought to have their wallet in their back pocket and if we hadn't yelled out, they would have lost it!

    Just be sensible and alert.

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  • Pick Pockets, WATCH YOUR BACK

    by plasma800 Updated Feb 15, 2010

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    Little pickpockets are amazing! It's a must that you always be on guard.

    Here's my tips.

    First things first, absolutely DO NOT be a target.
    1) Dress accordingly. Romans are very savvy with their dress and almost no one dresses down. If you are standing on a street corner in shorts, flip flops, a University of Iowa T shirt and a Nascar #3 hat you are going to be hounded constantly. Street beggars, normal beggars and the pick pockets are going to be all over you like flies on... well you get the point.

    Dress up a little and Dress smart. Nice comfortable slacks, nice black shoes that are good for walking in and a decent and not overtly loud button up shirt. No one buy young kids where jeans or T shirts and if they do, they are very very hip! If it's cold a nice black overcoat and a scarf is a must!

    So don't stand out!

    2) Do not keep anything valuable in loose pockets and DO NOT leave anything super valuable in your hotel room. If you can wear a jacket, use a very thin wallet or money clip to hold just a few bucks and a credit card. Keep it in your inside cost pocket. If it's in your back pocket, it's gone, promise! And of course never set anything down.

    3) Don't look lost. Check your map before you leave the hotel. Know where you are going and look like you have some place to go with a purpose. The thieves love the lost people. If anyone tries to help you, be on guard, chances are they are distracting you! If you DO need to check a map, which does happen, try these tips.
    a) Buy a book or magazine in Italian and slip a thin map inside. Have the map already folded to the area you are going to be in. Stop, put your back against a wall and pretend to read a book. Lots of people stand around reading books while smoking a cigarette, fits right in.
    b) go into a cafe and order a coffee, find a small table, sit down and look there. Better yet, use the bathroom and look there.

    If they see you standing around with a tourist book and a map, chances are you're going to be hounded. Lots of people do it, let THEM be hounded.

    4) Watch each others back. Anytime two of you are a few feet apart, look around. It works like this. My girl went up to a stand to by postcards. I was smoking so I stood back a few feet. Within seconds a young boy (16, 17, 18) approached her from behind and visually checked all of her outer pockets and the shook his head no... (to someone, not sure who) and then pretended to look for postcards too. She saw my visual warning by the look on my face and immediately went inside the stand, he followed straight away and so did I. Once I had him pinned between her and I, he wanted out bad and I wouldn't let him. He asked in Italian how much for a single postcard and the stand worker ran his butt off, but he had to get around me and I played the oops im in your way again game? I'm sorry Oops again? Either way, watch each other carefully and always.

    5) When taking photos, have one person watch, the other take pictures and of course don't let anyone take your camera to take pictures unless you can confirm he's from Texas or something.

    6) Watch the crowds! Try to stay out of thick crowds if you can help it. If you find yourself in a crowd, hang onto EVERYTHING!

    Just always be on guard and understand that the airport and train station are muddled with them and at every tourist attraction in Rome, especially during high season is going to be full of them.

    Watch the kids too, they gang up and distract you. They throw baby dolls at you and you think it's a real baby and your camera is cut and gone. Or purse.

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    by icunme Written Aug 14, 2006

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    Just received the following note from a friend who was here in Rome and returned to Florence.
    Well we journeyed to Firenze and arrived intact. Only 5 gypsies approached us at the Rome termini. The last two helped us put our luggage on the train and while Pat was asking me if she should give a tip the one gal had her hand in Pat's purse!!!!!!!!!! Pat yelled at her and I not knowing what was up gave the gal 2 euros. Pat was still is shock trying to explain and I didn't comprehend until I had already given her the euros. She proceeded down the aisle of the train talking to folks until she approached a priest and he started in with a lecture and the two of them emgaged a major debate!!!! So we vowed after this experience that we would, no matter how difficult the task with the luggage, that we would assist "ourselves" and need not outside aid. BUT as soon as we started to unload at the Firenze termani, a young man asked to help and we said YES!!!! hahaha!!! He was a passenger on the train. I personally thought the two that helped us in Rome were passengers......no.......gypsies........
    Well - Ms Gypsy, if you see me and a bear in a phone booth - help the bear!

