Pickpockets in Italy: Here's How to Avoid Them

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Where there are crowds, pickpockets are waiting to rid you of your valuables. Don't be alarmed, be aware. Here's how to protect yourself from Italy's petty crims.

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Crowd of tourists on Spanish Steps on Piazza di Spagna in Rome Photo © Getty Images/VvoeVale

City crowds and opportunistic crime go hand in hand across the world. Italy’s petty crime rates have plummeted in the last decades, and the risks to travelers are statistically no more than they are in similar size cities in the US or UK. That said, pickpockets are definitely still an unfortunate part of Italian city life and are something every wise traveler can take steps to avoid.

Look confident in Italy

The standard advice to ‘look like a local’ in Italy is not so helpful. Dressing like an Italian is something of an art, and yes, well-dressed Italians do get pickpocketed too. Cultivating situational awareness and confidence – understanding the context of where you are, what other people are doing and what’s appropriate in that setting – does however make a difference.

Pickpockets search out the distracted – those who are tired from a long flight or swamped with heavy bags, those that are visibly lost and out of place, someone who is enthralled with their phone or overwhelmed with the extraordinariness of their surroundings, or even someone simply walking up crowded stairs – as well as staging distractions of their own.

These distraction tactics are varied but should be easy to spot: fake altercations to create chaos, spilling a drink or ice cream on you, sudden bumping or tripping, holding a sign or piece of paper while asking for assistance or even holding a pizza box up to your face. If anything remotely feeling like this happens to you, immediately secure your bag, never assume the person you are dealing with is acting alone, and don’t be afraid to loudly draw attention to what is happening.

Don't stereotype pickpockets

Romani people (known as Roma or, offensively, as zingari in Italy) are part of Italy’s multi-ethnic makeup and are particularly marginalized. Groups of Roma can often be found in heavily touristed areas throughout Italy, mostly begging, though, especially in the case of children, also riffling the pockets of the unsuspecting. While it’s easy to identify the Roma by their characteristic clothes and be on your guard, note that just as many pickpocketing crimes are committed by very well-dressed Europeans, who blend right into any crowd.

Where pickpocketing happens in Italy

Crowded public transport routes in big cities and the bustle of major rail stations like Milano Centro, Roma Termini and Florence’s Santa Maria Novella, have long been pickpocket hotspots, as are the express airport trains in Milan, Rome and even Pisa. When heading to or from the airport, ensure your suitcases are locked and keep a hand on your personal bag at all times. When using city buses or metro lines, try to avoid the peak hour crush.

Also, exercise caution in these city locations:

  • The Ponte Vecchio and San Lorenzo Market, around the Duomo, and outside the Uffizi and Accademia galleries in Florence, as well as its central bus lines 7 and 10 and regional services to Livorno
  • Around the many tourist draws in Rome, but especially the Spanish Steps, Pizza di Spagna, the queues for the Coliseum, and the streets immediately around the Vatican, as well as Trastavere’s terrace dining at night and the No. 64 bus
  • ­In Verona, be careful around the Portoni della Bra, and the crowded porto to the centro storico
  • The five trains stations that link the Cinque Terre villages get hugely crowded in summer and its crush can be targeted
  • The throng around the steps up to the Rialto bridge in Venice, and the vaporetto stops for San Marco and at Santa Lucia
  • Naples is famous for crime, petty and not so petty, but this reputation is rather outdated; still, keep your wits about you on the Circumvesuviana train to and from Pompeii and Sorrento, and around Piazza Garibaldi, especially at night (if you are particularly spooked by the city’s centro storico, stick to the well-to-do Chiaia or Vomero neighbourhoods).

How to avoid pickpocketing in Italy

While you can’t entirely avoid being a target, simple measures such as not putting wallets in pockets or backpacks and only carrying a small cross body bag, worn to your front, zipped shut and held with one hand, can mitigate risk.

Only carry one credit or travel cash card and store a backup card in the safe or in your locked luggage at your accommodation, and keep records of bank and credit cards digitally and on a hard copy print out. Only carry small amounts of cash for drinks and snacks – you should be able to use a card for any transaction over €10 or so – and keep this separate from your other valubles. Try to use ATMs away from major sights and always be attentive to who is around you when you do.

If you are robbed, call and cancel cards as soon as possible, then head to a police station (Questure, Commissariati di Polizia di Stato or a Carabinieri station) to make a report. Ensure you receive full documentation (ask for a Denuncia di Furto). It’s also worth checking for your wallet or bag in rubbish bins and gutters nearby – some pickpockets only want cash or late model unlocked phones and will quickly discard all else.

