Pickpocketing and Gypsies

Hello, my family and I are getting ready to leave for Italy and we are very excited. My biggest concern is the trouble people have experienced with pickpockets and Gypsies approaching and surrounding you. I have travelled to France and even while in Paris, did not feel overly concerned with crime as I felt fairly safe, but I wonder just how extreme criminals will go to steal your backpack off your back and I have had no experience with Gypsies, don't even know what to look for. Any information is greatly appreciated, thank you.

Posted by donna
cranberry twp, PA, United States
2984 posts

No one is going steal the back pack off your back. They may stick their hand in it if they get a chance but you won't run into anything violent. Violent crime is rare in Italy so you really don't need to worry about it. Don't keep anything of value in a back pack and be sure to keep your money in a money belt or in a cross body bag. Men should not carry their wallets in their back pockets.

The gypsies aren't usually a problem If they come near you just be extra cautious and safe guard your purse.

Donna

Posted by donna
roswell, ga, usa
1455 posts

You're going to get beaten up about your non PC referral to Gypsies! LOL. They are now called "roma" people. You will be extremely unlikely to be surrounded by them or any other criminal types in Italy! A pick pocket, maybe!

My advice: Don't put valuables in a backpack. It's too easy for someone to reach in the bag behind you and lift something!

If you're a man, you may want to use a moneybelt.

If you're a woman, you may want to buy a neck pouch to wear under your blouse and keep
credit cards and large cash amounts in it. Keep your day money in your purse, and keep
your purse under your arm and zipped.

DON'T WORRY! Just take a little caution. I'm a 62 year old woman, I travel with girlfriends, my
granddaughter, and sometimes with my husband. I've gone to Italy at LEAST six times (four
without the husband) and I've never lost anything. I'm not neurotic, just careful. I don't hang
my purse on chairs in restaurants, or hang it beside me, or leave it unzipped. That's all!

Posted by Laura
Rick Steves' Europe
7416 posts

Staff here never bother with special "steel-reinforced" straps, etc. I feel very safe with most of my funds and valuables in a moneybelt under my clothes. Although it's less ergonomic than a backpack, things I need for the day are usually in a cross-body bag, since my hand is always on it, and since I have to take out my money, book, and map many times each day. Don't ever leave a bag just sitting at your feet without being somehow attached to you. Don't feel the need to be polite to anyone who tries to bother and distract you. Please read more tips at http://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/theft-scams.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
5231 posts

It's unlikely you'll see any, except for the occasional gypsy woman panhandling at a street corner. The biggest risk is actually the pickpockets in crowds, especially crowded buses and subway trains. 90% of pickpockets happen on public transportation (but not high speed trains, pickpockets can't afford them). Just follow the advice given above.
Don't put valuables in a back pack because it would be hard for you to feel anything if someone tries to stick a hand in one of the pockets.
Nobody will pry your backpack off your back, but don't leave your luggage unattended at stations or anywhere.

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
6387 posts

Yep, what Roberto said. And you might want to stop categorizing potential thieves based on their heritage. You're much more likely to be pickpocketed by a man who looks like a banker from Milan than from anyone you think might be roma. Be alert but not paranoid.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
20918 posts

aleraike,

If you're vigilant and take reasonable precautions such as wearing a Money Belt under your clothing, you shouldn't have any problems with thieves. If you normally carry a small Daypack, Purse, large Camera or whatever, don't leave it on the table or ground when you're dining. Make sure it's secured to something solid.

Regarding the aspect of the most "politically correct" way to describe the Roma people, if you're interested have a look at THIS Website which covers the topic in some detail. Many people seem to use the word "Gypsy" simply because it's what most people have been using for so many years.

If you want a more informative look at those committing petty theft in Europe (and you have an hour to spare), have a look at this BBC award-winning documentary on the subject. The journalist that produced this story is Romanian, and he referred to the people he was describing as "Gypsies" so that term seemed to be acceptable in his view. According to the story, this is a well organized criminal enterprise rather than simply people stealing to feed themselves. Whichever term you decide to use, I don't think you'll have any trouble recognizing them.

One thing that you'll probably encounter is people offering to "help" you, either when buying tickets at the Kiosks or boarding trains. You can deal with that as you wish, but I usually tell them to "take a hike" as I don't need any help. You'll probably encounter people soliciting "donations" as well, and your choice whether you provide any (ironically this woman was seated outside a Church and directly underneath a "Beware of Pickpockets and Scammers" sign).

Hope you have a great time on your trip!

Posted by Tim
Knoxville, TN, USA
3579 posts

Don't be so quick to dismiss aleraike's concern with being surrounded at an ATM by thieves. I've been all over Europe many times, and I also usually dismiss these concerns as being from an overly scared tourist...until I saw this:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2609769/Caught-camera-Moment-brazen-cashpoint-thieves-swarm-middle-aged-tourist-near-Notre-Dame-cathedral-Paris-money.html

I am well traveled and well accustomed to potential of pickpockets and thieves, but an incident like this may have well caught me unprepared, too.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
1149 posts

That's quite the article Tim! Just make sure if you are at a cash machine that you are not alone if you can help it. You would think with lots of people around you would be more secure, but they are brazen! Hubby and I are always together when travelling, so one does the bank stuff while the other watches...

