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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.
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.
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.
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:
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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Awesome course of expression. Keep it up!
Naturally this applies also to any other city or place in Europe or around the world. My advice is keep nothing in your back pockets, withdraw enough cash for you daily needs, then leave the bank card in your accommodations. It's simple, really…
Travel in Italy or Spain does not have to be risky. As an older woman I travelled to Venice, Pisa, and Florence alone with no problems.
ATTITUDE. You must appear confident and aware of those around you. Stare at anyone that seems suspicious. People walking too close behind you? Stop, stare, let them pass.
HARSH NO. Flower ladies, beggars, strangers offering help, they all get a harsh no and I walk by. If they persist, I yell at them. I’m 5’2” and 110 lbs., but they move on for an easier target.
NEED HELP? You decide who to ask for help. Never accept a stranger’s help. Shopkeepers, waiters, people employed in any job, or that well dressed person in front of you at the train station - these are the people I ask and I constantly ask.
DRESS SIMPLY. Wear comfortable clothes, nothing sexy, no expensive jewelry or bags. I always use a cross body bag carried in front of me. By dressing like a local, not a tourist, I feel I get treated better by locals and am less of a target.
NAVIGATING A STRANGE CITY. Immediately get a good paper map so you have a general idea of where things are. Plan your day before you leave your hotel so you know where the train stops, metros, etc are. I’ll write down major points and street names so don’t have to constantly look at the paper or Google Maps as I walk around.
Be relaxed, have fun, just don’t be innocent.