 

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35 Comments

  • Apple-Anne said

    Thanks for the heads up. we are going to italy and i found in your post some great tips that i will surely do when travelling there.

  • Ben said

    First visit to Italy coming up -- NYC native here -- I know what to look out for. Our itinerary has NO overnight trains (I know from what friends have told me about Italian night trains), and I also know to be especially careful in Rome (and Barcelona before that). Have secure document holders for everything, and a day pack that can be worn like a snugli carrier when in a crowded Metro train for example, that clips to me the same way backwards and forwards. Thank you Mountain Hardware. Best advice I have when travelling in Europe: take ONLY what you need for the day, NEVER put anything in your pockets, and, leave ALL TRAVEL DOCUMENTS locked in your hotel safe.

  • Paul said

    The cities are fine if you have a good local contact to guide you. I prefer the smaller towns and villages in the countryside. The people will bend over backwards for you if you show a little humility and interest in their area and people.

  • Valerie said

    I just got back from Italy, 3 weeks in Pescara and then took a tour to Naples, Pompeii and the Amalie coast. When the tour bus arrived back in Rome they dropped us off 2 streets from our hotel and said here's your luggage, bye. I was a sitting duck for thieves. While walking to my hotel someone threw a brown liquid on my back and suitcases and then another man says I have shit all over me. They used this as a distraction so another guy could pretend he was wiping the mess off of me while he cut my purse off me. I lost everything, all my money, credit cards, passport, prescription drugs and everything else that is in a women's purse. My advice is never let a tour bus drop you off anywhere but directly in front of your hotel.

  • Debbie in NC said

    As soon as we stepped off our bus in front of the Milan train station 5 Syrian men huddled around me while I was trying to open my bag to get my umbrella. They started beating me. My life flashed before my eyes. I thought of my grandchildren and stood up and beat the men back. I rounded up the energy to hit them back and they eventually ran off. I felt like Superwoman! Then another Syrian refugee gypsy woman attempted to rob me at the Venice train station. Three teens from Singapore encircled me and protected me in order to buy my train ticket.

    While at St. Mark's District in Venice, the refugee all force "roses" on you. If you don't buy, then they rub your boobs acting as though they are placing the flower on you, or removing it. All a scam.

    I felt completely violated and will likely never return to Italy because of the refugees resorting to petty crime in order to survive.

    I love Italy and feel so bad for the locals who will ultimately suffer for the actions of others in foreign, neighboring countries.

  • Janica said

    It's sad to hear the scams from tourists. Italy is such a beautiful place and intended to visit soon despite of the negative news i heard. Because of this, i will postpone my trip to italy and will go first to a nicer, clean place. Thank you

  • Steven Schiller said

    Go to Salerno. Beautiful, inexpensive, small, safe city south of the Amalfie coast. Day trips; train to Paestum and Tragetti ( ferries ) to Amalfie, Positano, etc. Just be careful crossing the streets.

  • David said

    I've spent a total of over 2 months in Italy during the past 3 years, visiting many of the big tourist spots such as Milan, Cinque Terre, Lucca, Pisa, Siena, Florence, Rome, Bologna and Venice. I also spent an entire month in Sicily.


    Here's what happened to me: I had a great time.


    No robberies, no pickpockets, no assaults. No worries.


    Yes, there are those who want to rob you or take advantage you, but you need to stay alert and not make yourself an easy target. Of course, even with caution, something bad can happen, but the same goes for anywhere you.

    Don't let this piece stop you from traveling to Italy.

  • Stacey in NC said

    I spent 10 days in Rome the first/second week of Nov 2016 as a solo "middle aged" woman, first time travel to Italy. First time internationally, for that matter. Like another comment, here is what happened to me:

    I had a fantastic time (and got a tattoo there on my last day to prove it!)

    I had no issues on the train from/to the airport (FCO) to Rome.
    I had no issues on the train to/from Ostia Antica.
    I had no issues on metro.
    I had no issues at Termini.
    I had no issues on the train to and from Venice, even arrived back into Rome after 11p and walked back to my hotel.
    I had no issues wandering some of the city at night (several times) taking night photos (amazing, btw).
    I had no issues in and around Vatican area, even at night.

    I used a money "fanny pack" under my shirt to hold some money, passport, ID and credit cards.
    I used a messenger bag cross slung over my body, held in front for my camera stuff, some money and phone. I didn't keep stuff I couldn't live without in easy to access pockets of the bag, I tucked them inside that would take a flap and zipper to get to. Not 100% safe, but the more trouble it takes to get to stuff, the harder it will be for others to get to as well.