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
5231 posts

When using an ATM it's safer to use one inside the bank where you have to enter a first set of doors to the area where the ATM is. Also it's safer to get cash at the ATM during bank opening hours when there are other people and the bank is under surveillance.

Posted by Rick
Tacoma, Wa, USA
27 posts

I do not like the money belts with the small plastic connector since that flimsy little connector can fail. Like one I looked at in REI that was already broken (eagle Creek I think) . Then you can lose your wallet down your pants leg. We use the Pacsafe products that have no weak link in the chain so to speak and are very comfortable and secure. I was very impressed with the quality and integrity of design which is why I did not hesitate to purchase. All the so called security wallets I looked at on REI shelves, and other places seemed to have some vulnerability in their design ( such as the flimsy plastic connector ) I couldn't feel comfortable with. If those clips break while your abroad, you have to devise a backup plan. I'd rather not have to worry about it.

Money belts with the cam lock buckle that you just pull out to loosen the belt for removal are a problem. Think about it. Many of these thieves practice, and are good with their hands. The cam lock buckle is a no brainer. They can flick it open, grab the belt and pull hard to remove your belt from your pants. I use heavy duty nylon belt with the slider/cinch type buckle. No one is taking my belt and I don't have to remove it at airports. And I don't like money belts with the zipper anyway. If you use one, the cam lock like the Bison brand makes is risky so something to think about.

I use Pacsafe camera sling too. I can swing it in front of me quickly but its steel mesh design and security zippers are genius, and make it difficult, if not impossible for thieves to slice your bag open. I remember the story of a couple at Termini in Roma feeling uneasy about some strangers encroaching on their space as they wait. They had very expensive camera gear with them. When they went outside to wait and get away from these strangers, they realized one of their camera bags was sliced open, and in spite of their heightened awareness and discomfort, they had no idea until outside. They had thousands of dollars in gear at risk. I seem to recall they were from Bremerton, Wa.

Once I untethered my SLR in front of St Peters because my wife wanted to take my picture. I saw a guy moving in on her from the side. I told her to hold it, to wait, and he then darted toward her....but so did I. So he broke off and walked away looking back at me with a smirk on his face. Nice try buddy. Normally my SLR is tethered to me in such a way that they'll take me with it. Then I'll beat their a**, and turn them over to the local polizia, squadra volante, carabinieri, who I always trade patches and stories with.

Then there's the guy who was shooting photos at Trevi fountain when a thief grabbed the neck strap, and pulled it over the guys head as he ran off with the camera. The guy was taken down to the pave but I do not recall if injured or to what extent.

Last year, a man caught a pickpocket attempting to rip him off near the Duomo in Firenze. When he resisted, etc the thief stabbed him with a knife. The man underwent surgery and lost a kidney- http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/05/22/18421528-american-tourist-68-stabbed-in-main-square-of-florence-italy

I believe this sort of assault is fairly rare, but since I'm a retired cop, and I still go face to face with felons almost daily, I know more than I wish I ever did. Ignorance is truly bliss. But just because there is a general sense of how criminals operate in Italy and Europe doesn't mean they all got the memo. Open mind, open eyes, and trust your instincts.

Go on youtube and watch the videos of thieves trying to unzip backpacks of tourists waiting at street crossings in Rome, or the other thieves ripping off wallets from waist packs worn in front.

Have someone with you at ATMs and bigliettos to stand watch for you as a deterrent to those thieves nearby watching for an opportunity.

The good news - with some preparation, the right gear, common sense and awareness, you don't have to travel in a state of constant anxiety.

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
6387 posts

I have found that the two best defenses against pickpockets are:
1. Being alert to your surroundings.
2. Using a messenger bag with locking compartments. (PacSafe and other makers) You just have to be sure to lock things down before entering a risky area or situation, esp. with crowds.

We have been to Italy four times, visiting over 20 cities/towns, and have never been pickpocketed nor have we witnessed it happening.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
5231 posts

Please be aware that the safest place for a wallet is on you, like a hidden money belt or a pouch in front of your belly where you keep a hand on while on crowded situation (like on a bus). The wallet in the inside pocket of a man's suit (at heart's level) is a safe place.

Men should not be wearing their wallets in their pants' back pocket in crowded places (buses, crowded events of any type). The back pocket is the first target of a thief.

Women should be paying attention to their purses. It's very easy for a thief to stick their hands inside while you are squeezed like a sardine in a bus. Also do not assume that having a fully locked purse makes you safe. One trick pickpockets use is to cut the bottom of purses with razors and access the purse from the bottom hole they so created. Also purse snatching, although very rare, can happen. A pouch around your waste is safer. You are going to visit museums and churches not to a Hollywood party. Leave your fancy purses for the right occasions.

If you avoid traveling on crowded city buses/subways (especially in big cities like Rome, Naples, Florence and Milan) you will have avoided the places where the overwhelming majority of pick pockets happen. Venice vaporetti are safer as they are never packed like sardines (the boat captains don't allow it for safety reasons).

