robbery ("mugging") and violent theft are relatively rare in
Italy, but Naples and Rome are right up there with Barcelona and Madrid
as the pickpocket capitals of the world. Florence and other
tourist cities are also plagued by pickpockets
Conclusions on avoiding pickpocketing in Italy
Please do read this whole page, but also realise that no matter how aware you are,
clever thieves have a high probability of succeeding if they decide to target you, because they target the
vulnerable, and sooner or later you will be tired
To thwart pickpockets and sneak thieves in
Italy, carry your money and credit cards in
hidden money belts, pouches under your clothes
etc. and use a slash-proof bag, a secure camera case
and a mobile phone pouch. We recommend a range of secure travel items
that can be viewed by clicking the image below.
Florence - buses numbers 7 (to Fiesole) and 10 (to Settignano)
are being worked by well-dressed professional pickpockets.
Pisa - theft is rampant on the train to and
from the airport. The female gypsy thieves on these
trains are dressing in normal clothes but still
often carrying babies about.
Livorno to Florence trains - pickpocketing
on this route has increased noticeably in 2012.
This is probably because the route is popular with
cruise ship passengers disembarking in Livorno
for a one day shore excursion.
Precautions and non-precautions: foiling pickpockets, sneak thieves and bag snatchers in Italy
• Trying to "look like a local" won't help much, for two reasons. The first is that experienced pickpockets are expert
at spotting tourists, no matter how much they try to blend in, and the second is that they don't really care - the vulnerable who might be carrying a bit of cash are their targets, tourists or not. Pickpockets are "rational" - they pick on the weak. They would prefer everyone to be blind and fragile, but the next
best targets for pickpockets are the tired and/or distracted. Confused looks, hesitant steps, mobile phone pressed to the ear,
newspaper before the eyes and open maps are among the perfect indicators of a distracted person.
An arm in a sling is a "rob me" sign to pickpockets. Sort out your next steps while still in the hotel, restaurant, museum etc. before setting
out and then pay attention to your surroundings
• While drinking or eating, especially outside, NEVER put your purse, bag or camera on the ground
or under the table, nor hang it on your chair behind you nor place
it on the seat of the chair next to you. Put it on the table in front of you where you can see it at all times. Don't hang your jacket on your chair if there's anything in the
pockets. Remember that pickpockets operate not just in crowded public spaces and
public transport but also in standup restaurants (e.g. McDonald's, station buffets etc.),
normal sit-down restaurants and
even on open footpaths. Large railway stations are the el Dorado
of pickpockets and bag thieves.
stealing a bag placed under the table. She came in with
one bag and went out with two.
Pickpocket stealing from a jacket hanging over a chair. Her
confederate pretends to be using a cell phone. (Thief's
• Pickpockets keep watch over ATM machines. DO NOT use an ATM machine in a big railway station such as Roma
Termini nor in other congested tourist areas. Pick up your
money from an ATM outside a smaller bank where there are few
people about and stash it discreetly. Look around for gypsies
before you start. Theft at ATM machines (Bancomats)
works like this. A thief, usually a gypsy girl or girls, watches
from a short distance away and at the right moment leaps forward
and, using a begging notice as cover, presses the key to dispense
the maximum amount of cash. Once the wad of notes is in the hand
of the user, she snatches the money from the baffled user and
Gypsy girl holding a piece of
paper in front of the ATM user while using the same hand to press the maximum amount
ATM user chasing off
three gypsy thieves
• When you see a "beware of pickpockets" sign,
resist the temptation to pat the pocket where your money is.
This reflex is actually very hard to avoid but it's the kind of
body language pickpockets readily detect and exploit.
• Use a money belt to keep your passport, credit cards and cash safe and out of
sight. Access your money belt or pouch in a discreet manner - in the back
corner of a shop, for example. Don't draw attention to where you store your money.
Your pouch should not be visible through your T-shirt, nor should the neck cord
be poking out and trailing down your back.
Possibly keep a bit of ready cash in your front trouser pocket - never
your back pocket - but be aware that your front pocket is not much
safer, especially if you use a wallet (see the picture below). The best
place for a small amount of ready cash is loose in a buttoned shirt
pocket, especially if you're wearing a jacket, or simply in your
hidden money pouch.
Gypsy pickpocket emptying
a tourist's front pocket in Rome.
same gypsy pair stealing from tourists' bags.
• If someone bumps you, especially on the street, you're being
robbed. Check your pockets quickly and, if you're built for
it, don't hesitate to jump the person who picked your pocket, no
matter how well-dressed he is. Make a lot of fuss to attract the
attention of passersby. The police will be on your side.
• When in crowded public transport, move your backpack around to the front of your body.