    The same things that happen in Rome exist in every other major/large city. If you don't know how to adopt a "big city" mentality (SF, NYC, LA, etc) or have never been to a big city to know how to navigate, you'll look like fair game anywhere you go. The good news is, you can probably fake it. Look and carry yourself like you know what you're doing and where you're going.

    Just be aware of your surroundings, have a game plan to keep your stuff close to you and not easily accessible, don't flash expensive stuff, don't pull out a wad of money, don't leave your stuff unattended, don't looks like a deer in the headlights everywhere you go... and really, you'll have a great time.

    Rome is an amazing city!

  • Federica said

    5 Syrian men, a Syrian refugee gypsy woman and three teens from Singapore: Debby, you sound a bit confused... It's amazing you had the time to check the nationality and status of all these people! ;-)

  • Chrissy said

    I am currently in Milan now. Travelled from France took the train to central station where we got robbed. We were headed to the exit a row of stairs going down. Very hard to bring your luggage down. A man approached us offering a trolley. We declined and moved on he watched us go down the stairs. As I exited two women pretending to be tourists blocked my way. Wouldn't budge even got down to tie her shoes. That's when I didn't realized they were able to move my purse from front to my back. I got to the taxi hub and my bag was open. Lost passports and money and credit cards. I was in a panic and was on the verge of crying. I went back to the exit where I felt they crowded over me didn't see anything. Went back after 5 minutes and found the pouch of where our passports were. Thankfully they only took the cash.!! We went to to the station to report the theft there was a queue more Indians and Asians like us who also got robbed. 3 of us got robbed in the central station. I wonder why they didn't have police in the exits? It's so terrible to experience this. We are here for our honeymoon and we will be traveling across itlay and now we are really scared for our bags. The other people i met in the station got their bags stolen and even a guys wallet in His front pocket got taken by a woman. It's not safe in Italy. Asians and Indians are targetted. Beware!

  • Chris said

    My purse got stolen from out of my back pack( right at bottom) during the 30 mins I walked from Pisa station to the leaning tower. I did not feel a thing and the only opportunity was when I stopped at a red light to cross the road. I went to the police station and they told me there were about 50 Romanian gypsies operating in Pisa. When I got back to the plane at least 3 others had also had their purse snatched. It has left me very upset. The police at the train station Escorted me to the airport as I had not a penny to get back. Luckily it was my last day and I still had my passport and flight tickets.

  • Utsa said

    We were on our way to the colleseo in the Rome metro when a lady pretending to be pregnant on Termini station rushed out of the train and pushed me to get out of the train ..the doors of the trains closed and its then I realised that she had unzipped my bag and taken my wallet.
    Fortunately there was no money in the wallet, our passports were in the hotel room locker . We got our credit and debit cards cancelled straight away. No financial loos but the whole experience was very overwhelming.

    As per our tour guide Italy as a whole is a country of theives ..Rome is the worst. It is a shabby and dirty city. I would suggest you to e very very careful if you have to visit.

  • Rosana Howard said

    I became aware of how not to be naive while traveling in Rome.
    Im not wearing my wedding ring, but a decoy ring. I'll leave my passport in the hotel, wear a safe money belt with copies of the passport, some money, and only one credit card.

    I'll wear a decoy little cheap bag so that the person will ill intention can grab and go and find nothing of value or use in it. It would give me enough seconds to become aware and fight back.

    I'm not taking a train but a taxi from a safe to safe location. Too bad I cant bring my teaser and gun, or I'd give them hell.

  • Jamie Whitney said

    One September In Rome during a Family Holiday we had trouble with pickpockets 1. A man on the metro underground stairs tried to take dad's wallet from his trousers pocket Granny said " Your wallet" the pickpocket put his hands up and ran downstairs into dark lights, 2. A man was giving flowers away then expected money ( mum left the flowers and we walked off) 3 a old woman kept patting my shorts pocket on a shop pavement making money sighs and a shop keeper stopped her talking in fast Italian ( be careful in Rome and the traffic is a early death wish it is so dangerous!)

  • ASuther said

    Our cash was stolen on a crowded MET train after we boarded from Colosseum station in the afternoon of December 22, 2017. There were 3 people squashed in the door after we boarded, two of which were young female, I could not be sure whether the third person was a man or another young female. Cash was skilfully stolen from an anti-theft bag, under the coat of one of us, and we didn’t feel a thing, only to realize it much later when trying to use the cash, we had some ideas about what was happening when thinking back.

