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No pickpockets could I find in Rome or Florence

My wife and I just spent a week each in Rome and Florence (May 2019) and we were surprised to feel very safe in the streets. My wife and I took weeks before our trip and studied Rick Steves' years-old podcast warnings and watched YouTube videos on avoiding trouble. What we found was Italian police on every corner and each plaza, and military police with machine guns at important sights and major intersections. I carried a dummy wallet in my back pocket with fake cards in it and no one even came close to taking it. We DID AVOID the men trying to give people single stem roses. (Big mistake if you take one. ) And we walked determinedly and never made eye contact with the ubiquitous vendors selling umbrellas and selfie sticks. We took the Metro, we walked, and we took buses. I believe that Italian police have greatly improved safety. And train stations only let in people to the boarding platforms with tickets so we always felt safe inside. A few times when my wife was in a store I leaned up against a wall and put a close eyeball on the crowds. Not once did I see anyone even suspicious. Sorta disappointing after all our crime prep, but in a good way. Be smart and savvy and enjoy yourself in Rome and Florence.
Lou.

Posted by
3986 posts

Lou,

You'll find two schools of thought on this issue and it is one of continuous debate and sometimes contention. I have been travelling throughout Europe for many years and many times in some of the most synonymous with pickpockets. I have never worn a money belt, neck purse etc. My wallet has always remained in my back pocket (apart from my last trip to the Vatican when I placed it in my front pocket and kept my hand in the pocket the whole time and I'm sure the reason I did so is a slight paranoia from reading so many paranoid threads on here!).

In my opinion (and that of many European contributors to this forum) is that the perceived crime risk in Europe, particularly from pickpockets, is, in the eyes of many American's, greatly inflated. That's not to say that it doesn't occur but it's not as common as feared. You'll also see much reference to "even Rick Steves recently got pick pocketed". So what? Is Rick Steves any different to any of us, is there any reason why he wouldn't be at risk of being a victim of crime? Does the fact that he was greatly increase the chance that the average Joe will become a victim?

The simple answer is do what you feel comfortable with. If you want to wear a money belt, wear one. If it makes you feel more secure then what's the harm? If you don't want to wear one for whatever reason then don't feel compelled to, millions of people travel around Europe every day without being mugged or pick pocketed. And sure, being aware of your surroundings and using common sense is good advice (for anywhere) but you don't need to feel that you have to have your back against the wall at every opportunity and trying to second guess the intention of anyone coming close to you.

Posted by
3 posts

Good advice.
May I add that one of our repeated fond memories in Rome piazzas and Florence sites, including Pointe Vecchio was the sight of a youngish male police officer in best uniform and polished boots and counterpart female officer in a smart uniform dress (yes! mid-calf length very stylish dress) both strolling along among the crowds with their loaded hip guns. Eye-popping cool, and an obvious security presence.

Posted by
2837 posts

I have never worn a money belt, neck purse etc. My wallet has always remained in my back pocket

Same here. I have no problem if people take those precautions if it makes them feel safe, but I don't feel any need to do so. Especially now that most of our travel is in the French countryside and rarely in any city, let alone a large one.

Posted by
1116 posts

I would suggest that feeling safe is irrelevant. Most pickpocketers are not thugs. You would not necessarily recognize one.

My sister was pickpocketed when she first moved to Chicago from a small town while riding the El. She became more careful quickly and in the 20 years since has had no problems. The issue is that as inconvenient as it was for her to be pickpocketed in Chicago, it is far worse over seas.

Consequently, I am more careful overseas than at home. But it hardly keeps me from going anywhere and enjoying it.

Posted by
2317 posts

Rick Steves got pickpocketed once...he goes to Europe for several months each year for something like 30 years. So statistically not really an indicator of a high likelihood of an incident over the average 2 week trip!

I don't wear a money belt or anything - a zipper pocket inside my purse is fine for me. But I do suggest money belts to new travelers sometimes. Precautions can make some people less afraid, which leads to a better experience. Of course, some people get overly paranoid and this leads to a worse experience...depends on the person. There's a balance between telling people something is possible and here's how to prevent it, and making them afraid, imagining criminals everywhere.