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  • maritoni's Profile Photo

    A tap on your leg is 1 sign...

    by maritoni Updated Dec 20, 2004

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    Gypsy with nice hands

    We were told by Romans that a tap on your leg, especially on METRO stations, is a test for the pick pocketers to tourists... If a person feels the tap, then this person is alert and may be a difficult victim... but if the person tapped did not respond or move, then he or she is an easy target for pickpocketing...

    We were also warned that they work as teams - sometimes a whole family (with children) and beware of men carrying folded newspapers or men PRETENDING to be blind and walking with canes... The "blind man" is just looking at the bags to target....

    Also, if you have a soft heart and see some gypsies begging - check out their hands. - before giving them a euro or 2. They are usually young women with no wrinkles in their hands - nor are hunchback after their racket. They cover their faces with scarves - you will hardly see a face - but the hands do not lie the age of a person... I saw plump, non calloused, & wrinkle-free hands of these beggars.

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    by AlexDJ Written Jan 6, 2006

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    When you are walking, Please Hold on Tight to Your Bags!
    Gipsy children, normally in groups of 4 nr 5, are expert criminals. While one of them tries to divert your attention by showing you something, even a piece of cardboard, the other pick your pocket. Try to avoid them if you see them coming. If you are forced to walk by them, just let them see that you know what they have in mind and they will leave you alone. However the children can be easily spotted. More threatening are the pic-pockets that operate on the buses. Be especially careful on number 64 (Termini-Vatican) and on the Underground which are used mostly by the tourists.

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    by travelfrosch Updated Feb 4, 2006

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    As is the case in most big cities, crime is an issue in Rome. Unlike many cities, violent crime is not a great danger. But there are extremely proficient pickpockets, both individuals and groups, that operate near the train station and the usual tourist areas. Here's what you can do to make yourself as difficult a target as possible:

    - Try to call as little attention to yourself as possible; e.g. don't talk loudly in a foreign language (such as English) or wear distinctive clothing

    - Don't flash cash or reach for your wallet in a public place

    - Keep focus: assume any commotion is a diversion, and any contact by strangers might be a pickpocketing attempt

    - Carry as few valuables as possible in your wallet. Leave most of your cash, credit cards, passport, and other critical items in a money belt, or in your hotel safe

    The bottom line: while there's no reason to be paranoid, realize that you're a target as a tourist because (1) you're likely to be carrying lots of goodies, and (2) you're likely to be distracted. Enjoy yourself, but "Occhi agli Portofogli" (keep your eyes on your wallet).

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    by jancola Updated Jan 13, 2012

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    You've read about them, and believe me, it is as bad as you've heard. Most days, I kept a lock on my travelling bag (a shoulder sack the size of a large purse) but one day I skipped it. I wanted to carry my Fodor's, but it didn't fit with the lock, so I left it off. This meant that our bag was slightly open, just a smidge. Stupid me. I may as well have worn a sign that said "ATTACK ME" in thief-speak.

    Twice that day, my boyfriend and I were accosted by pickpockets. The first time, we were coming out of a church, and a little boy came up to my boyfriend trying to sell him, literally, a piece of cardboard. While my bf looked at the kid in confusion, his mother snuck around behind him and started picking his pocket. Luckily I saw her; she snuck a map out of his pocket before I shoved bf out the door. It was a free map, so we just ran. There's no reasoning with that kind of brazen theft.

    Later, while walking slowly up a steep hill, a flock of children surrounded bf, who was carrying the offensive bag. They pinned close to him, so that he would have to push one of them over to get away. These were little kids, okay, you don't want to have to push them over. But they started reaching into bf's bag, RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM, so he had to shove them pretty hard to get away. It was mortifying.

    Moral of this story is, no open bags. Not even a little bit.

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  • mccalpin's Profile Photo

    Pickpockets and con men

    by mccalpin Updated Jul 30, 2007

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    Although most of Rome is no more dangerous than any other major city, there are a few areas in which local thieves like to prey. Be careful at the main train station (Stazione Termini), the Via dei Fori Imperiali (the road between the Collisseum and Piazza Venezia), and similar places that are very crowded with tourists in summer (such as Piazza di Spagna).