Walk to places, historical centers are small, even in big cities. If walking is too much for you, invest in a taxi for longer distances. There is nothing that can ruin your vacation like having to replace your passport and your credit cards. It's not so much the money lost, it's the hassle. And always remember, the safest place for your valuables, is the safe in your hotel room, not your pockets/purses. Leave what you don't need in the safe.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3118 posts

I have to respectfully disagree with several of Roberto's suggestions. He is right that a wallet in a back pocket is not safe, and I'll add nor is it in a front pocket. But I do disagree that an inner jacket pocket is safe for a wallet. Unless you have a zippered or buttoned inner pocket AND you secure the pocket consistently, a pick-pocket crew can easily swipe a wallet from a jacket pocket.

I'd also be very wary of using what he describes as a "waist pouch." Unless I mis-interpreted, Americans call those fanny packs and they are very susceptible to being picked. No matter if worn in front or back, they can easily distract you and access it. A money belt, which lays under the clothing is very safe.

There are indeed stories about thieves cutting open purses or day bags. It appears to be a fairly rare occurrence but one can find anecdotes for any event. Rather than tell people not to use a secure purse system (one that can be locked or requires multiple steps to access) I'd suggest letting people decide what level of comfort they have or to recommend Pac Safe type purses and bags that resist cutting.

I also disagree with the advice to avoid busses and metros in cities. That is just not very practical advice for most people, especially if the alternative is an expensive taxi. He is right that pick-pockets do a thriving business on crowded transit, but if you have a secure storage system, you really have little to worry about.

Posted by Michelle
Iowa
61 posts

I have a pacsafe messenger bag that I like because you can clip the main zipper closed. It makes it harder to manipulate to get into my bag on the bus etc. I am sure that it is still possible to get into my bag, but not without some manipulation that I would notice. In really crowded areas I hold the zipper clip in thing. It was not a pain in the butt to get into when I needed something.
I don't know if the rest of the re-enforcment makes any difference. I have used safety pins or twist ties before with success (wrap them through a double zipper). My only issue is that I lost them frequently and it was sometimes a pain to get them off and on.
I think that Italy and France are probably similar in their number of pickpockets and other crimes so if you were fine in Paris you should be fine in Rome, Florence etc.

Posted by dcp2
2 posts

I've been to Italy 6 different times and never experienced or witnessed pickpocket, Roma/gypsy thieves, etc until last May in Rome. Getting on the Metro at the Colosseum 3 gypsies came in the car when I did - one stood in front of me, one behind, and one was at the door. The woman in front started backing into me inexplicably to distract, while the one behind started to reach for my wallet just as I sensed what was going on. A push and a reprimand sent the three scurrying out the open door while my wallet was safe in my pocket. It was actually a beautiful scam, one to distract, one to pick and one to toss the goods to for a quick exit.

Posted by Maryam
Washington, DC
758 posts

If you have folks approaching you, just simply (and somewhat forcefully) state, "no thank you" and keep walking sans eye contact, and they will leave you alone (in my experience). Just don't engage and you should be okay. Wear a money belt, and rather than a backpack, consider a cross-the-shoulder messenger bag with inside compartments. I even eat with my messenger bag still on at restaurants/cafes since it just sits nicely and comfortably on my lap whilst still across my body. Have some spending cash (50 euro) in there and probably not much else. Carry your family's valuables (more cash, credit/debit cards, passports) in the money belt.

Regarding ATM withdrawals, I have only done them in daylight, in fairly busy places, and with others waiting in line. I suppose you can have your family surrounding you to keep others from approaching?! Going inside a bank to withdraw from a machine is a good option if that is available to you.

Have fun with a cautious knowledge of your surroundings. I think I would be more worried about the quiet non-obvious pickpockets, then the roaming obvious criminals. I think Paris and Italy are fairly comparable when it comes to pickpocketing, and I observed more Roma activity in Paris than all of Italy.

Posted by Mike
Hamilton, NJ, USA
131 posts

I've been to Europe many times with my family and always bring my spending money for the entire trip in cash (yes, I know - probably not the best thing to do), so I never have to use an ATM or go to the bank. I always carry my money in my Rick Steves money belt under the front of my shorts. I'm fairly certain I'd notice if someone tried to reach in and take anything from there! Usually, I'll just carry some minimal spending money in my front pocket. I carry a backpack as well but I never put anything in there that I'd be devasted to lose. It's not like here in the US, where thieves will just rob you face to face - in Europe it's about skill and distraction to pickpocket you. Use money belt (tucked in the front of your shorts) and you won't have a problem.

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
6387 posts

I would make one modification to what Maryam says "If you have folks approaching you, just simply (and somewhat forcefully) state, "no thank you" and keep walking sans eye contact, and they will leave you alone (in my experience). Just don't engage and you should be okay."

The "thank you" part of that is too polite for the context in Italy. Here's what I do: Hold up your hand like a traffic cop signaling "Stop" (or the famous "Talk to the hand" gesture), keep walking and say one word - "No." The closer you can get to an Italian pronunciation of that word, the better. Italians pronounce it like the English word "gnaw" and clip it very short and forceful (as Maryam says).

If for some reason they follow you, say "No. Basta!" and keep walking. "Basta" means "Enough!". They will turn their attention to some other tourist who is too afraid to appear rude.

Posted by Jeff
Vancouver, WA, USA
271 posts

"keep walking and say one word - "No." The closer you can get to an Italian pronunciation of that word, the better."

That works. Last year in the courtyard of the Cathedral of Santa Chiara in Assisi, I had to resort to that when an older woman kept pestering us. Finally she stormed off, loudly muttering "Cattivo francese ... !"

