6 Common Scams in Italy: Know Before You Go

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Like all cunning con artists around the world, Italy's thieves and scammers will try to take advantage of visitors who don't know the language. Here are are some of the most common tricks in Italy.


Elderly gyspy woman begging for money at Torino, Italy Photo © iStock/John Tsotras

Travel scams have existed around the world as long as we’ve been travelling. Those in Italy are similar to what you’ll encounter in other European countries, with an Italian flavour of their own, of course. Here’s some of the most common to keep in mind, while remembering the best way to avoid being scammed is to follow your instincts: offers or overtures that would seem dodgy back home, are rarely to be trusted in Italy either.

Overcharging in Italy

Stories of tourists hit by comically large bills for a round of gelato or a pasta lunch in Rome or Venice regularly hit the headlines. One of the easiest ways to avoid the possibility of being overcharged, either legitimately or not, is to find a bar or restaurant just a little away from the tourist site you’re visiting. Sometimes even a couple of streets will make all the difference. And, if you need a coffee or drink in a heavily touristed street do what locals do – stand at the bar rather than sitting down.

Ways to avoid an unpleasant surprise at the end of your meal include:

– Always ask for a written menu, or look for it behind the bar, and ask for il conto (your restaurant bill or cheque) when it’s time to pay; if they make up the bill on only on a piece of paper and you aren’t happy, press for a ricevuta fiscal ­– an official tax receipt.

– Be aware that extra charges are often perfectly legitimate, if not always fair; they include a traditional per person pane e coperto – in essence a cover charge, sometimes including bread for the table – and, mostly in touristy restaurants, a mandated servizio charge, that takes the place of a tip.

– Understand that fish and seafood is often listed a etto, by the 100g, rather than by the dish.

– In places with sea views, such as the Cinque Terre or Amalfi, always make sure to check for fine print that mandates a heftly minimum per person charge (one that they may insist be applied even to small children dining with you).

If you still believe you have been ripped off, you can refuse to pay, and if the restaurant threatens to not allow you to leave, call the police on 112.

Worried you’re being overcharged in a museum or sight? Ask to see the official entrance prices and, again, ask for an official receipt.

The fashion scam

A well-suited man approaches you just off a piazza in Rome’s centro storico or on a street near the Coliseum. He works for 'insert-famous-Italian-fashion brand', he says, and has been at a fashion or trade fair. Oh, my brother’s wife’s from Queensland, Manitoba, Kent too. I love you guys.

He’s got samples – cashmere coats maybe, or leather jackets, watches, silk scarves – and for various reasons such as needing cash because his card isn’t working or it’s lost, or he simple wants to offload his stock, you can have them ‘at cost’. Alarm bells should sound loudly. Play along and you’ll end up down a few hundred euro with nothing but cheap rubbish in return. Note too, any trade in counterfeit fashion goods, usually from vendors selling from a blanket on the street, is illegal in Italy, for both the seller and the buyer.

Transport traps

Although an increased police presence has somewhat tamped the scammers at Milan and Rome’s main train stations, they are certainly still working them. Don’t let anyone ‘help’ you when using a ticket machine. Likewise, don’t allow anyone to carry your luggage, even if they say they are official porters and have a trolly, as such a thing no longer exists. Both are a ruse to either distract you while you are robbed or, more likely, to demand a hefty ‘fee’ for their service or time.

When using public transport, make sure you know when and if you need to validate paper tickets, in case you encounter ticket inspectors, either real ones or imposters. It’s often easiest to buy a pass, either from a vending machine or from the tourist office or pre order it by mail.

Taxis are regulated throughout Italy – avoid anyone who isn’t driving an official metered vehicle. Always make sure the meter is turned on for you and note that taxis can legitimately charge extra for each piece of luggage and a cover for their journey to you, depending which city you are in. Do your research so you know what these charges are and what a typical trip will cost.

Jewelry scam

No, you don’t want that friendship bracelet, you don’t want to feed the pigeons, nor is that ‘gold’ ring something you may have dropped. These are all a prelude for extracting various amounts of money from you, from a euro to five or 10 or more.

