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!