I've found the best tool to avoid problems is awareness of surroundings and a specific type of common sense. New travelers who live in big cities in the US, ride the subway or bus, and know their way through iffy areas in US cities will be fine, they already have more situational awareness skills than they need in most of Europe. New travelers who have never left their small town and have never ridden public transit might not have developed the needed skills yet. They are the ones who will most benefit from all the advice.

Posted by
36 posts

Thank you for the report, Lou. My family and I are Italy bound in a month, so it is good to hear. Thanks for the heads up on the guys trying to hand out roses.

Posted by
20686 posts

Trust me, Lou, they are there. They do not wear a sign. For this question/discussion there does not appear to be any middle ground. It is either it never happens or it happens all the time.

A recent Interpol report in a travel magazine suggested (including under reporting) that about 1 in 4 tourists had problems with petty theft. So that really means that the vast majority don't have problems. A recent newspaper report in London cited over 4,000 reported thefts on the subway system during the past year. At Victoria Station 160 reported thefts but if you consider the number of people passing through VS on a given day your odds are about 1/600,000. On the other hand - on this site we have had dozens of first hand reports of being pickpocketed. So it happens and with some frequency but not the frequency that is discussed on travel sites. We have spent nearly a year in Europe over the past 20+ years with no losses and, to be best of our knowledge, no close attempts. But then we take reasonable precautions when we are in Paris, Chicago, or New York.

That fact that someone has a trip with no problems does not mean much. We have gone for over 20 years with no problems but there is always the next trip. Rick Steves is classic example of next time. If you use your no problem trip as an excuse to be lazy on the next trip -- don't. Had a good friend who laughed at "our paranoia" for money belts and zippered pockets. On his fifth trip they took everything from him - cash, cards, passports - from his ultra secure front pocket -- 'cause I always keep my hand on it -- except one time while lifting luggage into the luggage bins on a train in Paris. Little bumping from behind as other people are passing behind or placing luggage. Walking to his seat he inserted this hand --- it was gone and the train began to move. Yep, they got a fat billfold, two train tickets, two passports all neatly rubber banded together. One stop shopping. You have to take reasonable precautions.

Posted by
11977 posts

Virtually 100% of pickpockets happen aboard crowded city buses or crowded subway trains at rush hour. Most of the victims are therefore local commuters, not tourists, since tourists are more likely to walk than take buses/subway at rush hour.

If you avoid buses and subway, especially when crowded, and rely on your feet, and occasionally on taxis for longer distances, the chance of being a victim of pickpockets is zero.

I’m sure you saw the huge display of police and military near the historical sights. Well, I want you to know that the number of policemen in plain clothes hiding in the crowd is even higher. You can recognize policemen in plain clothes in summer by the men’s purse they wear with the strap across the shoulder.

https://images.app.goo.gl/GS6SZMxfCiKUShjZ6
https://images.app.goo.gl/B2j12Tv39pmXcaDa7

Posted by
4238 posts

Pickpocketing is huge in places like Rome, Barcelona, Paris and Madrid. My family has personally be the victim of pickpocketing in Paris, Madrid and Rome. It wasn't me that was pickpocketed, but people in my family that ignored by advice. Also, I know fellow travelers that have been victims in Barcelona (several) as well as Paris (the RER from CDG Airport to the city).

I have read that the main problem in Barcelona (probably the worst city in Europe) is that most pickpocketing crimes are not considered crimes there. I have seen several write-ups on cruise critic.com about that.

Every time I go to places that I mentioned above, I wear either my belt wallet or money belt and my wife takes her pack safe purse.

It is not so bad in northern Europe.

Posted by
8906 posts

If you avoid buses and subway, especially when crowded, and rely on
your feet, and occasionally on taxis for longer distances, the chance
of being a victim of pickpockets is zero.

The multi-occasions my family has encountered pickpockets in Europe has always been on the street (in touristy areas), never on public transport.

Posted by
5823 posts

The threat from pickpockets is hugely over exaggerated on this forum. I'm not saying it doesn't happen ,it does, but not to the extent that warrants the constant chat, discussion and occasional scaremongering, you see here.
If a money belt makes you feel safer, fair enough, go for it but for many people and in many places there is really no need.

I have never understood what the point of a dummy wallet is? Just keep you real wallet in a safe place and forget about it.