Watch out for these approaches in big city squares such as the Piazza del Duomo in Milan or Venice’s Piazza San Marco. If you find the approaches poignant – these are usually people in need of an income, rather than seasoned criminals, after all – quickly hand over some loose euros as a gift, but don’t engage.

Romani children

Groups of Roma children are often deployed by their families to perform or beg around tourist sights or city squares in Rome and Florence. Some have been known to use theatrical diversions such as offering pizza or seeking signatures for a petition or simply asking for help of some kind. These are rarely genuine overtures and usually a ruse for pickpocketing. See our (link to pickpocket article) for more information on how to avoid falling prey to pickpockets

Tax police scam

Italy’s Guardia di Finanza­ ­– ­­it’s tax and anticorruption force – are entitled to ask you, the purchaser, to show your receipts after any transaction. This is done to ensure shop or restaurant owners are fulfilling their tax obligations by recording every sale. While it’s not a common occurrence, it can happen and, very occasionally, is faked by the unscrupulous. Officers will usually be in uniform, but are sometimes dressed in plain clothes, which makes it hard to know if they are the real deal. You cannot be fined, even if you can’t produce a receipt, so if the ‘officers’ then ask to see ID, politely ask for the badge number, or call the 112 and request assistance.

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  • Scaminfo.org said

    Thanks a lot for this useful info. If you don't mind, we'll take a couple of scams from your web-site and mention it on: www.scaminfo.org <br><br>We are trying to create the ultimate resource of tourist scams, so that people could travel safely and enjoy themselves without getting ripped off at every corner. Please do contribute ideas and experiences!


  • andrew said

    sounds like ill give Italy a miss, sounds like one big scam of a nation.<br><br>I will never go there.


  • Charles said

    Sadly, Real estate scams are also common. In Abruzzo, beware of BETTER PROPERTY ITALY


  • KRISTINA said

    Intresting scaming in Italy. So far I did not expirience any of this or seen. It sound terrible. We returning this year for the 3 time to Italy and this time we extending our time for 3 weeks. We visited now nearly all parts of Italy and we avoid stay in tourist attraction places and stayed outside of attractions and making our way to visit . We stayed in Naples write in center last year and we were verry worried about all these scams and thiefs, but to our surprise it was most beautiful, romantic place. We both felt that Naples was more romantinc than Paris or Venice as described by lots travelers!!! We going back and we cannot wait to walk all little shop packed streets. We are little concerned about Sicily this year due to lots immigrants and feel that we might not enjoy our stay there. We hope all will go smoothly without any upsets!


  • Ramsay said

    Someone tried the 'Fashion Heist' on us. We were on Via Cavour, half way between the Colosseum and the main train station. A guy stops in a car next to us asking for directions to the Colosseum, which I gave, but then he started on about being a rep for Armani and he had some samples that my girlfriend might like. If you had seen the state of his car and the state of his own clothes you'd understand why I walked away laughing... although I couldn't work out what the scam was, I just knew he was up to no good.


  • David from TravelScams.org said

    Ciao! Thanks for providing this list of Italian scams, it covers quite a number of the common ones. Thought one that could be emphasized on was the taxi scam (http://travelscams.org/europe/23-most-common-tourist-scams-in-italy/). If you ever travel in big groups and have to split the group into two taxis, you will find that fares will also turn out differently. How so? For instance they could enter a different zone into the meter which costs more, or enter a different time period into the meter which costs more. Take care!


  • Victor said

    There is a winery in Ravello, near Amalfi coast called ENOTE CAMANSI. It is a scam and you will never receive any merchandise that you have payed for. It has a website wineamalficoast.com


  • Giorgio said

    Most of those scams occur in the south of Italy (Naples area) which is the least attractive part of the country, I don't understand why tourists would waste their time there to start with. A lot of scams are made by the gypsies, which are easily recognizable because of their darker skin tone and dirty/tacky appearence. Avoid them like the plague and you'll be fine.


  • Joe Average said

    I lived in Naples for several years and yes, scams happened there. Mostly people buying fake brands, people buying boxes with bricks in them instead of stereos from street markets and plain old thieves. That said I was never accosted out in town in Naples.