OK, I'll cop to the 'cattivo' part. But if she calls me 'francese' again I'll be sore. :)

Later that day, at the church of San Stefano across town, we overheard other American tourists talking about the rude woman at Santa Chiara.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
5417 posts

"Via!" (go away) works for me. But it's rude so only use it if you are sure you are being set up (surrounded by children holding cardboard signs, for example).

Posted by xiaohuispeical
13 posts

I'd like to jump in and ask a question. My family will be travelling in Italy late June and early July. Some of the sites we made reservation requires to show ID. I assume it mean passport. Any suggestion for a better way to carry them? Thanks.

Posted by Kristen
Chicago
557 posts

xiaohuispeical -
You will get more responses if you post a new topic. Is your question concerning a safe way to carry a passport? There are many opinions-money belts, money pouches, pacsafe bags, etc. Just not your pocket. If I am required to show an ID, I usually show my American driver's license unless they specifically request a passport (like a hotel). The less digging your passport out of a secret hiding spot, the better.

Posted by Maryam
Washington, DC
758 posts

Unless specifically requesting a passport, your driver's license or other state issued identification will suffice, so you could probably stash that away in your day bag and pull out if needed. I can afford to lose that in a foreign land, but certainly not the passport. Or simply use the restroom to pull out the passport for the entry, and then replace when done. I know it sound cumbersome, but I think it's worth the extra five minutes of effort.

Posted by Larry
Carmel, CA, USA
637 posts

On my last trip, I remember being asked to leave my ID at a site for a while, generally as "collateral" when renting audio tour equipment or when checking a bag at a museum. I can remember that at both the Borghese in Rome and the Peggy Guggenheim in Venice. Specifically for that purpose, I have taken an old expired drivers license. That has always worked, no one has looked very closely or objected. Also, sometimes when checking in to hotels or other lodging, they will ask to keep my passport for a little while. I understand lodging is required to record passport information about foreign guests. Nowadays they tend to be able to quickly copy the passport information while you are standing there, but some do not have copiers or are very busy with many people checking in or out at the same time. I have never had a problem, but have always made a point of getting my passport back before going out, and have checked to make sure that what I get back is my own passport, not someone else's.

Posted by terri_jo
2 posts

On my first trip to Italy in 2004, I witnessed two pickpocket attempts in a single day in Rome. One person had his wallet picked when he was boarding a bus and the pickpocket got off just before the doors were closed....the victim managed to open the doors and chase after the pickpocket. The other victims I saw were an elderly couple (tourists) and were walking along a busy street when a group of young men started yelling at them. The startled couple was confused and were paying attention to the yelling men while other men from their gang tried to pick their pockets. Luckily, the tourists caught on quickly and grabbed their belongings very tight so the pickpockets weren't successful.

Ultimately, always be aware of your surroundings - look around and behind to let potential pickpockets know that you are paying attention. Follow the advice given in the other posts an watch your purse/wallet even closer when getting on/off buses/metro/trains or in any crowd because people will grab your purse, purchases and/or backpack. Avoid intentional "distractions" by people who are yelling or throwing things at or near you and look around you when those distractions occur - many of them are staged so that their accomplices can pick your pocket while you are watching the distraction. Also, avoid anyone who asks you if you need directions or if you can help give them directions. I can't tell you how many times I have been asked for directions from natives during my travels....I am obviously a tourist so there is no local who needs my assistance. My guess is that they will either try to get close enough to pick my pocket while looking at my map with me or they will have an accomplice pick my pocket.

This is the same advice that I follow when I travel anywhere in the world (even the U.S.). Just stay alert and enjoy your travels!!

Posted by Rik
Vicenza, Italy
708 posts

Gypsies are real and they are a big problem in Italy. I've posted this story on here a few times, I guess I need to post it again for the sake of the OP;

I had read in a guidebook that the modus operandi of the gypsies was to send a gang of kids at you waving cardboard or newspaper and then one of them will rifle through your pockets while you are distracted. I'd always thought that sounded ridiculous, what kind of idiot gets so distracted by kids waving newspapers or cardboard that you don't know someone is going through your pockets. And then one day it happened to me. I was walking near the train station holding hands with my then-girlfriend when I saw a group of young gypsy kids run at me. I prepared myself for the onslaught and as they started shoving their newspapers in my face I started swinging my arm to get them away from me. As this was happening, it suddenly dawned on me that I was right in the middle of the scam I'd read about so I looked down and sure enough, there was an old gypsy woman who had gotten into my front pocket and pulled out a 50,000 lire bill (this was around 2001) without me even feeling it. Luckily I saw it just in time, I smacked her arm as hard as I could, she dropped the bill, I picked it up while pushing the kids away from me and we beat a hasty retreat. If it hadn't happened to me, I would never believe that it was possible but that old woman got her hand in and out of my front pocket in a flash and I never felt a thing. In certain situations, they can be VERY aggressive and I've seen them get very physical with other tourists right outside the Vatican.

I've known plenty of people who have had their houses broken into and saw the gypsy kids running away afterwards; the caribinieri told them that they use the kids because if they are under 16, the only they can do according to Italian law is release them to their parents.

