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Warning to Sorrento/Naples Visitors:

There is a new page in the Pickpocket Playbook for the infamous Circumvesuviano train.

A young couple with a baby in a stroller wait by the train’s door until a mark (i.e., you) gets up to exit at an upcoming station. The “father” blocks the door with the stroller and gestures to the mark that he needs assistance with lifting the stroller from the train to the platform. When the mark obligingly bends over to help, the “wife”, who has positioned herself behind the mark, picks his pocket.

I was fortunate. Having endured two back operations, I knew I could not lift the stroller. When I shook my head “no” and tried to get by the “father”, I turned just enough to catch “mother” going for my wallet. I scampered out the train door unscathed just ahead of her.

Unfortunately, Mr. Steves’ suggestion that the first car is safer, because the train driver is present, proved counterproductive. When my friends tried to exit behind the pickpockets and join me, the train driver, who was watching all this, slammed the doors shut prematurely. This forced them to go on to the next station; by the time they caught a train back, we had lost over an hour of sightseeing time. My friends even pulled the emergency cord, but the train driver ignored it; clearly, he was in league with the thieves.

Posted by
6535 posts

That's why it's common knowledge not to put a wallet in a back pocket. When a thief sees a bulging back pocket, it's just too easy for them.

Posted by
12090 posts

We had no problems at all with Circumvesuviana but as Agnes said, no tourist should ever, ever stash their wallet in an exterior pocket (or easily accessed purse) if unwilling to take the risk of having lifted. It is the #1 security rule on this and other travel forums.

Posted by
127 posts

I'm not sure how new this scam is but the message about situational awareness is clear.

It's why you don't go to Italy and think that it is okay to run around without a money belt/wallet for your valuables. For all the gushing that folks do about Rome and Italy, theft is just part of their culture that is largely ignored. The RS tour group I took a couple years ago had no fewer than three individuals who got the "Italian treatment" before joining the tour (none of them related incidents).

One of them even had their day bag stolen while retrieving their checked bag at FCO!

I like Rome and I like Italy. I plan on returning and exploring more of this wonderful country. But I am under no illusions about the corruption, crime, and dark underbelly of what Italian culture contains.

Posted by
823 posts

This is for Sean -

I think you are being (more than) a little unfair to Italians and the Italian culture. Crime is no more a cultural pillar in Italy than in the United States or any other 'modern' country. And most of the petty crime isn't committed by Italians - it's committed by transients and immigrants.

I've spent more than 2 months (combined) in Italy from Venice to Rome and I've never been the victim of petty theft because I maintained good situational awareness and kept my wits about me.

Posted by
127 posts

This is for Work2Travel-

I think that petty crime in Italy is considered more normal than it is in the United States. In the United States, somebody in authority (like the police) will at least take a report- even if the chances of recovering your property are remote. In Italy the police just shrug their shoulders and do NOTHING and become annoyed that you are bothering them. There is no point of even approaching the authorities when you've been robbed of your possessions from petty crime because they don't care and don't think it is their job to do anything about the matter. Italians do indeed have a cultural bias toward ignoring petty crime.

Where we can agree on the need for situational awareness.

Posted by
31217 posts

robert,

The Circumvesuviana scammers are certainly becoming more "creative". Last year there was a report here on the forum that they created a diversion by setting someones suitcase on fire. One can only wonder what their next tactic will be.

This is exactly why it's a good idea NOT to carry too much cash or other valuables in a wallet that could be "picked". The majority of valuables should be in "deep storage" in a Money Belt. If they do happen to pinch my wallet, they won't get much (that hasn't happened yet, even on the Circumvesuviana).

Posted by
17867 posts

clearly, he [the driver] was in league with the thieves

Thievery is the national pastime.

Posted by
12154 posts

The "father" is basing his strategy on one assumption, ie, the "mark" is a gentleman willing to help the "father" get his stroller from the train to the platform. What if the "mark" is no gentleman and has no intention of helping the "father? " Without luggage the "mark" could easily get off the train and ditch both mom and pop.