Posted by
1553 posts

Hello lu,

That's great you had an uneventful holiday as far as pickpockets tip toeing into your bag or pocket. Since I come from a big city, I'm used to keeping a big city awareness.

My trips to Rome as a female, I didn't encounter anything fearful. I stayed in the Termini area. You'd never know it. Actually, I would be much more concerned walking down some streets of Boston than in Rome.

I agree, the police & military presence at almost every corner & at every major attraction in Rome helps a lot.

For example, the Trevi has police there all night - probably to deter some people trying to jump in & do a remake of "La Dolce Vita" or from grabbing the coins. Also, possibly to stop any vandals from climbing the fountain & possibly damaging the statues.

I took some common sense precautions as I do anyway. Street vendors will come up to you or buzz by you selling their wares. Yes, we are sort of warned not to buy from them. (The fake handbags & other things being sold as "real leather or designer" are the ones to stay away from.) It's good to have reminders or if a new person may be browsing threads.

I learned something interesting last trip - I had some time before I was to go into St. Peter's. I was in the Piazza early. I struck up conversations with some young men who were selling the Vatican Tours in the Piazza. Earlier, I had said, No, Grazie, & moved on. They didn't chase me or hassle me. I went about my business in the area.

As I made my way around to St. Peter's again, the ones I spoke to, I found out, work for an Italian woman (whom I met later on.) These guys were from another country trying to make a living. They were soft spoken actually when trying to make a sale.

Their families were back in their homeland. They work on commission (for that job anyway.) They were trying to get approved to work in the hospitality industry or maybe a vendor stall where they would get more money.

These guys were funny - trying to outdo each other in stories, lol. They were dressed very nice - dress shirt/pants/shoes and overcoat. They took their jobs seriously or perhaps that is what their boss asked of them. They all bunked together in an apartment.

Umbrella men, scarf men, toy men, bracelet men, tour men - they don't chase people. The only thing that has been reported at times are the ones who put bracelets on your wrist, will ask for euro. It's good to be aware of this type of interaction. A person would have to hold out their wrist for the seller to tie it on. If someone "really" wants it for fun, then offer a couple of euro.

Otherwise, it's good practice to look a street seller in the eye, and just politely say "No, Grazie." Nothing wrong with that.

People will have their little cups jingling for change. I didn't encounter a "rose guy." Perhaps they don't walk around in December. I didn't encounter a lost ring story or asked to sign a petition. I'm not saying these incidents didn't happen to some.

I don't know the accuracy of reports on TA that Roman Gladiators expect upwards of 20€ to have you snap their rugged mug in an exclusive picture.

The best thing as stated here often, is wear a good (zip top) bag with a strong strap. Some men in Italy/Europe wear a type of small messenger or tablet style for their wallet, documents, etc. But, they wear much slimmer pants, lol. Jokes aside....

A person can choose to wear a fake wallet with monopoly money, but the best defense is your awareness, not putting all your valuables in one bag, not leaving your bag or phone or anything of value hanging on a chair or just planked on a table, don't flaunt anything flashy - leave expensive stuff at home.

There is good & bad everywhere. Anyone can take an opportunity if they have that mindset.

No one knows if they were picked, that it could've been someone who's a traveler themselves. Honesty & a conscience reside within a person.

Posted by
20686 posts

....Pickpocketing is huge in places like Rome, Barcelona, Paris and Madrid..... That is the kind of statement that just makes my point in my earlier postings. We have been in all of those places, several times, over the years with no problems. Personal don't know if it is any worse in Paris than London or in Rome compared to Munich nor does any poster. Pickpocketing, petty theft is a crime everywhere but just very difficult to catch and, of course, the victim moves on to the next town and not available as a witness at a later date.

The tone that I would to see promoted is that pickpocketing is a potential problem, take reasonable precautions to lower your chances, relax, enjoy, because you probably will not be a victim. Pickpockets for most part are professionals and know how to spot and pick the low hanging fruit. Just don't be low hanging.

Posted by
1553 posts

The issue is that as inconvenient as it was for her to be pickpocketed in Chicago, it is far worse over seas.

This is a fair statement to the degree - if a traveler loses their passport and wallet, etc. (by any means), it's a bump in their travels; especially if it's discovered lost or missing when they are moving from place to place abroad.