Posted by jnlsnyder
1 posts

Hi there, I was just in Paris, Rome, Florence and Venice and I was worried about pick pockets. My kids and husband thought I was nuts but I followed the tips on this site and we had a great trip. I purchased a travel day bag that went over my shoulder and I could hook the zippers closed so that it was not easy to slide open without me feeling it. It was made from Pacsafe and I bought it at REI. I used it as my purse to hold a travel purse, glasses, phone, camera and water bottle and stored deep my credit card and atm card. I also used a small silk money purse that I attached to the strap of my bra and it held my days spending money. It was easy to get to if I needed it but out of the way and away from my purse. No issues. I got my husband the package backpack and it might have been overkill as he really only used it in the airports. Although I loved that again it had a special clip to close down the zippers on his pack. During the day he just used a money belt that he attached to his belt then it hung inside his pants. No big deal. We did ride the subway in Rome and it was packed and a woman in our group was pick pocketed and we think it was on the subway and I did notice that she was not aware of herself or belongings. We were in a large group of 25 and this was our only issue in 16 days. So just plan ahead. Also, one idea on a crowded subway is that I closed my purse inside my jacket so I may have looked goofy but no unwanted hands got into my stuff. Happy travels.

Posted by Edgar
Medford, OR, USA
1236 posts

I had a similar experience in New York City (USA) a number of years ago. On a cab ride to the airport and stuck in slow moving Manhattan traffic, the cab was suddenly surrounded by 20 or so pre-adolescents including some begging for money. My cab driver shouted "lock the doors!" slamming down the door lock buttons that he could reach. The driver explained that the child begging for a quarter was a distraction to allow the children on the other side of the cab to open the back passenger door and grab the luggage on the car seat.

Posted by George
Towson
119 posts

This thread is more than a little disconcerting. I think maybe on our next trip I will walk around with my pockets pulled inside out and hanging in the breeze and no bags of any kind. I'm only kidding (sort of).

Posted by Camille
Belle Mead, NJ, USA
15 posts

Born and raised in NYC, I feel confident that I know how to handle pan handlers of many types. I let my guard down, though, on Jan 1 2012, in Venice. I had attended a morning service at the Anglican church in Giudecca. As I walked back to my apartment, an old woman, dressed in long skirt and shawl, was crying piteously in the middle of the street. I knew she was a fake, yet feeling warm, relaxed, and charitable after the service, I reached into my pocket and gave her a few Euro coins. She suddenly lunged at me and pushed me towards the wall. I kept walking although she had me near the wall, and she shoved what looked like a bill, clearly indicating that she wanted at least 20 Euro from me. I kept walking and saying No and she finally gave up. It was a little frightening since I am small and middle aged, and would have had a problem if she really tried to corner me. But I was more mad at myself for ignoring my city street smarts. The incident was too small to sour two weeks in magnificent Venice, but I will be cautious when I visit Italy next month.

Posted by Sarah
United States
215 posts

Wow. If a post of mine had received these responses, I'd probably crawl into bed for my vacation! I would have missed the most glorious times of my life. I'm not a super expert on being a mugging victim, just a criminal defense attorney, but the person who said he was a retired policeman omitted what every cop I know says, and that is when you are physically challenged, give up your stuff. The ATM video could have been anywhere - you might believe the pictures, but The Daily Mail, seriously? The rule of know your surroundings is valid in every ATM worldwide. Cheer up. I don't know the age of your family, but I would suggest that the discussion be 'rules of conduct' or something, not 'how to save yourself from the baddies we are going to see on our trip'.

Posted by Emily
Vienna, Austria
922 posts

Seems like you have all put the poster at ease about her upcoming trip (typed on an iPhone in plain view on a European subway while wearing a backpack with my wallet inside).

Posted by Sandra
Illinois
313 posts

Wear the RS money belt and RS neck wallet. Both are sturdy but soft and lay flat. And the seams creating different pouches are very strong. Great quality.

I wear a scarf to hide the ribbons of the neck wallet that show on my neck, and i wear the money belt inside my undies. I also wear the neck wallet long enough so I can reach it from under the bottom of my shirt.

Sometimes I also wear that new RS soft travel pouch from my left shoulder across my body to my right side where my right arm can touch or cover it. Inside I put that tiny RS lambskin wallet.

One time i was standing on a bus in Roma that was becoming increasingly crowded. We were still at Cinquecento at Termini. The crowd surged and in a flash i was pinned up against the side of the bus. I freaked and pinched the guy on top of me as hard as I could. He stepped
aside and all of a sudden there was space enough for me to walk off the bus, and so I did.

I have a friend who took her father who uses a walker to Roma, and at the Spanish Steps, he felt a hand enter his pocket. He stopped and hit the hand as hard he could, he then looked and saw it was a gypsy girl. Oh well, she left him alone.

I learned to use ATMs that are inside bank alcoves, not on outside walls.

If i saw somebody eying me, i stopped and stared back, eye to eye, they left me alone.

I learned to dress like the locals to blend in. In Firenze that meant colors, uneven hems, and crocheted wrap over a nice top. In Napoli that meant black.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7805 posts

Any crowded tourist spot in Europe attracts pickpockets. Some places get a little more notoriety than others. In general, what works in one place, works everywhere.

You can't eliminate all risks when you're traveling. Like at home, you may get run over by a car while crossing a street. The key is to limit or manage your risk.