Posted by
6554 posts

Only place we ever had any problem was in the Paris underground--at the foot of an escalator where a pickpocket accomplice fell and had a bunch of people fell over each other in a pile.
The place is well covered with security cameras, and the police sees the same pickpockets day after day. They know who they are and what they're up to--but the police do nothing about it.
It's almost like pickpockets are accepted members of society in many parts of Europe.

Posted by
7303 posts

David--you've said this repeatedly, and every time I see it I repeat again that the police have to catch them in action. Do you have proof that they see but don't care, or is this personal opinion? Personally, I have watched television segments on the Metro police on French versions of programs like 60 Minutes, showing what the police do and are able to do. Remember that pickpockets are just one faction. They are also watching for and tracking the flashers, the gropers, the gang members, and trying to stop the jumpers. It ain't easy.

As for this incident: thank you for the warning and description. It is very useful. Scammers are getting bolder. However, to address your one statement and David's, I want to give my reaction to with blanket statements--stereotypes--from people who know nothing about the inner workings of Italian police, Italian train drivers, French police and detectives, French law, Italian law--that the authorities do nothing, that a driver is in collusion. Those are very strong statements accusing authorities of corrupt behavior.

Posted by
12090 posts

Or maybe the authorities, like police forces in many places in the world, have bigger things to worry about these days than petty thieves? Maybe they trust that visitors will educate themselves in how not to lose their valuables so they can concentrate on trying to keep visitors and citizens from losing far worse?

Posted by
366 posts

I also have been pick pocketed in Italy. Or should I say backpack picked. I was getting on a train in the Chinque Terra and my wallet was taken out of my backpack. I only had a small amount of money in it so there was no great loss. Lessons learned? I now never carry a back pack unless hiking. I carry a cross body bag big enough for just the essentials. I hate money belts so leave passport and money locked in my suitcase in my room unless traveling between locations or I am uncomfortable leaving them in my room.

If you stay aware and take precautions you can hopefully stave off being picket pocketed. If not make sure they would not get very much. Lastly if it does happen, and you have taken precautions try not to let it ruin your vacation.

Posted by
7631 posts

Very well said Bets.

I also thought... Maybe the police have more important things to do than "rescue" dumb tourists from pickpockets.

Pickpockets are the least of your worries here in SF.

Posted by
14225 posts

I was pickpocketed in a Tower Records store in lower Manhattan, wallet removed from a purse while I was browsing the CDs. Biggest problem - the key to the hotel safety deposit box was in it, cost a lot because they had to remove and replace the lock.

Posted by
4664 posts

I agree that I don't understand the OP's claim that the driver was "in league with the thieves". It's unfortunately true that drivers on public transport quite often aren't patient with people who take too long to get off the vehicle. And how did the driver know what was going on inside the carriage? Most trains have a solid wall between the cab and the carriage rather than a window to stop passengers from hassling the driver.

Posted by
12040 posts

But I am under no illusions about the corruption, crime, and dark underbelly of what Italian culture contains.

I think you are being (more than) a little unfair to Italians and the Italian culture.

Unfortunately, Transparency International agrees with Sean. Italy ranks a dismal 61st on their last Global Corruption Index, well behind all of western Europe and above only a handful of the usual suspects, like Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Russia and Belarus. Even Romania scored higher.

Posted by
11450 posts

I have issue with this posters declaring the train driver was in with this .. and that he purposefully closed the door on his friends.
Frankly I do not think that was true at all.

So Robert .. I think its great you posted this scam as it will help others to recognize the situation ... however the last paragraph beggers believe..

Also pulling the emergency stop cord because your group didn't make it all off at once.. that's a crime itself..

Posted by
323 posts

This is not really a new scam, as my husband and I were blocked from getting off a train in Italy in 2011. The scammers had a group of children, I think it was three, and preceded to get between me and my husband. We had watched them on the train,( as in being aware of your surroundings), and were very aware they would probably pull something. When they blocked the exit from the train, my husband, who is a rather gentle person, pushed the woman aside with a shove, and we got off the train before the doors were closed. But they clearly were after trying to confuse two older tourists, which we are, and grab a wallet or whatever they could get.
Awareness is the key. But we love Italy and have been back twice since then and not experienced anything like that.