Money belts can be irritating for some. Securing your Passport, extra credit card(s) and Euro on your person is good when traveling around a lot. Diligence and awareness are key. If your bag/wallet is lost or stolen, it would be less stressful if you had copies of Passport(s), credit cards and phone numbers to take action right away. Unless you're traveling solo, split up day money and cards.

Traveling solo is a little different of course. I tried the money belt, it's not for me. I found a way to carry the bulk of my valuables - PP, card, euro on my person. My last two trips, I traveled in December. It made it easier for me to use (and conceal under my coat) a smallish, Hedgren cross body for my extras. It felt better for me compared to trying the money belt.

But, overall, with both trips, I really didn't feel any kind of "threat."

Posted by
1553 posts

This isn't just for Italy or any one country - Overall, practice good sense to deter any nefarious behavior.

I think in most cases of people having stuff stolen, it's when they are being too lax, in tight quarters such as a bus or metro or site-viewing.

A fake wallet could work against you too in a mugging. It could make the perp angry and act out in a violent manner even if the intent was to just take the wallet and run. The best thing is to not carry a ton of money or credit cards in one place. If it's feasible, lock up or secure in a hotel safe an extra card, money in a small purse and copies of PP/credit cards.

"An extreme case" - I honestly have no idea if the story I read (somewhere else) long ago is true - I can't recall the country, but, the author told of a story of being "held up" - the thieves demanded to know if the traveler had a money belt on or they checked it themselves. If that occurrence was true, then the man must have been very scared.

One of the best things to do is "do your best" to keep your wits about you if you get an uneasy feeling. Even if you're lost, walk at a good pace and with a straight confidence. Try to not panic. Walk until you see the light or some place you can pop into (an accidental on purpose.)

It's easy to get turned around when nervous or panicked. Memory recall can be very helpful when we take a step back.

Try to keep an awareness of surroundings - memorize a street name or landmark if possible. (When I'm driving on the highway, I look at mile markers. Not every single one of course. But, a couple of times, I had to call the SP for something, and I told the exact location of each incident based on the nearest mile marker.)

Try to not put yourself in a position where you can be rendered helpless. Some examples may be, watch your partying and be mindful of the areas you are going into. Don't flaunt a bunch of cards of a wad of euro.

Common sense stuff - in any bar, don't leave your drink unattended. If a person offers to buy you one and you accept, make sure you see the bartender pour it in front of you.

Posted by
68 posts

I belong to a very active FB community of female travellers. Not a day goes by that someone doesn't post about being pickpocketed and losing their money, credit cards, etc. When I was last in Europe on a tour, a tour member who was a very savvy experienced traveler paid for a ticket to go up a bell tower, didn't secure his wallet in his haste to get on the next elevator up....and when he stepped off the elevator he realized his wallet, along with multiple credit cards and cash was gone. His wife was not happy.

Rick talks about making yourself not an easy target so that the thieves will choose an easier mark. I keep my wits about me (we are currently in Rome) as I would in any big city and my hand on my crossbody bag with my day cash and 1 credit card on an inside zipper pocket. Today we were on a crowded bus and more crowded subway in rush hour. I take nothing for granted. Better alert and safe...than pickpocketed and regretful.

Posted by
2716 posts

In 2012, My wife had an old iPod (pre WiFi) pickpocketed at the entrance to St. Peter’s basilica; literally at the front door. Because of its cover, she thinks the pickpocket thought it was a wallet. In all our travels, that’s the only time it happened, although my brother once caught someone with their hand in his pocket in Madrid.

Posted by
878 posts

This recent January, Dear Friend with whom I was traveling (tho I had already returned home a couple of days earlier) was exiting a major church in Rome. Visually, he is an older, white-haired gentleman in a black wool coat, who walks with a cane. He had been taking photos, and so had just put his phone/camera into his coat side pocket. (Yes, I had cautioned him about this, but it was a CHURCH after all, he thought!) Descending the outside steps from the church, an older woman seemed to lose her balance and slightly fell into him. He helped her straighten up, and they both continued on their separate ways. A few minutes later, he discovered that his phone was gone, and along with it all of his contacts and the photos that he had taken throughout Tuscany and Rome over 12 days. So, it can happen anywhere....