I live by a handful of simple rules that I believe make me much less likely to be targeted by thieves.

  1. Don't look like a lost, rich tourist - Everyone will know you're a tourist. Your size, clothes, general look pretty much give you away before you say a word. You can, however, attempt to dress appropriately and minimize any loose valuables, showy jewelry, shopping bags, etc. that may cause a thief to target you. You can also find a relatively secure spot to stop and consult your guidebook or map rather than standing in the middle of a crowd.

  2. When possible try to avoid crowds - Close contact is necessary for pick-pocketing. If the nearest person is 25 feet away and someone comes in contact with you, it's noticeable - so thieves like crowds. When being in a crowd is unavoidable, raise your awareness level, watch your bags and pockets with extra care.

  3. Keep track of your stuff - I use a "one handle rule". Whether I'm on a travel day with my carry-on, a shopping day with some purchases, or just a touring day with a day pack, I always reduce what I'm carrying to only one handle (one carry-on, one shopping bag, one day pack). It's much easier to keep track of one thing. Thieves will target people trying to keep track of multiple bags, packages, etc.

  4. Limit your exposure - While even the wisest tourist may get pick-pocketed, their trip won't be ruined because a smart traveler has back-up plans and exposes as little as possible to theft. Putting all your money and cards into a wallet and carrying it in your back pocket is a recipe for disaster. I carry walking around money folded up in my front pocket and put everything I won't need that day in either a money belt, neck wallet, or other secure place (hotel safe if you have one).

  5. ATM use - My first rule is to use an ATM that's inside rather than on the street. An inside ATM is going to be harder for a thief to tamper with. Second rule, cover your hand when you put in your pin. One way to rob you is to place a reader in the machine that reads/copies your magnetic strip, but they still need your PIN to access your cash. Some scams involve installing a tiny camera lens directly above the number pad, others involve filming people from a nearby window or car - always make sure no one can tell what number you are entering. Third rule, (along the same line) if someone is watching you, crowding you, or even offering assistance, walk away and use a different ATM somewhere else.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
5231 posts

If you are surrounded by a bunch of gypsy kids don't be ashamed to get very nasty just because they are under 14 (the age under which you cannot be prosecuted in Italy). I always threaten them to beat them up and chase them away even before they get too close. Those gypsy kids tend to go after foreign tourists because the Italians really beat them up without thinking twice. Often all I have to do is threaten them in Italian and they immediately run away from me. I don't see those gypsy kids around as much anymore. 10 or 20 years ago I could see them very frequently, but in the last 10 years I've never had any encounter (and I go to Florence and Rome every year). The only gypsies I've seen lately were women sitting down and begging at corners. Maybe the Italian authorities have finally decided to crack down on those kids (and especially their parents, who train them to steal taking advantage of the kids' immunity from prosecution).

Posted by Lo
Tucson
1283 posts

For those of us with gray hair, this is nothing new. In the late 70s I was in a large, nearly empty room with long tables in Roma Termini. A "family" sat down right around me. Young, naive, I thought it was odd. I looked down and the guys who sat behind me had slid my messenger bag over to their table. I got up, grabbed it back, cussed them out in English and quickly turned back to my seat. My backpack had not been moved and my small, crossbody purse (no money belts back then) was still under my sweater. Magically, the whole family slowly drifted away and I was once again alone.

Slow forward to the mid-80s. I'm living in Germany and see the kids with the newspapers working nearly every train station there and in France. On the Paris metro I learn the French term for a pickpocket by calling a woman's attention to the guy with his hand almost in her purse. She saved her stuff, he stepped backward off the train before it left. The term? Le pickpocket. My Chicago BFF said she would never have said anything for fear of being stabbed.

Fast forward to 2009. I'm inside Notre Dame. My husband is outside reading when he is approached by a beggar with a fake baby. Meaning to yell NYET, he yelled DA at her. In spite of the vocabulary error, it worked. She took off muttering Russian! in a disgruntled voice.

The point for me is that awareness, prevention, cussing in any language and yelling in a language not indicative of a prime target, combined with a certain level of confidence and fearlessness can go a long way.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
3092 posts

Bet the OP can't wait to experience all this fun:))

(I saw more gypsies/roma people in Paris than Italy:)

Posted by donna
roswell, ga, usa
1455 posts

Too Much Scarey Information~!!!! Just have fun and be a little careful, not neurotic for GOD's Sake, she's going to Italy, not Afghanistan!