    Lots of car break-ins. What I discovered were people would park and then move their valuables to the trunk giving anyone who cared to watch a good idea of what was put in the trunk. You leave, the thief moves in. Want to do it better? Stop a few miles before you reach your destination and relocate the valuables to the trunk. Then continue to your destination and exit the car without ever opening the trunk. If you rent a hatchback or SUV or wagon you won't have a lockable space to store your valuables like you would in a sedan - unless the back seat folds down using latch knobs accessible from inside the passenger compartment - or if there is a remote trunk release under the dash. On my Chevy if I were parking it somewhere iffy - I'd pull the fuse for the trunk release or remove the wires from the back of the button and then it looks like it is functional but isn't. This would be easy and non-destructive on a rental.

    Where I saw the most thief action was Rome - we were approached by a hoard of Gypsy children trying to distract us while they might steal our wallets. I watched from afar pickpockets near the Roman forum. One was the pick pocket, he/she would pass the wallet to a helper who would just disappear, and their lookout was obviously watching people more than the sights. There were taxi drivers who made up their rates. And so on. When my parents came to visit, my mother carried a big purse and two men almost snatched it - across the street from the Roman colosseum. My friend and I quietly intervened and my parents never knew a thing.

    In 2016 I would recommend going simple. Wear a cash belt that you never access in public. Credit card. Small denominations of cash in an inconvenient pocket. A small day pack if you must with nothing of real value inside except your hat, sunglasses, a jacket, etc.

    Buy a basic point and shoot camera for the trip. Leave the fancy DSLR at home.

    Perhaps take a tablet (and leave it in your hotel room) to dump the pictures into each night and perhaps upload them to an online server for safe keeping. My friend took a camera with a generous SD card only to have the camera stolen from her luggage and lost all the pictures of the whole trip. Had she operated with several cheaper 16GB cards rather than some single high capacity card she might have only lost the last of the pictures.

    Don't leave anything of value in a car parked anywhere.

    Study the locals and try to emulate them. When I lived there the Americans stuck out like a sore thumb with cheap American T-shirts, fanny packs, and so forth.


  • Andreas said

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    i saw your posting about ENERGY GROUP SRL aout non delivery of the inverters. I'm from Germany and know of 3 more company not delivered by ENERGY GROUP SRL - Maybe you can contact us be email on: einkauf (at) lanasoft dot de. Maybe we can exchange actual information about.

    Thanks Andreas


  • amango said

    Just got scammed at the train station in Bergamo. Tried to use a cigarette vending machine but an ID was required. My belgian ID didnt work so i asked a couple close by if i could borrow one of theirs. The man kindly inserted, and removed a card and the machine was unlocked. So i put in 20€ and selected my pack. After that the couple moved on and i thanked them. I got my pack but didnt get my change back ! So the change was most probably credited to his card. Couple dissapeared. I dont even wanna know how many tourist got scammed this way. It's the perfect machine for scammers..


  • Steve said

    Just returned from Rome, Florence and Venice. Three times, the taxi driver properly had his meter set to"1" and started at the correct starting price. However, the digits to the right of the meter were not zero, but some other number around 2-4 euros. When the trip was completed, the driver hits a button adding on that extra charge, which I believe would be for tolls or baggage. We had no baggage, it was just us. I complained each time and the driver immediately removed the additional charge. I was not impressed with how many times that happened to us. Beware!


  • Daniella said

    Hey you missed one! I went to Rome about 3 years ago by myself and planned to meet a friend in Pisa so while I was trying to find the right train a person wearing a vest that looked like a uniform approached me, checked my ticket and and told me where the train was. He then insisted on helping me with my suitcase i declined nicely with a thankyou but persisted and even took my suitcase and started walking toward the train really fast. I yelled at him to stop and tried to catchup. The guy got in the train and put my luggage in the overheadcompartment. By the time I catched up I was relly mad but, did not want any trouble so i just thanked him. He started demanding money and a I tip very aggressivly. I stoop up and claimed that I did not ask for his help but it did nothing. I ended up giving him some spare change that I had on my pocket. So be aware of that.