Posted by
11613 posts

I was pickpocketed on the Circumvesuviana and reported it to the police (since it involved a passport) at Napoli Centrale, who were very kind. The cab driver on the ride to the Consulate did not charge me for the ride, and was very apologetic. The hotel owner let me use his phone for numerous calls to my bank and credit card companies. The passport office official told me that he had been pickpocketed the previous week.

And the police know that most tourists will not return to testify at a trial, should one be scheduled.

Every country can have some ignorant and unfortunate stereotypes applied to it.

Oh, and Transparency International ranks PERCEIVED level of corruption related to misuse of PUBLIC funds...

Posted by
324 posts

So has anyone actually experienced the "thrown baby/hold my baby" scam? I can't stop imagining babies (real or fake) flying throgh the air at unsuspecting marks and laughing to myself.

Posted by
11613 posts

Miranda, I have experienced the "hold my baby" scam, about 35 years ago inside a church in Firenze. A woman held her semi-conscious baby out to me as if she would drop it. I instinctively put my hands out, which was enough time for her pickpocket child accomplice to get to my wallet. The baby was apparently drugged to look sick. It was a real baby.

Posted by
1976 posts

Miranda, I almost experienced the thrown-baby trick in Rome in 2001. My traveling companions and I were leaving Termini after we just arrived from the US, when a woman with a baby and a few kids walked toward us. We knew exactly what they were going to do (our Italian teacher at home warned us about it) so before they came too close, one of my companions started waving and yelling, "No!" That told them we were on to them, and attracted attention, so they left us alone.

Posted by
14 posts

IMO I don't believe thievery is a national pass-time for Italians and I actually think it's a bit offensive to suggest that it is. I've been to Italy a few times, never had any issues. Carried my money in a wallet, in my purse. Never saw anyone look sideways. I'm always a little more vigilant when on vacation, however, I find it a bit mind boggling how scared tourists are about their stuff being stolen (it seems to be a major stress point). How do you act at home? I'm pretty sure you don't wear a money belt. I would bet dollars to donuts that there's some European forum somewhere in cyberspace that has posts about how some European tourist had their stuff stolen when visiting the U.S. or Canada.

Posted by
330 posts

I've seen dozens and dozens if not hundreds of people on this forum that have claimed to have been pickpocketed in Europe. So I have no doubt that it is occurring. I've also watched many videos of pickpocketing and other scams in Europe.

I really can't ever recall hearing anybody in the states being pick pocketed in the big cities like Chicago or New York. I'm not saying it doesn't happen I just have never heard of it happening.

With all that said, earlier this year we were on the ramblas in Barcelona and I purposely carried an empty old wallet in my back pocket as I was just curious to see if anyone would try to take it. We didn't stay very late at night and the crowds weren't very big either at the times we were there so maybe I was just lucky.

Posted by
18117 posts

I lost a purse and a wallet in Washington DC on separate occasions about 20-30 years ago, so it does happen. One was a classic wallet lift while i was waiting to board a subway train, with my purse dangling from my shoulder. It was several minutes before I realized that the purse was unzipped and the wallet was missing. The other time was a blatant grab when I was walking alone and carrying a bag of groceries, with no one else around.

Posted by
7631 posts

In my 11-12 yrs on this forum I have not read hundreds of posts of people having been pickpocketed in Europe.

Sadie, that forum for Europeans coming to the US as tourists are warning them about getting killed... which happens all too often here. Let's see... pickpocketed vs killed... I'll take pickpocketed thank you.
Although in 8 yrs of my life spent all over Europe I have never been pickpocketed.
I think being very street smart helps.

Posted by
14 posts

Right, no one was ever pickpocketed in NYC, if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.

