Compared to many other touristic countries, Italy is relatively safe and, in most places, you don’t have to be worried to walk alone or at night. At the same time, tourists can easily become victims of small crimes like pickpocketing, especially in crowded areas. While you can never protect yourself fully from such things, there are certain steps you can take to at least minimize the risk of having your belonging stolen.
1. Beware of Children
We all love children and we all definitely feel bad when we see them forced to beg for money on a street corner. Unfortunately, in some cases caring can be detrimental. While you may want to help, you have to remember that many of these kids have been trained to steal and are used because people immediately trust and want to help them. Always beware when showing a child money or reaching out to them.
2. Street Bumping
One very popular technique, which can be extremely damaging for your wallet, is “bumping.” A man or a woman accidentally “bumps” into the victim and rapidly steals their wallet; sometimes “bumping” involves two people, one actually colliding with you, and the other taking advantage of the commotion to steal. Be always aware of your surroundings and of those walking around you: these people are professionals thieves, and you may not even realize your wallet is missing until much later, when you reach for it to pay for a coffee or your dinner.
3. Lost & Recovered Wallet
The best strategy to steal money is actually the one where the thieves pretend to be honest. After stealing a wallet, a wristwatch or a piece of jewelry (often while using the bumping technique described above) the thief actually returns it to the victim, pretending to have found the goods on the ground. At this point the victim is happy and, although surprised, is usually willing to pay a reward. Thieves are smart: they even manage to “gain” off a crime they have caused themselves!
4. Slicing a Purse Open
This usually happens in very crowded areas or on a bus. Someone uses a shaving blade to slice the bottom of a purse or bag open and then proceed to steal whatever valuable is inside. Just as the “bumping method,” these type of pickpocketers are quick and act smoothly, to the point that the victim often doesn’t realize something has happened until later.
5. Scooter Steal and Run
Beware of scooters when in an Italian city. It is common for thieves to run on scooters and steal bags and purses directly from a victim’s shoulder. The elderly are often a target of this scheme, as they are slower to react, but it could happen to anyone. This particular trick is very dangerous because one’s natural reaction is to try to protect their property, which often results in injuries.
6. Mom Holding a Baby
When it comes to small theft and pickpocketing techniques, this is by far the most despicable scenario. The thief, usually a female, holds a baby to attract attention while begging for money from passers by. When people stop to offer money, the woman, or another child, will steal from the unwilling victim. This trick is usually pulled by gipsies and is very common in larger cities and towns.
7. Gang Surrounding
Without a doubt, this is the most terrifying type of robbery, and possibly the hardest to protect yourself against. If you’re surrounded by one or more people threatening you, often with a weapon, the best thing to do is give up all your belongings immediately.
8. Credit Card Forging
While this is not an act of pickpocketing per se, it still represents a theft and it’s very hard to detect in real time. Just like in North America, credit card forging and cloning happens when the victim pays for his or her purchases using a credit card, which is swiftly cloned. At this point, a forged credit card is made and third parties can access your money. It is almost impossible to realize what happened, unless you constantly monitor your spending. Even worse than a cloned credit card is a cloned debit card, as this means thieves can access your checking account and any money withdrawn from it may be potentially very difficult to retrieve.
9. Keep Money in Hard to Reach Places
Pickpockets are often very skilled and the best way to protect against them is to make their job harder. Don’t keep your money or wallet in the back pockets of your pants and don’t carry a very large bag. Instead, think about storing money in your front pockets, in your shoe or in a crossbody bag. Also, if travelling in a group, split up funds so even if one person is robbed not everything will be gone. It’s also a good idea not to walk around with more than you need in your pockets. Purses and luggage should never be left unattended. Ladies, try not to leave purses hanging on the back of chairs or under tables in restaurants.
10. If Something Does Happen…
Don’t feel embarrassed, things like this happen to everyone and Italians are victims just as often as tourists. Keep calm and dial 112 (the Italian and European equivalent of 911), to report the accident to the police. In case your documents are also stolen, do contact immediately your embassy.
Edited by Francesca Bezzone