If that isn't
practical, think about buying a secure pack. Don't put anything of the
slightest value to you in outside pack pockets (emphasis
on "value to you" - thieves steal stuff "by
accident" - the address book with every contact you've made
in the past fifty years may not be of value to a pickpocket, but
you'll surely be sorrier to lose that than to lose three twenty
euro notes). "Fanny packs"
are especially easy for pickpockets to access. Pickpockets
particularly favour anyone whose hands are full.
Very skilled pickpockets can slit open the bottom of your bag with
a razor blade to steal your purse.
If you're approached on a bus by, usually, a couple, one of whom
holds a map up at chest level asking for directions, move away
immediately, closely holding your purse or bag.
• Crowded internet cafès are now at the top of the list of favorite sneak
thief haunts. Look from time to time for people hanging about
too close while you're studying your email. Keep your bag, if you
have one, in your lap or on the table right next to the monitor.
Don't hang your jacket on your chair.
Using his hung jacket as cover, this sneak thief
opens a zipped bag behind him and steals from it inside 10 seconds.
• Ladies, keep your purse on the shoulder furthest from the traffic side of the footpath. That makes life difficult for purse snatchers on
motor scooters (a fairly rare activity outside of Naples).
• Choose bags and purses with short straps that keep the main compartment close to your
body, optimally under your arm. Bag snatchers sometimes cut the straps so the shorter amount of strap you have to offer, the less they have to try and cut.
Keep your eyes on your gear in crowded underground trains
(especially the Rome metro from Termini to any tourist
destination) and buses (in Rome, especially bus 64, the "pickpockets'
express"; in Venice, crowded vaporettos and the area around
Italian pickpockets in teams of 2-3 youths, normally a male and two girls, work the
metro - the male crowds you, one girl, often very short, goes through your pockets while the other taller one shields her from view.
Being near the door is often an unfavourable location -
pickpockets like to slip out through closing doors.
• When staying in a hotel, leave any unneeded valuables plus
spare cash in the hotel safe, either the room safe if there is a
good one or the front desk safe. If your accommodation is an
agriturismo or a B&B, talk to the management about the
possibilities of safely leaving valuables somewhere on the
premises. Note that some smaller places will hold everything
except cash, the reason being that sometimes guests claim to have
left more cash than they actually did.
• Since the replacement of many overnight trains by fast
daytime trains, train thieves seem to have moved on to hotels.
This means that unfortunately, hotel rooms, especially in budget
hotels, are increasingly unsafe even when you're in the room
asleep. This is because there are often no night staff in
family-run hotels and pensioni and guests in budget places have a
bad habit of propping open the outside doors so that those of
their number without a key can get back in late at night.
Secondly, the room door locks are often no barrier to sneak
thieves unless chained shut from the inside. Try to make use of a
safe or a locked and wired-down, hard-sided suitcase for your
Can pickpockets be detected and avoided before they act?
Pickpockets in Italy who are career criminals are often well-dressed, sometimes middle-aged and always highly skilled. They cannot be detected ahead of
time - and usually not at any time. Kosovar Albanians are also not easily recognised by appearance, and they are highly represented in the criminal population, especially in Naples. Italian teenage delinquents are also hard to detect except
when they hang around in groups at well-known pickpocket areas, sometimes equipped with the inevitable newspapers and pieces of cardboard.
A pickpocket bumps a distracted business man while picking his jacket pocket.
Note that the victim's hands are full and he has a
disabling briefcase under the arm on the attack side.
A delinquent in Milan steals from the tourist's bag mainly to show
off to his friends who are watching.
equipped with a folded newspaper waiting outside a station.
gypsy pickpockets scoping the terrain in Saint Mark's Square, Venice. One
will distract the victim by aggressively begging using a cup while the other steals.
same gang of gypsy pickpockets stealing from different victims
at Malpensa Airport, Milan.
A large but often easily recognisable criminal group are gypsies who might number around
10 million worldwide and are a major social problem in Europe, especially
since Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU. Most gypsies currently
in Italy originated in Yugoslavia but large numbers are currently
entering from Romania. They place little or no value on education and make their money mainly
from seasonal work such as vegetable picking, from scrap metal and horse dealing,
from social welfare and insurance scams, and by beggary and petty theft, notably as pickpockets and sneak thieves.
Luckily, in this context, they are highly clannish and resistant to change so that their women,
who do most of the thievery, are often easily recognisable by their long skirts,
shawls and head
scarves in garish colours. Both men and women have a distinctive
coppery skin colour. In Rome, a proportion of gypsy girls have shed their
traditional clothing and now dress in the latest fashions, and instead of hanging around their usual areas such as the Colosseum and Termini Station,
they can now be found on fashionable boulevards such as Via
Nazionale, Via del Corso and Via Condotti where the pickings are
Some gypsy pickpocket methods of distraction:
• gypsy children surround the victim holding cardboard notices at
the victim's chest level while beneath it they steal what they can from pockets and bags.