    Thieves are looking for tourists who are not aware of their surroundings. So before you go out, put your money and credit cards either in a money belt or in a deep front pocket, empty any bags of anything other than what you need today, and in general, make it hard for someone to take something off your person without you knowing it. Then, when you go out, avoid the crowds and look around from time to time, just as you might in any big city.

    As I like to say, put on your "New York" face...note that people from large urban settings such as New York normally don't have a problem in Italy.

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  • chiara76's Profile Photo

    the pickpockets.

    by chiara76 Written Nov 8, 2004

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    I was afraid of them before the travel to Rome although it was no problem with them there. I could see them, they are mainly near the most famous places in Rome like the Spanish Steps or the Fountain di Trevi and you easily can see them. So if you are careful and take your money for example in the bag in front of you you can be sure everything will be ok.
    I suppose they also are in the underground but in my opinion the underground there is so crowded that even the pickpockets have the problem to steal something:)

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  • mapakettle's Profile Photo

    Subway thieves.....

    by mapakettle Updated Mar 24, 2004

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    we should all watch this before travelling

    Be extremely cautious when travelling on the subway. A favourite tactic is to crowd you, and distract while a co-worker pursuits your hard earned dollars. (or Euros)

    Don't think you will notice someone putting their hand in your purse or hip pocket, this is what they do, they train hard, the're good. Take precautions.

    You will be distracted by one person, while another person will take liberties with your belongings, then pass it along to someone else, and if you make accusations, they won't have it in their possession any longer. Then you could feel threatened, and ......

    Just remember, pickpockets are much better at their craft then we are at defending ourselves against their craft.

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  • wilocrek's Profile Photo

    Common Sense!!!

    by wilocrek Written Jan 28, 2008

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    I have been to Rome several times in both Summer and Winter and have found that simply using common sense in most cases is the best safety tip of all! However here are a few others that I have used successfully.

    - Though some people use money belts, I have found having a jacket with a zipper pocket works well. In the summer I took to wearing shorts with zippered or button pockets and kept the majority of my cash in a envelope in those pockets. In my wallet I would only have one credit card and just a little cash. When needed I would refill my wallet with cash in a discrete manner. That way if I got robbed they got a wallet with just a little cash and one credit card that I would cancel immediately. I kept my other cards in the hotel safe or a seperate pocket. As clever as pickpocket may be I doubt many of them are good enough to unzip or unbutton your pockets without you knowing unless you are really distracted. That said.......

    - Be aware of your surroundings. I just assumed that people were looking to pick my pocket, so when I was in a crowded metro I kept my hands close to my pockets and was aware of people around me and of anybody who brushed up against me for even a moment. If you have a bag or purse make sure its in front of you instead of to your side or on your back...again common sense. Using these very basic methods have proven to be effective in all my travels and specifically while I was in Rome. No reason to walk in fear, rather walk aware instead! Overall I found Rome to be very safe, even at night....enjoy yourself!

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  • Lacristina's Profile Photo

    Wear Your Money Belt!

    by Lacristina Updated Feb 24, 2007

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    The money belt I use

    While Rome is generally much safer than American cities, there are many skillful pickpockets about.

    Many people who will tell you that they didn't have a problem with pickpockets or other scam artists during their visit to Rome. I'm sure they didn't. But do 100 per cent of tourists have to be ripped off before you believe there's a threat?

    Obviously, you could ignore advice about keeping your money and credit cards in a safe place, and not have a problem. But.....

    On a recent trip to Rome, and our last morning there, we heard an American couple tell their tale of woe at breakfast. They took the crowded Metro, and before the husband knew what happened to him, pickpockets had taken his wallet out of his pants pocket, took the $400 in it, and put the wallet back in his pocket! Later, on the same train, two other con artists tried the same thing!

    Just that morning, the couple had discussed whether or not he should use the money belt.

    It's the same old story; you never think it could happen to you. So, bring your money belt and use it!

    Here's a photo of the one I use. It's very thin and comfortable (the part that touches your skin feels great even in hot sticky weather). I put most of my money, my credit cards and bank card in it, and it's virtually invisible under my clothes.