  • John said

    Italy is full of scam artists. In Florence, took a taxi and after driving around for 10 minutes the driver actually passed the same street corner where my hotel was. Basically, he overcharged me for the ride. In Rome I was buying some items from a street vendor, I was ripped off when I learned from another local that this vendor rips off tourists. I basically paid good money for something that was not real but a fake. In Milan, kids rushed up to me and offered me something to feed the birds near the main square by church. I did not accept it but the kids placed it in my hands. Within 2 minutes, 2 adults came over and claimed that I now owned them 10 Euros for worthless bird seeds. It is a shame but Italy is a scam artist country and I will never return. I hope others read this and never go to this shameful country.


  • Quinn said

    Thanks to all for sharing some great ideas for getting a little extra from tourists. I will use some of these great scams starting today!


  • Paolo said

    We were hit twice at Italian ATMs. In both cases, the print-out stated that the service was unavailable... but 600 euros disappeared from our account... twice. After that, we photographed the bank... and the road names at the nearest intersection. Never experienced this particular problem in southern Italy. We were in Sienna and Florence(!)

    In Rome we watched thieves at work on buses and trains. Child distracts... thief hits bag... wallet or purse passed to front of vehicle and recipient quickly disappears onto the street.

    It's not just Italy, folks. Experienced issues in northern Holland, Spain and France, during our 122 days in western Europe.


  • Nancy said

    I have come to hate traveling in Italy and definitely won't go back. My husband and I are experienced world travelers and have been scammed by taxi drivers three times in Rome, in spite of taking every precaution. The scam goes like this. You get to your destination in a proper, non-gypsy cab and are told the fare. I each case the driver was handed the exact amount of the fare, and in each case we were told that we didn't give them enough money. To prove it, instead of the two 20 euro notes or what ever we gave them, they immediately produced a ten euro note saying this is what we gave them and perhaps we were mistaken. The fact is the first time it happened we had just been to an ATM machine and knew exactly what denominations we had in our possession. From then on we were very careful and still got attacked by taxi drivers two more times. Because we were totally on our own with no one else around we very uneasy and afraid to get into a big fight with them. (We are senior citizens.) As much as we travel, most of the year, we have never had an issue any place else. Be very careful, sad to say it isn't just the gypsies!


  • Wally said

    We were hit with "switch the bank note" con of the bank note I given to the taxi driver. We were 4 he was one so we just walked away. I later went to the Tourist Police and they wanted his cab number. Unfortunately I had not gotten it.
    Rule 1 for me now is I do not give the driver a bank note until we have both agreed as to the denomination.
    Rule 2 is to take a picture of the drivers credentials upon entering the cab in case you have problems later.


  • Dale said

    Beware of someone on a motorbike or walking in front of your car to make you stop. If the windows are down anything on the seats or in your lap will be gone.

    Beware of gypsy women forcibly handing you a baby (probably a doll) while other children pick your pocket.

    Beware of anyone trying to clean "bird droppings or anything else" off your clothes. If they can touch you, your valuables will be gone. Do NOT go anywhere with them for assistance.

    Stay off subways at rush hour, I wear a zip up vest with inside pockets and still had to actually punch an over aggressive pick pocket.


  • Al said

    Never leave anything in the car overnight, even while using an expensive garage in your expensive hotel and the car locked. We were in Florence and when I reached in the back seat for my favorite sweater the guys says , oh no worries, just leave it there for tomorrow. He was actually aggressive about it. We were such suckers, we didn't want to give offense. HA! It was gone and no-one, not the "secure" garage, the hotel that ran it or our paid travel agent would do anything about it. It was the perfect sweater and I could never find a replacement... Maybe lifting people's property is part of his compensation?

    It is disgusting that the Italian citizens are willing to tolerate these common scams mentioned here. They have gone on forever, so it must be OK with them.
    This just shows contempt for the visitors. So corrupt!

    When I bought glass on Murano, to be shipped home, they sent some crap that was all blurred and smeary. Next time I would buy it and send it myself through a tabac shop.


