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Robbed at Rome Termini Train Station

This is probably an age old scam and I blame myself for not being more alert, vigilant, and just plain smarter. So we are taking a high speed train from the Rome Termini Train Station. I've taken trains in Europe and in Italy before, but not this specific train/journey. My mind is on finding the right track, the right train, and making sure we're on time. As we approach the train a couple of men ask us for our tickets. I know that trains in Europe do not require any kind of ticket check before boarding, you just get on after validating your ticket in the machine, if validation is required. But because I'm completely focused on wanting to make sure we have the right train I was completely open to the offer of a second set of eyes confirming my ticket, even if the guy doing it had all the warning signs of trouble. I hand my tickets to one of the men, who looks at it, nods his head, grunts something in mangled English and then proceeds to stick it in the validation machine. I offer to do it, he startlingly puts his hand out as if to stop me from interrupting him and letting me know that he is in charge. He then leads us to the correct car. We follow him into the car and it is completely empty because we are about half hour out from departure. He helps us with our backpacks onto the racks and at this point, I'm a little wary because of how empty the train carriage is, not long after we catch up to him and begin to take our seats, 3-4 more men come on board to join the man that helped us, coming from opposite ends of the train carriage. They circle us and demands $80 or so Euros from us, $40 for each of the two men that apparently "helped" us, even though only one of them did. I told them I didn't have any money, but it was obvious they weren't having it and stepped even closer to surround us. Finally I just pulled out whatever money I had in my wallet, they grab it and they run off. And then, it all made sense:

  • There's no such thing as a pre-ticket check before getting on a train
  • I had high speed rail tickets, with reserved seats/time, there is no need to validate them
  • The men were dressed in similar blue colored pants/shirts to resemble service personnel but they weren't actual uniforms
  • The man who "helped" us had a lanyard around his neck, but with no ID attached to it.

If there was ever a case of smelling trouble from a mile away, this would have to be it. I kicked myself for the next 3 hours of the journey and then about 2-3 times a day after that for the remainder of our trip. It couldn't have been more obvious that these guys were just a bunch of crooks. Unfortunately my mind was too engrossed in logistics to see this. So for all you first timers....check for ID's on anyone offering to "help" you and get familiar with standard procedures and protocol to know when something doesn't seem right!

Posted by
16817 posts

Thanks for sharing your experience and providing specific details. Your hindsight is correct and good advice.

Posted by
2925 posts

Excellent advice for all of us! Thanks for taking the time to document your experience!

Posted by
1047 posts

KC,
Thanks so much for sharing this story. I will be in Rome this September and will remember your story so hopefully this will not happen to me. It is so easy to fall for a scam like this as your mind is on so many other things. Sometimes the worst experiences make for the best stories and can serve as a life lesson for others. Thank you!

Posted by
3696 posts

Well, that is unfortunate, but easy to see how it can happen in the moment... trying to figure stuff out in a foreign country. Only upside is... glad there were no weapons.

Posted by
518 posts

Yes, though it is regretful, we were fortunate there were no weapons involved. My feeling is that most of the crime that happens to tourists are petty pickpockets, scams, and the like and not violent crimes.

Posted by
3696 posts

I agree, but this was more then pickpocketing, as you were fully aware of who the criminals were... your typical pickpocket usually wants to go unnoticed and just slip away. This was far more aggressive.... however, from the heading and the term robbery, that usually does mean a weapon, so I was happy to hear there were not any. Not sure what a thief is called without a weapon...
definitely not your friend:)

Posted by
524 posts

I'm just angry reading this and I feel your frustration. Sometimes our minds just aren't prepared for this type of thing and we panic, which can take all sorts of forms. Thank you for taking the time to tell us your unfortunate story. i will be vigilant at the train station, refusing to take help unless I ask an official...and look for credentials.

Posted by
1564 posts

I'm just amazed, and impressed in a way, with all the time and effort they put into this scam. For not much payoff.

When we're travelling we're totally out of our natural element, with 2000 things on our mind. So this sort of stuff is bound to happen. Considering, you got off pretty easy.

Posted by
506 posts

Yes there are all these "bag handlers" that are there to help and demand money. I am furious that Italy at this point has more scams than ever and there is no one to do anything about this. Why are they letting these people run all over the Rome Termini and scam people. No protection what so ever. There people get off and on all the trains. Some stow away in the bathrooms and hold the door shut until the next stop. This is not even safe for security purposes. This was the first time on trains I really wonder who in the heck is driving these trains. This was the worst experience on trains in Italy we have ever had.