Posted by
1553 posts

... Dear Friend with whom I was traveling (tho I had already returned home a couple of days earlier) was exiting a major church in Rome. Visually, he is an older, white-haired gentleman in a black wool coat, who walks with a cane...an older woman seemed to lose her balance and slightly fell into him...he discovered that his phone was gone, and along with it all of his contacts and the photos that he had taken throughout Tuscany and Rome over 12 days.

That is so sad and upsetting. First, a woman falls into an elderly man with a cane seeing him as vulnerable? He could have been knocked down too. Was it real and was her fall an available opportunity? She had the gall and unscrupulous mindset to steal from him - not just the device, but precious memories of his holiday he stamped in time and now are lost forever.

Posted by
4505 posts

Pickpocketing warnings are always a tough choice: If people are not warned of pickpockets then they might more easily fall victim (it really does happen); if people are warned there is a risk of making people feel that it is a bigger threat than it is. And there are nuances like some cities have a far bigger problem with it than others, and the advice for deep storage money belts can be overkill for most people.

The reality is this: most tourists will never see or fall victim to a pickpocket while in Europe. But that doesn't mean the threat isn't real or significant enough to take precautions.

Think of it this way - most people have never been in an auto accident. But we can all agree that we should wear seat belts because auto accidents do happen.

Posted by
7735 posts

You can recognize policemen in plain clothes in summer by the men’s purse they wear with the strap across the shoulder.

Thanks to Roberto, I just learned why I've never been pickpocketed in Italy over the five different trips. They think I'm a cop. (Although I prefer to think of it as a bag, not a purse.)

Posted by
4124 posts

So what started off as a positive post has now devolved into people sharing their pickpocket stories. That’s too bad. First time traveler - do not fear! Europe is safer than where you live - I promise!

I’ll share my version, reflecting on 12 years in Vienna. I’ve left my backpack unzipped and someone will tell me. I’ve left my iPhone at the hairdressers and gone back 30 minutes later to find it exactly where I left it. I’ve dropped my wallet and had it handed back to me. My son, since the age of 9, has ridden the subway and suburban train by himself to school every day with no issue. My kids do not have hide in place drills at their schools. I wear a backpack everyday and carry my phone in my pocket - only taking public transportation. I have walked home alone at night after midnight on many occasions with no worries. I have never been mugged, never been pickpocketed. I am frequently in the tourist “zone.”

Posted by
50 posts

It's always good to be cautious and careful than be sorry. If you appear confident and attentive, you won't be the target of pickpockets. You can enjoy your trip while always being aware of your belongings and other people in the area. Another tip is if you do not want to be a victim of pickpockets, don't give them any reason to target you. Stay away from wearing too much jewelry or being too negligent of your belongings, they always go for an easy target. Just have fun, don't fuss about it too much.

Posted by
200 posts

I live in NY and work in NYC and have worked here for 20 years. Is it any worse than here? Just wondering what I'm in for. Is a backpack better than a smaller cross body bag?

Posted by
2454 posts

Ownedby3, No, it is not worse than NYC. I've traveled for years in Europe with some street smarts, but without paranoia. I live in an urban area so I just know not to leave my purse behind or open or all my eggs in one basket, etc. but I see people all the time almost offering their things up to be grabbed. I usually use a crossbody purse because it is more convenient, but sometimes with my DSLR I'll put my small crossbody in a travelon backpack that I have. I like the organization of travelon, not necessarily all the safety features...they are not necessary, but fine to use if it makes people feel better. I also use baggallini for the same reason, organization. It is not nearly as bad as a lot of people make out and I think that might have something to do with where they reside in the US, more suburban or rural. IMO YMMV And if you keep some of your cards separate, it's not the end of the world if theft occurs, in convenient yes, but not a major problem in the scheme of life.

Posted by
1553 posts

I live in NY and work in NYC and have worked here for 20 years. Is it any worse than here? Just wondering what I'm in for. Is a backpack better than a smaller cross body bag?

Sort of hijacking lu's post...

Hi Ob3,

I am from Boston. In a way, that already prepared me for (automatically) being aware, conscientious, and careful.

