Rome: Pickpockets on Escalators

Not really a scam, and I apologize if it has already been reported elsewhere. My daughter and I realized we witnessed a group of pickpockets at work in the Termini Metro station. We were approaching an escalator with a crowd of people. We had our packs on our backs and were somewhat waiting for our turn or opportunity to go up. A group of three or four men sort of muscled past all of us to get on just ahead of an older couple. I assumed the men were simply in a hurry. Then as we were about to step on, ourselves, a young man pushed past us and hit the escalator's stop button. It shut down right before us. Those on the escalator came to abrupt stop. As we moved to the stairs, we noticed the three or four men and the young man assisting the older couple with collecting their bags, which they had lost control of when the escalator stopped. It all happened so fast that there was hardly time to process it all, but as we started up the adjacent stairs, we were pretty sure the group of men were helping themselves to the contents of the couple's bags. There were people before us on the stairs and behind us and people walking up the stopped escalator. There was very little time to react. I'm not sure we could have done anything, but beware.

Posted by Larry
Elkins Park, PA
783 posts

Yes, that was theft.
And not specific to Europe, I have seen this same trick in malls here in the past.
Usually there is security now in the malls.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3011 posts

What is soooo frustrating is that it is soooo easy NOT to become a victim of pickpockets and theft. You see so many women walking around with purses that just unzip or unlatch from the top and their wallet is just tucked inside. Carrying backpacks with easy-to-open zippers. Men stuff wallets in their front or back pants pockets. People leave valuable laptops or tablets out on their hotel room desk (maids often leave rooms open while they clean several at a time).

Use a money belt, belt-loop wallet or neck pouch, use a secure travel purse, never set anything valuable down on the floor or a table, lock your backpack and luggage and never worry again about this scam or that pick-pocket.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
999 posts

This happened to me in Paris. Mid-morning on a Sun, just me and my husband around, I was about half way up, hubby was almost at the top...and the two young girls (I would say older teens) hit the stop button (I turned around to make sure my bag was secure on the step below me and just then I noticed the girl bend down and hit the stop button) and immediately crowded me to 'help' me with my bags (hubby was already pretty much off the escalator). I struggled with them, telling them I was fine. It took a few seconds for my brain to put together what had happened and what was happening. They didn't get anything but I do believe the top pocket on my suitcase had been opened (nothing impt in there). I checked my coat pockets - nothing missing. But it could have been worse if my impt stuff hadn't been secured better. And maybe they gave up because I was struggling with them.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
5540 posts

Thank you for posting this. I've never heard of this method and you mentioning it made me think about how I do things. If I have my wheeled bag and I'm on an escalator it is sitting on the step behind me. Now it will always be in front of me. Thanks again for the warning.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
12026 posts

This has been posted here before. A similar, common variation is for someone to stumble at the top of the escalator so that the continuing movement of people packs people on top of each other at the top. The pickpocket target will be just behind the stumblee and his buddy will cleaning out the target's pockets as everyone is falling or stumbling over the pile up at the top of the stairs. The best way of avoid all of these sandwich set ups whether at the door of the subway, bus, or the escalator, is to be unpredictable with your movements. Don't go in the obvious door of a subway car. If in a line for an escalator, step aside and let a few people go in front of you. And, of course, I would always have my bags in front of me.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3011 posts

**> The best way of avoid all of these sandwich set ups whether at the

door of the subway, bus, or the escalator, is to be unpredictable with
your movements. Don't go in the obvious door of a subway car. If in a
line for an escalator, step aside and let a few people go in front of
you.**

This sounds more like a way to shake a tail if you are a CIA spy ;-)

Again, I say stick with the simple idea of keeping your luggage locked and your valuables in a money-belt/neck-pouch type system. Then it doesn't matter what kinds of disruptions might happen because they can't get to anything you don't want taken.

Posted by Karen
Fort Wayne, IN, USA
1669 posts

Ah, so that was Frank I saw in subway, with the false mustache and trench coat, ducking behind a pillar, suddenly walking fast and then sidling to the right. Pickpockets do avoid you when you act like Barney Fife on a stakeout! ;)

Posted by Robert
Tampa, FL, USA
583 posts

Not a fan of money belts. I use a Pac-Safe Messengar bag as my day bag and keep my valuables in there.

Posted by anneelise1
2 posts

I lived in Rome in 1999 to 2001, and I was constantly amazed -- and angered! -- at how crafty the pickpockets were. I remember one day, getting on the metro by the Colloseo: the tourists were packed in like sardines, and into the fray came a gypsy lady, eyes roving. At this point I was so sick of seeing tourists robbed that I said, out loud, "Everybody, please watch your wallets. A pickpocket just came on. Please be careful." Some of the tourists eyed me like I was a real weirdo, but I didn't care. I just didn't want to see anymore senior citizen American tourists robbed! One thing: men, PLEASE don't stash your wallet in your pants pocket, front or rear! You'll be sure to lose it while you travel, since a pocket like that is so easy to pick. Sigh ... the realities of travel! (Thankfully, the joys are far greater!)