Posted by
3422 posts

Perhaps my memory is failing, but I think I read something awhile back (maybe on this forum) that something was being done at termini to keep the scammers off the platforms. Does that sound familiar to anyone or did I just dream that?

Posted by
4522 posts

They are scammers. Don't kick yourself too much for falling for it; many people would fall for it even "knowing" that it wasn't quite right. The same way pickpockets are so successful by causing a distraction that you later realize was to get your attention away from their hand in your pocket/purse - these guys apply pressure and intimidation until you relent. And they don't give you time to think or speak up calmly for yourself. And it's really hard for most people to become rude and refuse to let them lead/hassle you and/or cause a scene. It's just not something most people are used to dealing with and that's the ONLY way to deal with them.

It helps to let others know what happened so they might be more aware.

Posted by
7315 posts

Yes, TC, you remember correctly. However, it was the people who insisted on helping travelers with bags who were being replaced with authentic railroad personnel to help travelers. Here, these thugs were impersonating ticket controllers.

KC, Thank you for sharing and teaching us. To be surrounded like that and not know if they'd get violent is the worst part.

Posted by
35 posts

Thank you for your story. I had a terrible experience at Termini. My card was retained at the atm because I didn't retrieve it within 30s as was supposed to and I had less than 20euros on me at that time. I was asking around for help but no one is willing to help even the police. And when I was buying the train ticket at the automated machine, I need a smaller change for the ticket and this guy who was just standing beside me offered one euros for the ticket. I thought he is just another buyer who happened have change with him. And he was helping me with choosing the options etc. But when I was about to go off after I got my ticket, he suddenly stopped me and demanded for his money. I gave him 2 euros and asked if he can keep the rest of the change. It was not as scary as your experience and the money is negligible but I just to tell people that there are a lot of people at termini waiting to offer help and then later demand money from you.

Posted by
31219 posts

KC,

Sorry to hear about your misfortune. It sounds like the scammers are becoming more bold and aggressive, using intimidation and bullying rather than stealth. That's a bit surprising as there's usually a fairly prominent police presence at Termini with both Carabinieri and other police forces. They obviously had the timing down perfectly, as they pulled this off before any other passengers boarded the train.

Thanks for posting as I'm sure this will help others.

Posted by
796 posts

I am glad you posted this for people who might not expect it. I am sorry to hear that this happened to you. Don't beat yourself up over it though. We all get tired or distracted when traveling or face something new. The fault is entirely on the thieves who need to be taken out and publicly flogged. Italians are ashamed when people do this to guests in their country.

Posted by
524 posts

I also read that you had to have a ticket to be able to get through some sort of turnstyle to get to the platform. That security was manning these turnstyles. So, I guess that wasn't true? Hard to believe that police or security aren't on the look out for people in faux uniforms with empty ID tags around their neck.

Posted by
11613 posts

No turnstiles yet but entrance and exit gates with staff checking tickets - unless you go to the higher numbered platforms which are out of the sight line of most staff, and there are plenty of scammers there (especially very cheeky young boys). This is the area of Termini where construction is going on, so it will probably improve soon.

I was once offered "help" with luggage as I was going downstairs at another station, I asked to see his ID and he hurried off.

Posted by
518 posts

Lulu, I did see turnstile/checkpoint type entrances onto platforms but this was not in Italy, it was at the Nice train station in France.

One thing I want to say is that, after the incident and after returning home, my wife and I never told any of our friends/family. Most of them are not Europhiles nor well traveled in Europe, and I didn't want to spread their cliches about how dangerous Italy is and how EVERYONE's a crook and it's so dangerous there that it's not worth going, etc. Which is why I'm sharing it here, with people who ARE actually interested in going or have gone. Because despite the fact that it happened, I would return in a heartbeat.

Posted by
1 posts

Thank you for letting us know. We will be traveling from there to Venice soon and purchased the tickets with seating assignment ahead of time. I was unsure about the putting the ticket in the machine bit. I was thinking since it was a high speed train we didn't have to, but it is good to know not to fall for that trick.

Posted by
518 posts

I was always told to validate your ticket "or else!" But with reserved seat/high-speed tickets, the tickets are purchased for a specific seat/date/time, so I don't think you should have to validate it.

Posted by
7204 posts

Yes, no validation required for the high speed trains with reserved seating. I was just in Termini a few day ago and there are train personnel posted at gates at the beginning of the trains (Roma Termini & Firenze SMN) and you must show your ticket to them before being allowed to enter the platform. The slower regional trains have no such gate control. Daytripping to Pisa our group boarded the empty train and a few minutes later a lady (obviously Roma) boarded the train and sat right in the middle of our group. I had to laugh because she was so blatantly obvious. The conductor hopped on just a few seconds later and yelled at her and she got up and ran out.