  • Z said

    We were pickpocketed while boarding a bus in Pisa (the one close to the Leaning Tower). Not gonna talk much... beware of an old lady who might tell u where to buy bus' ticket and a group of girls who look annoyed with one of em being so friendly by helping you to buy tickets. They will keep their eyes on where you keep your wallet while you're buying tickets, they will surround you when you're boarding the bus, and if you feel like someone pickpocketed you and they run away, make sure your other family members aren't being too concern about you because that is when the pickpockets steal their wallets when they try to get off the bus!

  • Megan said

    We just got back from Italy and we were completely fine. Yes we experienced some beggars, some gypsies wanting money and the immigrants selling roses or African bracelets. Basically, if you currently live in a big city and have any kind of street smarts, you'll be just fine in Italy. Dont walk around with bulging backpacks and purses with your valuables streaming out. Dont let your purse out of sight (keepcrossbody in front of you or purse clutched tight). Men keep wallets in front pockets or cargos that zip in front. People will bump into you, shove you, etc...this is the culture in Italy. Dont give anyone a reason to grab your stuff when they bump into you though. Dont accept handouts or anything from a stranger-they aren't being friendly and will expect payment. A firm look (or plain disregard) and "NO" go a long way. I wouldn't get on a bus in San Fran, Denver, or NY with a bulging backpack/purse, and not be aware of my surroundings...the same goes here.

  • Stephanie Lee said

    Hmmm i have been planning to visit Italy for quite some time now, tbh i dont think it is THAT bad because my friends visited Italy just recently and they really enjoyed it! Didnt really have any issues there except for that one time they got lost in rome haha https://qompanion.my/articles/items-stolen-from-travellers-on-holiday i also found this article when i was looking for information about this issue, hopefully it’s relevant!

  • Eric said

    I love Italy. Best country I've ever visited. Been to Rome a half dozen times, Florence 4 times, Venice 8 times, along with trips to Milan, Pisa, Lucca, Siena, San Gimignano...really, too many to mention. People are friendly, food is great, and history, architecture, art and culture like nowhere else. For those who think it's dangerous, dirty and overrun by "immigrants", may I suggest Disney World for your next trip?

  • Serbian said

    Hi,

    Some rules : your cash/ID/Passesport credit card always in a bag CLOSED inside hard to get for people

    Most of pickpocket look same : gipsies ! when you saw them be careful, they try to approach SCREAM and be aggressive even if they didn''t start anything, you will scare them, they use for nice and cupid tourists show them you have balls.

  • GM said

    I just returned from Italy. As soon as I arrived into Italy, the Malpensa Airport security stole money from my carry-on. While one security guard falsely accused me of having metal on me, the other security guard pocketed any cash he could find while digging through my carry-on.

    Next, hotel staff would skim cash from my purse while I was eating their included breakfast down the hall in their dining room - I didn't think I needed to carry all my stuff to their dining room just for breakfast. The same occurred when using common wifi rooms (not all accommodations had wifi in each room - you had to go to a common room. They skim so you don't immediately notice cash is missing. This also occurred in a monastery stay - someone kept unlocking my room door for the theft. Sad when you can't even feel safe in a monastery.

    Metro ticket person tried to short change me a couple of times but I counted my change & got my 1 or 2 euro back. Grocery store cashier tried to do that once as well. So, count your change.

    Trenitalia ticket clerk tried to trick me into buying the 1st class train ticket. You can't buy train tickets to Sicily from the machines. She told me they were sold out then told me a higher price for overnight. Know what the going rate is for the train ticket.

    Oddly enough, I never had any issues with the street beggers or pick pockets. They were the most polite asking for change for food & spoke the best English.

  • Loren Vail / USA said

    I was in Rome walking down an empty street. A young man was walking towards me and passed me. All of a sudden he turns & grabs a hold of my necklace, behind me. I grabbed the front of the necklace to hold onto it so that he could not steal it. It was a thick necklace and he couldn’t break it off of me so we struggled for sometime. He threw me to the ground, cracking my rib, and kept pulling on my necklace. He grabbed my arm to make me let go of the necklace and I sustained multiple blood blisters & a twisted wrist When he was finally able to break the clasp off the necklace he pulled the necklace so hard it cut my hand and bruised my face & neck very badly. NEVER wear expensive jewelry in Italy

  • traveller said

    Why bother going at all? The slavic countries are 200% safer, almost never a pickpocket totally safe. Why go somewhere has a reputation for this kind of behaviour? Avoid it and maybe the authorities will clean up the country.

  • Eliza said

    Watch out for locals who are usually dressed in tracksuits ans baseballcaps. Their ‘job’ is pickpocketing and cheating. Speaking from experience...My iPhone was located in Africa a few days later (Find my iphone). And also got harassed by an African who wanted to change money, but then just grabbed my money and ran away.

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