Crime, of all stripes, happens everywhere. I absolutely believe everyone should be vigilant of their surroundings, and what's going on - I believe that even in your own home town. Doesn't mean you should live your life in fear (IMO), or paint an entire nation as criminals.

Posted by
330 posts

Never said there is NO pick pocketing in NYC etc. I read these forums a lot and have seen dozens and dozens if not hundreds of ppl that have.

Posted by
11613 posts

Sadie, I agree, it is offensive. As a crime statistic, I have been pickpocketed twice in 45 years of travel in Europe. In Miami, I was held up at gunpoint, at knifepoint, both attempts unsuccessful for the assailants; my house was broken into three times.

Vick, carrying a wallet to lure thieves? Nothing better to do on vacation?

Posted by
12154 posts

It is 45 years, isn't it, since 1971, when I began European traveling. As a crime statistic I've been pickpocketed once when they got some cash, ....in east Berlin in 1995.

Posted by
3 posts

My Mum went to Rio 20yrs ago. She always had lose change and just gave the beggars or shady people that were a bit suss a few coins just so they would leave her alone.
I have read lots of RS books on everything over the last 10 yrs. In 2013 was i was in Paris walking around the Luxembourg Gardens and this women come up to me(I was on my own) and she said i had dropped my gold ring .Before she could say anything else, I then pulled out my French Rick Steves guide book and said to her" look he has taught me about your little trick" pointing to Rick book. So thanks Rick your information its honest and very valuable to any traveller no matter what country you come from.. they are my bible to travelling and staying safe .

Posted by
7204 posts

I was a nervous wreck on my first trip on the Circumvesuviana because of all the horror stories I had read here. Yes, it was packed and yes it was quite warm and yes there were some performers who begged for money afterwards - but I arrived into Sorrento safe and sound. Really, you've got to just have a little common sense about you and don't get carried away in all of the stories...

Posted by
1182 posts

See my post on the Italy Forum. There is a new train service between Sorrento and Naples.

Posted by
12123 posts

I take issue with people who state that petty theft is part of the Italian culture when every statistics show that virtually 100% of pickpocketing is committed by foreign immigrants.

Not long ago I posted in this website newspaper articles I randomly took which reported of several police anti pickpockets operations that took place and were reported that week on the press. Not one of the dozens and dozens of the pickpockets arrested were Italian, NOT ONE.

This is an example now by simply googling "pickpockets arrested":
4 Romanians out of 4 arrested.
http://roma.repubblica.it/dettaglio-news/-/49032?
12 out 13 pickpockets arrested in various police operations were foreigners in this article:
http://www.romatoday.it/cronaca/scippi-roma-centro-13-arresti.html

There are plenty more, all of them show the same.

Posted by
158 posts

Three years ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to spend a month in Italy starting in Milan and ending in Sicily. A highlight, among many, was our time on the Amalfi Coast.

One afternoon, after spending much of the day in Naples, we made our way to the train station to take the Circumvesuviano back to Sorrento. Once through the turnstile, we made our way to the top of the steps where we noticed the train to Sorrento was boarding. Well, we didn't want to wait for the next train so we sprinted down the steps. My wife was wearing a small purse with a leather cross-body strap where she kept her point-and-shoot camera and a few euros. As she tried to enter the train door, a young man on the platform reached for the strap and tried to rip it off of her. Luckily, the strap was stronger than he was. The purse did open and a few coins flew out, but nothing else was lost. The doors closed as we gained our composure and assessed what had just happened. As we pulled away, the young man, still on the platform, shrugged his shoulders and simply waved goodbye with a sheepish smile on his face. Realizing that no harm had been done I waved back along with several passengers who joined in my salute to the would-be thief. Chalk one up for the good guys.

Lesson learned: ALWAYS be aware of your surroundings and never be in is rush. That's when you let your guard down and become vulnerable. My wife simply said, "You just had to prove you could run faster than me, didn't you." Lady's first!