There are attempts (gate control) to ease the scammers, but the problem unfortunately will never completely go away as long as there are gullible tourists fresh for the picking. The big sign or red light from the above situation should have been someone actually approaching you and offering to help. Not in a million years will an official train personnel come to you and OFFER assistance of any kind. It's hard enough just ATTEMPTING to get assistance from authorized train people in Italy. (Switzerland is totally the exception).

Posted by
264 posts

If these thieves can walk around a platform so freely, god knows what else with worse intentions can do?

Posted by
244 posts

Your experience does sound scary. I'm sure glad you were ok. Our taxi driver in Rome pulled a fast one on us. We were picked up at the train station on our way to the hotel. When he arrived at our hotel he immediately pulled a lever that opened the truck. He told my husband to get the luggage. This flustered me. Then he ask for twenty five euro. More then the meter said. I complaint to him, he said extra for luggage. I handed him a twenty and a five. As I was getting ready to exit the cab he showed me that I only gave him two fives. He had done a fast movement with the money and hid the twenty I had given him. I again was flustered. Handed him another twenty and off he went. As we stood on the sidewalk in front of our hotel it all came rushing back. I'm sure I've read about this scam in one of RS's forums. At first it really upset me, but after settling in our hotel we decided that being scammed wasn't going to ruin our Rome adventure. After telling the stories to friends it has become a memory to chuckle about.

Posted by
20973 posts

Pfresh - a charge for luggage (1 or 2 Euro) is not uncommon. Second, to help prevent the money switch, I always play kind of dumb - I will hand a 20 and say with a questioning look, "20?", then the five, "5"? , then "25, right?" In other words, call attention to each bill and the total.

Posted by
518 posts

I've heard about the taxi driver bill switch scam many times. I almost feel like you should pull your phone out and video tape the transaction as proof of what you handed over. I'm reminded of cash transactions here in the States, regardless of what you're buying the cashier always counts your change back to you and hands you the bills one at a time.

Posted by
42 posts

If somebody tries this get loud . Yell at them, scream at them- they do not want the attention that you will attract. In all likelihood you will have a mob of people coming to help as well as the police.

Posted by
693 posts

Perhaps everyone so worried about crime in Italy should take their vacation in Baltimore to help them keep things in perspective. 155 murders in the last 6.5 months in Baltimore compared to just over 500 a year in all of Italy.

Anyone else bemused by citizens of the world's most violent industrialized nation fretting over crime in Italy?

And no, I am not having a go at the OP who is providing some sound advice, but rather at the comments of posters such as Miguel.

Posted by
635 posts

Don't fear Termini, but it is a place to be prepared and aware of your surroundings. If you want a less frenetic, more low-key experience, pick an itinerary through Roma Tiburtina instead. It's only four Metro stops east of Termini. If you're booked on Italo, you'll most likely be using Tiburtina. The Leonardo Express from the airport only goes to Termini, but the FM1 goes from the airport to Tiburtina (with a stop along the way at Roma Ostiense, another option). FM1 takes a little longer, but it's cheaper than the Leonardo Express.

Posted by
506 posts

I would say just be care full traveling in Italy. This was our fourth trip and every day for 17 we found ourselves avoiding some type of scam or another. And I just talked to someone today who had their purse stolen in Florence recently. It was really their fault for it happening but they were just not use to being this "careful" all the time. I think there is something to be said for Italy at this point. I think this is a trend and it doesn't mean not to go. I really don't think everyone is naive, I just think fatigued.

Posted by
11613 posts

Fatigue can often be a factor, also not being used to carrying all one's valuables (I.e., when in transit) - who does that at home, wherever that may be?

I go to Italy every year, but when I lived in Roma, I never carried around the cards, cash, docs that I do as a visitor.

I also think hyper-vigilance may lead one to think they have successfully avoided a threat where there was none (lots of people offer help, not many are scamming for euro).

Posted by
434 posts

First, I am sorry this happened to you. I have been caught in a few similar traps. I don't know if living in NYC has made me more suspicious but I never take help from someone offering help. I try to look for someone "nice" and not a tourist.

This is GREAT information as I will be alone on a train later this month from Geneva - Paris and then onto London. I don't take the train here in the US so I needed some good reminders of staying safe. THANK YOU!!!

Posted by
518 posts

leftanglecreative, my advice then would try not to be caught all alone, whether on the far end of a station platform, or in a train carriage. Make sure there are always others around you.