Posted by home.sara.ford
2 posts

Pickpockets could be anywhere in the world you travel. It is not big deal if you do this: Diversify your documents and money. I have copies of everyone's itinerary and my travel docs in the frame lining area of my back pack for emergencies. I also put about $100USD in there too. Travel with a WAIST money belt (never neck ones just trust me on this!) while in transit places like rail stations, airports. My credit card and debit card stay in my money belt. Don't go into it at all when in transit. . Act like it is not there and have what you need zipped into the inner pocket of your satchel. GET A SATCHEL or crossbody! They swing easily in front of you in crowded places so you can watch them and they go crossbody and there are mens satchels (Army Navy Surplus if you don't believe me) Then take as safety pin and pin your zipper or buckle of your satchel closed at all times. Don't put things in your pockets, on the counter etc... put them back in the satchel and pin it!!! It seems stupid but it is harder to open someones bag if they have a small safety pin and their bag in front of them. Then just watch people with casual confidence. Pick pockets want an easy mark DON'T GIVE THEM ONE! Don't count money in the open! Never leave bags unattended for any reason at any time. Find a corner or Wall pile everyones stuff and leave a trust worthy person sitting on it (or buy a locker for a few hours in most train stations) if you must wonder around for a moment. I don't care what people who approach you say or want you to do...Say No. Your priority is to get your stuff to your train, hostel/hostel locker, hotel/hotel safe, etc. Never store the key to your room with the number of the room, in case you loose it. If you are forgetful write the number in your guide book. Travel with extra sets of keys to lock your luggage have your friend carry it perhaps, a padlock for lockers or even a cable lock to hook all back packs together. They all work great (I have backpacked all over Europe for many years and had my pockets picked in Germany, New York, and Las Vegas) FYI... Turkey was the safest place I traveled; just dress conservatively you will have more fun.

Posted by Joel
So. FL & Downeast ME
158 posts

Here's one more wrinkle; I have yet to use it (I leave for a month in Europe next week), but a "clip wallet" like the one in the link seems like a good place to keep spending money, driver's license, etc. Assuming you wear a belt it is invisible when worn, but very easy to access when you want to. I'll be using this along with the more standard, less accessible money-belt for stuff like passports.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00BJ8LQK0/ref=oh_details_o03_s00_i01?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3118 posts

@ Joel. The clip wallet you show can work really well and has a similar principle to a standard waist-tie money belt. It's also easier to access for regular use. But it is smaller as you point out and therefore cannot hold larger items like a passport.

Another similar option, one that I always use, is a belt-loop wallet. Only works for people that wear belts (so mostly for men) but I find it has the perfect combination of security and access. It can't be removed and it can't be secretly accessed by others as it folds over (secured with Velcro) and has multiple deep pockets, some with inner zippers. Large enough to hold everything. And because it hangs on the outside, I can easily access whatever I need. It's visible, so I suppose I look a bit dorky, but I'm on vacation so I don't care.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
20918 posts

@Joel,

If the "clip wallet" is worn on the outside, it could still possibly be "lifted" since it's only held with a spring clip. I'm not sure whether that could be done without being noticed, but the thieves in Europe are VERY proficient so I suspect it's possible.

Another product you could look at is the PacSafe Wallet which is attached to the belt with a steel chain. A pickpocket may get it out of a pocket, but he won't get far with it.

Posted by Jerry
Madison, WI, US
79 posts

Hi - When I travel....in the U.S. or overseas I use a few pairs of pants my niece was kind enough to alter for me. I had her sew a few zipper pockets to the inside of my pants waistline in front. She makes them from soft cloth and a nylon zipper. I can't feel the zipper when I wear it. In the hidden pocket I keep my passport, credit card, driver's license and some cash.....things I don't need to retrieve constantly. The pants I wear came with zipper back pockets. I carry my wallet with minimal cash in it in my back pocket. I also sometimes wear a travel shirt....with hidden zipper outside chest pockets where I keep the credit card I might use during the day.

Posted by MarieB
120 posts

@Jerry said, "The pants I wear came with zipper back pockets. I carry my wallet with minimal cash in it in my back pocket."

While that is a good idea to have your niece sew in secret, zippered pockets inside your pants/trousers or shorts, it is still not wise to have anything (a wallet with some 'cash' or Euro) in the back pocket - zipped or not. That is pure temptation and an invitation for a pickpocket. A zipper, especially in the back, won't deter a seasoned/professional thief.

Even though it may be somewhat customary in the States for a lot of men to carry a wallet (with everything in it in his back pocket), it is still always best to carry anything of value/importance in front of you while traveling abroad - foreign country or not. Or, as some do, wear a money belt if that is comfortable and secured properly around a waist.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3118 posts

@ Marie - He said that the wallet is only for a days worth of spending cash. That is standard practice and advice given by people here. If it did get picked, you are only out a day's worth of cash and the cost of the wallet. Not nice but not really a big deal.

People that use waist tie money belts, or some other systems can't easily access their money or cards and so must use a regular wallet for the daytime use. And some people only use their "secure" system for "deep storage" and don't access it for regular purchases. So they all need an easily accessible wallet with minimal cash for daily use.

Posted by MarieB
120 posts

@Douglas, Yes, I read what he wrote. But, I still do not think it is a good idea to put anything in a back pocket. This way, there is no stress about "losing any amount" of Euro or a wallet.

Posted by jturie
Valley Forge, PA
42 posts

Somewhat ironic....when my wife and I travel to San Francisco, New York, Chicago, or any other major city, we follow nearly all of these suggestions--doesn't matter where you are. We were just at Disney World, and at the Rainforest Café at the WDW Village, some kids were wandering through the crazy busy restaurant snatching purses left on chairbacks and sitting on tables. The difference vs Europe is that they weren't very slick or smart....they never turned off the iPhone in the one purse they snatched, and the woman's companions led the police right to them using the Find my iPhone app!

Never came close to a problem during our Paris and London trips.

It's just good common sense--be smart, and the bad dudes will target somebody who isn't.