Posted by
1811 posts

Ed--

We'll be taking the same trip as you in a few weeks, returning from Naples on a daytrip via the CV to Sorrento. A couple days earlier, when arriving from Rome with our bags we have opted to let the Sorrento B&B folks pick us up by private car at Napoli Centrale. Not cheap, but peace of mind in that decision.

On our previous two European trips, I have used a money belt (a real uncomfortable P.I.T.A.), and then for our last trip, a cross-body pouch worn under my shirt, which seemed to work much better, and that's what I'll do this time. RS calls it 'deep storage', and I really shouldn't have to access it--if I do, I'll get out of eyesight, in a bathroom or hallway. That's not the problem, it's the easily accessed stuff--keys, day money, maps/info and mostly my iPhone--that concerns me.

It being March, hopefully temperate--40's to 60's in Rome and Sorrento--I'm hoping that I'll be able to get away with a Columbia fleece with outside zippered pockets. Maybe the zippers aren't that much of a deterrent to pickpocketers, but it served me well on our last trip in that stuff doesn't randomly fall out of the pockets, especially if I take it off and drape it across my arm. Nothing at all in my pants pockets, front or back.

Never have been pickpocketed, even an attempt, but I don't give them much eye-pilfer-candy. Only time I've felt really vulnerable in the past was in the Paris metro in a rickety, jam-packed car, jostling back and forth, while standing and trying to hold on to a vertical pole and protect my stuff at the same time.

But we'll riding the Circumvesuviana at least four or five times on our trip, as well as a week of the Rome bus & metro system. So better be safe than sorry.

Posted by
1811 posts

Reporting back on the 'dreaded' Circumvesuviana...

Only ended up riding it once, round trip on a Sunday from Sorrento to Naples and back. The ride to Naples late morning was uneventful but scenic, car about half full with normal people. We disembarked at Naples and found an animated cabbie to drive us to the Archeological Museum, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

After taking a taxi in the late afternoon from the Museum back to Naples Centrale (15 Euro, regulated), we bought our return tickets at the machine and within about 15 minutes the train arrived, again a half-full car. We had been told in advance of this trip that if there were ruffians in the bunch, that they would get on at Naples, and within 4 or 5 stops they would get off, and the train would be clear & serene by Sorrento. Not this time.

Around Castellammare di Stabia, probably halfway to Sorrento, some drunk and not-very-talented musicians--accordion and bongos--got on the train and started playing and panhandling, making an unholy racket. If they were even decent players, I'd have given them something. But everyone else was ignoring them, so we did too. One other rider with his girlfriend--who was quite drunk as well, started pawing the accordion player, and grabbing his own crotch, an interesting response. They were all too drunk to fight. Quite the experience.

Bottom line is that you get all types on this line. For the price and the relative efficiency--although there are at least 15-20 stops between Sorrento and Naples--I'd definitely take it again, but probably not with luggage, not at night and I'd keep my wits about me at all times. If anybody has ridden the Chicago 'L', that's a fair comparison.

Posted by
14225 posts

Jay's experience sounds a lot like what happens on the metro in any big city, European or American.

Posted by
630 posts

Jay's experience sounds a lot like what happens on the metro in any
big city, European or American.

Chani, my thoughts exactly. I'm from Boston, Massachusetts (USA) and I wouldn't attempt carrying large luggage items on a Boston train during rush hour. Passengers are squished in like sardines, so I can't imagine trying to bring my luggage on as well.

Posted by
1811 posts

Pilgrim, I'll have to look for accordions, bongos and self-crotch-grabbing next time I'm on a Boston train. Hah!!

Posted by
4637 posts

Roberto, I believe that. Once they caught several pickpockets in Prague, all were Romanians and all were passengers of chartered bus. The bus was taking Romanian pickpockets to work in Prague because there are significantly more foreign tourists with money in Prague than in Bucuresti.

Posted by
630 posts

Pilgrim, I'll have to look for accordions, bongos and
self-crotch-grabbing next time I'm on a Boston train. Hah!!

Jay, you won't have to look very hard. It's a daily event LOL I've actually seen worse.