  • Susan Thompson said

    Gift scam; we got taken on this one this morning in Rome on Lungo Tevere dei Tebaldi as we walked alongside the river heading to the Vatican. It's a variation on the fashion scam. A car with an older driver pulls alongside and asks for directions, after which he does the following talk routine..."where are you from? Yes I like Australians my wife is from Brisbane. I'm here at a conference, I work for Christian Dior. Here I like you, You helped me. I have this from the conference, a gift for you. And also this for you; it's a Swiss watch ( gifts remain in the car)". He continues "I hate these Italians, my credit card was not accepted and I am almost out of gas. I need some cash, just give me a couple of hundred."As I give some notes the handbag and notes are passed out the door."
    Then my husband falls in with thinking he should pay something for his watch as the pressure goes on to quickly give the driver who seems to be enthusiastically generous little more cash.
    As the driver speeds off we realise he has done quite well out of us and we now have a cheap Chinese handbag and a packaged up watch with wallet and torch of the conference gift sort.
    He was good and fast.
    We will remember the lesson that we paid for.
    He did alright out of us


  • Bert said

    The gift/fashion scam is very common. Was approached several times by different people. Each time they drove an expensive car (mercedes, audi) and were extremely well dressed (3pc suit).

    Don't accept anything from strangers. If something sounds too good to be true...

    Watch your belongings, I almost got pickpocketed a few times, but noticed it on time and stopped them.


  • Simon said

    Wow, I stumbled on this website and reading these stories would put me off going to Italy for life.

    But I've been to Rome 3 times, Florence, Milan and the Amalfi coast and never experienced any of the above!!! Ok, apart from the stamp thing...

    Regarding the stamps, I bought some of the useless ones from a stall in Rome outside the Colloseum and when I realised what they were, the stall owner gave me a refund right away.
    Next time I bought stamps, I got them from a post office in the Vatican city. No chance of getting ripped of there :)


  • Jane said

    Just got back from 3 weeks in Italy and I won't return. Although Italy is absolutely beautiful and full of amazing history, everyone is constantly trying to rip you off in one way or another.

    It is just too much hard work every day to be fighting off beggars, waiters, taxi drivers, bus employees, train employees, people offering tours, selfie stick sellers, rose givers and mothers begging with drugged children.

    Other countries I have visited in Europe have the same issues but not on such a massive scale.

    We only got caught in two scams. The first was the train employee asking for money for showing us our platform - cost us a euro.

    The second was a fine for not validating a bus ticket. This is an organised tourist scam by a local Siena bus company (we later found out from other tourists who had been warned about it). The driver lets you on the back door of a full bus (on the busiest tourist route) and you can't pyshically get to the validation machine at the front of the bus. Then at the stop where most of the locals get off and it is your first chance physically get to the validation machine, ticket inspectors get on and only fine the tourists on the bus for not validating their tickets (63 euro). They say you have to pay the fine immediately (a lie) and won't return your ID until you do. The inspectors intimidation, bullying and harassment was absolutely unbelievable and disgusting.

    I really hope everyone else travelling to Italy has a much better experience.


  • Letizia said

    Check your facts first! Cigarette machines need an ID card to prevent underage ppl from buying goods. They don't work like credit cards.. therefore your change is never transferred onto Someone else's card! If If you don't get the change back then the machine is broken! That's It! Use commone sense please!
    Southern Italy is beautiful and safe, my Dear Giorgio.
    Unfortunately bad ppl are Everywhere... Charles Bridge in Prague is full of pickpockets, in Montmartre in Paris you will see groups of gypsies asking for a signature to help drug addicts..
    Leave credit cards in a safe in your room, avoid strolling with a giant city map that screams "I'm a tourist", check your bag and have fun!


  • Ant said

    Honestly, most of you people just sound ignorant. I have tried to be scammed in America, so blaming the country as a whole is just ignorance and stupidity. Just be smart and try to not look like a damn tourist. This happens in Europe and not just Italy. But by all means it can happen in Baltimore, nyc or dallas.


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