Posted by christa
alameda, ca, usa
269 posts

I really like the flat security pouch that attaches to my belt loop and then is flipped inside the front of my jeans, I always wear tops that aren't tucked in and it's not noticeable or uncomfortable at all. My jeans fit tightly so even if it somehow came undone from my loop the pouch wouldn't go anywhere! My passport fits as well. I got mine from Amazon, I believe it's by Eagle Creek.

Posted by Laura
Rick Steves' Europe
7416 posts

Train stations and other crowded, touristed places in Paris are just as prone to pickpockets as Italian cities are. Even if you didn't use a money belt last time (under your clothes, for deep storage of most cash, credit cards, passport, when you don't need immediate access to them), I recommend you pick up that practice. It's excellent, cheap insurance. Please see Rick's advice on this topic.

Posted by cyost50
1 posts

My family and I had a great plan which we did use in Rome on the Metro. We where in a crowded car and noticed some folks crowding around. We had a code and called out CYA. We shifted our day packs to the front of us. Before the trip, I gave my daughter this sweet little brass whistle which she wore as a necklace. This little puppy would take your head off. She put in her. Out hand was ready. We stared down these guys and they proceeded to get off at the next station. My daughter also felt more secure throughout the trip. We rented a camper and traveled all over.

Posted by Mike
Clawson, MI, USA
195 posts

Can you actually take the Pacsafe Wallet with that metal chain through security? Is that TSA compliant? It looks like you could strangle someone with that thing.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
8272 posts

You can take it if it's in your carryon bag, not on you.

Posted by Rick
Tacoma, Wa, USA
27 posts

First, let me begin by responding to our defense attorney friend here. I work for and with defense attorneys daily in both state and federal cases. I agree that police tell folks to give up their wallet when confronted by an armed robber, or someone threatening deadly force. However, this is not the issue this forum is focused on and while I mentioned the stabbing in Firenze last year, such an encounter is rare. And I have never told a citizen to give up their money to a pickpocket or beggar (who might work as part of a team to distract you). Some folks here have suggested a firm NO and walk on. Usually works well, but seasoned travelers here know there are some exceptions out there who persist. Then it helps if you have the ability to confront and assert yourself as needed in those exceptions.

I just returned from touring one end of Tuscany to the other using Firenze and Cortona as a base, a week in each. I was in SMN Firenze a few times, (and Milano Centrale three times) and the Bulgarian gypsies (as described to me by a Firenze cop) were quite active in SMN Firenze. They worked in teams of 2-3 with a total of about 12 at my count around the Bigliettos, constantly feeling inside the bigliettos for money, and also trying to either distract, or scam those using them to purchase tickets. The gypsies were easy to spot and were constantly moving when not engaging a traveler. I photographed and shot video of them working many machines and customers. It made for an interesting way to pass the time while we waiting for our train.

The public transport system in Italy sure makes it easy for them to get around too. (another great reason to nail 1st class tickets at super economy fare if you can make the 120 day advance purchase).

I stopped in SMN Firenze to use a biglietto veloce to purchase rail tickets later in the evening when hardly anyone was there except for cops and staff. Although, there was that one guy who lined up behind me even though there were numerous other machine available (I was the only one using one). Talk about obvious.... so I immediately moved to a machine right next to the service desk where personnel were gathered. In any case, it's been my experience that those thieves are most active when the terminal is very busy during the day.

Milano Centrale is quite a mess out front (beggars, thieves, drunks, etc), and the cops don't seem to do much about it. Making things worse is all the construction fencing funneling folks to very few pathways in and out of the terminal front. I guess Milano is gearing up for the Expo, hence the construction mess.

I never described my go to Pacsafe wallet. It has the nylon covered steel cord that adjusts to length. It has a tough outside skin with wrap around zipper for added security. There is a dedicated passport slot with RFID protection, and slots for credit cards. Other storage slots are great for car park and other tickets. There are two currency sections, which is great to separate US from Euro, which I always do. The zipper is quick and I loop the cord around my belt with a prusik knot so it is secured to me while the wallet is inside my pants.

Some links I found-

http://www.ronpaulforums.com/showthread.php?421603-Invasion-of-the-pickpockets-Disturbing-pictures-show-gypsy-gangs-on-Paris-streets

http://youtu.be/LUx9EFgLPvg

http://youtu.be/htmUaPAIa4I

http://youtu.be/E7GBqBxwKIc

http://youtu.be/Ia2b54srRZM

Posted by jkc
Massachusetts
352 posts

Sorry Rick this is such and incredibly threatening and scary email. Be aware yes, but it sounds like you spent your trip looking for counting and observing "gypsies, tramps and thieves." I have been in SMN in Florence countless times, when it is busy and when it is not busy, and these people exist, but you make it sound like there are gangs of them roaming waiting to swoop in. Folks, they exist, they may ask if you need help or for spare change, wear a money belt, do not carry a back pack, do not engage them, tell them NO, in a firm voice, if they persist say it again. Shoo them away with your hand. There is no need to freak when approached - just say no. Yes the front of Milano Centrale has some, a few perhaps, homeless folks among others who you probably do not want to bring home to your parents but all you do is look ahead and walk past them along with the countless number of other folks doing the same thing.

I see kids checking soda and candy machines for change here in the US, heck, i did it as a kid and I am sure many readers did as well. Not sure why that is a problem.