    If you carry a purse, best to shorten the strap and hold it UNDER your arm. (You'll see most Italian woman walking with their purse this way.) Keep all zippers closed and in front.

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  • ruki's Profile Photo

    Pick Pockets!!!!

    by ruki Written Sep 4, 2007

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    Like many big cities and this have a lot of pick pockets. They use Vespa motorcycle..You must be careful especially when you are in the public bus, tram, on the streets...station.. Watch your wallets, documents!!!!!
    The best way is to keep money on different places, in your pockets, bags and other places and go always with group.

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  • Fizzyblond's Profile Photo

    Take Care on the No 64 Bus!

    by Fizzyblond Written Dec 4, 2004

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    Apparently one of the worst pickpocketing buses in Rome - and I managed to get my purse lifted by someone while the bus was loading passengers at the station, before the driver had even arrived! When I noticed I had lost my purse, probably in seconds of it going missing, I asked people around me what had they seen, and everyone just shrugged, including two young men who were closest to me. The Driver refused to get the police, saying "what the heck can I do about it?" when asked, and the thief/thieves stayed on the bus for several stops as no-one near me had moved!! That is the bare faced cheek of them I guess. I lost my last days spending money, credit cards and bus tickets, but luckily the warmth and friendliness of people I had met there meant I was not put off and my friend and I are going back for New Year- my money will be in a money belt from now on though!

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  • Running_Man65's Profile Photo

    Other ways to combat pickpockets

    by Running_Man65 Written Jun 13, 2011

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    I first experienced a pickpocket a few years back while in Paris. I read many of these reviews and thought my wallet was safe in my front pocket, like so many reviews say. My guard was down for a second in a busy metro station and it was gone. Fortunately, I didn't have too much in it and immediately cancelled my two credit cards. I kept "a hand" on my wallet thinking that was making it more safe. It was what probably called attention to me as a prime target.

    Anyway, you don't have to get too paranoid about it and just take some common sense measures and you should be fine. Definitely spread money around you and either use a money belt or neck wallet. I like the men's shirts that have buttoned front pockets on them. And they seem to be in fashion now as well. Additionally, bring along a few safety pins. Pin down the zippers on your backpack, bag, etc. Sure they can undo a pin, so try putting one facing one way and the other the opposite way. A simple, inexpensive and easy way to deter pickpockets. Only a minor hassle for you to undo the pins but better than the alternative. The whole idea is to make it harder for them to get your stuff and have them go find another easier target.

    Confronted by gypsy women and/or children but don't want to shove them out fo the way if they violate your space? And you're not the type to yell and act crazy to scare them off? For less than $10, get a pocket air horn from off the Internet and keep it with you if you have room on your person or in your bag/purse. With one push of a button, it'll emit a 115dB sound that can be heard up to a mile away. Maybe a little overkill but oh well. Comparitively, anything over 140db's can cause ear damage so hold it at full arms extension. Watch the gypsies/kids scatter like ants. Of course you'll draw attention from everyone else (including possible police)around, but who cares as you'll claim you were being robbed.

    Camera-wise: I never bring a camera worth more than $200. You can get a point and shoot camera for less than that. It will take stunning pictures. Unless you are a professional photo-journalist, leave your expensive stuff at home. Same principle as with jewelry, clothes, etc...Invest in an extra SD card (very inexpensive) or two. Swap them out often. That way if your camera is stolen, you still have some of the pics on the SD card you left back in your room. Same principle as keeping money, credit cards in more than one place as well as multiple copies of your documants. Or, if you have some downtime back at your hotel room, copy the pics you took to a laptop if you brought one or download them to the Internet. So if your camera goes, you'll still have some/most of the pics/vids. You probably backup files on your home computer, so same principle here.

    I am a fan of the decoy wallet. A thief knows they usually have one shot at you and they have to act fast. They'll go for the decoy. No matter how good they are at lifting a wallet, even though you might have it well secured, no one has x-ray vision and can see what is in your wallet. Well, unless you're not smart and whip it out and show everyone carelessly in a crowded place. Let 'em make off with the decoy. Stuff it with all kinds of junk. If you are ever in Las Vegas, don't turn down those x-rated cards they try to give you on the Strip. Collect a few and stuff 'em in your decoy. Surprise!

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