I tried the money belt once, and I didn't care for it. What I did use to store some extra euro and PP and card was a smaller, (strong) Hedgren cross body. I traveled the last two trips to Rome in December, so of course it made it easier to conceal that bag under my coat.

My day bag was a Kipling tote style purse - good zipper all across - strong handle straps/and cross body strap - carried essentials, my walking about money, and little purchases.

As a solo female, I never felt fear or felt threatened. Actually, there are some neighborhoods and streets in Boston that I would not venture into.

Rome is pretty safe. I walked around late at night. I walked in and around the Termini area - my hotel was fairly close. One time, while crossing the street - facing the Diocletian Baths, some homeless people were setting up tents. I nodded to them, smiled a bit, they nodded and went about their business. I did not feel as if "I had to look over my shoulder." In Boston, yep. There have been instances where people were attacked.

As many of us state, the best defense is keeping a big city awareness (you're used to that), keep your bag in front of you when on transits or in close crowds. Don't bring or put anything of great or non-replaceable value in your bags - even your luggage.

If you choose to wear a money belt, that is where your deep storage of extra money and credit card and/or PP are put. I choose to carry my PP in my under coat cross body bag.

Of course, traveling in the summer is definitely a game changer. So, some choices have to be amended or alternates considered. There are "neck pouches" - but, I've seen some and feel the neck string is a bit too flimsy.

I'm not a backpack person, but many travelers carry them. Keep in mind, big backpacks won't be allowed in some attractions.

No bags at all in the Borghese. The Vatican and St. Peter's allowed small to medium bags/backpacks (say about 14" or so) - guards checked them at security entrances.

The Colosseo allows bags of a certain size. But, the summertime may change polices. Always best to check the direct websites.

Posted by
200 posts

Thanks, I won't have kids with me so plan on carrying a very small bag. I have a smaller mirrorless camera now (retired my DSLR) so that will fit into my cross body. I think I have pretty good whits about me traveling daily on trains, subways etc. But this is all good info.

Posted by
1553 posts

You are welcome :)

Threads like these are often good reminders or have some travel tips some may not know or have forgotten. It's good to share experiences but not always get drowned in the negatives.

lu's post is good because it also gives another point of view on how they found Rome to be relatively safe.

As always, some of the best defense comes from within - common sense of course, don't flaunt big money items, don't get too lax even though on holiday.

Side note: In the USA, someone had their purse stolen from their shopping cart in a market. In a blink of an eye - never saw the person or saw it stolen. In the States, it's common for a lot of women to put their purses in the 'child seat' and (ugh) leave the cart to grab a shelf item. I've seen guys, mostly young guys, put their money in their back pockets - wallet or not - their pants may not always be "fitted" to their bodies. I wonder if they lose their money anyway by the low hanging pants.

The take away for anyone is: Don't make it easy or lend temptation to a thief anywhere. Don't make yourself a target. Practice diligence.

There are a lot of motor bikes/scooters in Rome. But, I didn't notice anything sketchy by the passengers last two times. If you want, just switch the cross body strap to the (inside of the walkway) if you feel that someone may grab your bag.

I think you have to be more careful of the bicycles. I almost got clipped while waiting to cross the street. We had the pedestrian go ahead signal. This guy comes swirling around the corner like a madman. (Reminds me of Boston couriers.) I didn't see him. He barely missed me. Some people yelled after him in some Italian (that I can only imagine) with some hands flying too. lol.

Thanks to lu for posting his experience and for allowing us posters to share our own; either as tips or reminders for fellow travelers :)

Posted by
1112 posts

It doesn't matter which side you carry your cross body bag on.
Walking to the Station in Rome a few years ago with my friend: a teenager and a tween, both girls, came at my friend from the wall of a building and tried to grab her bag.
She didn't notice, but I did as I was slightly behind her.
I yelled loudly and said they should be in school.
They just smirked as if to say: Well, we'll just get the next person.
I never travel without my money belt.
Just makes me feel safer.

Posted by
1041 posts

I have been to Europe on 6 occasions and have never been pickpocketed, but I have seen people who have. On my last trip to Europe, I was on a Rick Steve’s Tour and the tour guide pointed out people that he knew were pickpockets. If it happens to you, it could easily ruin your vacation so why take the chance. Securing your valuables is easy. Why not do it?