• a gypsy woman passes or appears to drop a well-swathed baby (or
plastic doll) which the victim ends up holding while a confederate does the stealing.
• a gypsy woman opens her blouse, fully exposing a breast as though to breast feed her child, while a confederate
picks the pockets of the startled victim.
These techniques are quite crude but nevertheless effective partly
due to the element of surprise and partly an unwillingness
on the side of civilised people to behave rudely. Nevertheless, to nip these efforts in the bud, simply bellow as loudly as possible "Va via" when approached by groups of gypsies and don't hesitate to shove them roughly away, baby or no baby.
They have no business in the centres of cities other than stealing
Gypsy boys and young women use more conventional pickpocket techniques, simply helping themselves to whatever they can from behind the victim.
They have no fear because below a certain age they cannot be
arrested, and even if they are arrested, they're released again
within the hour.
Four gypsies ready for action, trailing their victim (not in
the picture) whom they have observed placing her purse in her shopping bag.
The boy drops back as "rear guard" while two girls
provide cover and the third steals the purse from the bag
using her blue jacket for cover.
• Another common distraction technique involves a thief spilling ice
cream, ketchup or some other mess on your back
(or the confederate
says he has), and while the confederate, often well-dressed and
well-mannered, "helps" clean up, the pickpocket is going
through your pockets or walking off with the bag you have put
down. A single thief can also pull this stunt.
• If anyone points out money on the ground and ask if it's
yours, ignore it. This is a standard distraction - while
you're bending to pick it up, you will lose something, especially
if you put a bag down while bending.
Crowded shops and market stalls provide distraction on behalf the
pickpocket. Keep your bag or purse in front of you while
inspecting goods, reading labels etc.
Theft from cars in Italy
Theft from parked cars can easily be prevented by not leaving anything of value inside your car or the boot (trunk). However, if you are in transit, everything you have will be in your car and even when on an outing you will surely have a jacket or purse containing valuables. Car thieves take advantage of this in many ways, but one of the most common is
some variant of the following. You pick up a rental car or fill your car with petrol and within a short distance one of the tires goes flat. Almost immediately a car containing two or three "good
samaritans" stops to offer assistance. While one is helping change the tire and another is distracting your wife, the third is stealing from your jacket, purse etc or even walking off with your baggage. You are particularly vulnerable while operating the jack or taking a spare tire out of the
car when this requires emptying the boot. These crooks work by loosening the valves on tires at rental car pickup points and petrol stations. This stunt is common on the autostradas around Naples and further south, but can happen anywhere near a big city such as Rome or Milan.
A variant on this is that you are waved down by someone in another
car or on the side of the road. This individual tells you that you
have a flat tire and his accomplice makes sure that's the case
while you're distracted. The procedure then continues as above, or
you're offered a ride to a service station while your car is being
Leather jacket sample scam
This scam is not so common now that it's so well known, but if someone
pulls up in a car and says he's just back from a fashion show with
a couple of leather jacket samples left over and would you like to
buy them for some derisory amount, ignore the offer. The jackets
are vinyl and the size is usually scraped away.
All the designer bags and other accessories offered by street
vendors, mostly Africans, are fake. In Italy, it is also an
offence TO BUY a counterfeit designer item.
What to do if you are robbed
Before you leave home, prepare two or three cards or pieces of paper with your
credit card numbers and the corresponding emergency phone numbers written on them, as well as the appropriate
details for any debit cards or bank cards that you plan to carry. Keep these notes on you in different places.
Carry only the credit and bank cards that you really need. If you lose a
credit card or have it stolen, IMMEDIATELY phone the emergency number and block the
credit card. Usually, a replacement credit card can also be
arranged. In major tourist centres, a representative of the card company will
meet you with the new credit card.
Once your credit cards are blocked, find a police station and file a report.
You might need it for legal and reimbursement purposes. Large
railway stations and airports have their own internal police
If your passport is stolen, sooner or later you will need to go to your national consulate
for a temporary travel document. It's not necessary to disrupt totally
your trip to do this. Although hotels are obliged to hold your passport for the local police to inspect, you can explain that yours is lost. Once you have the opportunity to go to a town where there is a consulate or an honorary consul, you can attend to
the task of obtaining a replacement. Border crossings within Europe do not require a
passport so if it's more convenient you can visit a consulate in
It's helpful to have a photocopy of your passport and tickets in
your baggage and even to leave copies at home with someone you can
phone for the details if you need them.