Pickpockets in Rome

After 6 years in Los Angeles, where looking at someone the wrong way could lead to trouble, moving to Rome was a relief.  It felt safe.

And Rome IS safe for the most part– but there is also so much petty crime.  Pickpockets, break-ins, bike snatchings. If it’s not kept under lock and key, it will disappear.

As the summer crowds return, so do the pickpockets.  Though they manage a year round business of ripping people off, this is their high season.

I have seen multiple pickpockets in action, but it is always hard to react.  There is a surreal quality about the moment that always catches me offguard and I can usually only manage a belated “OH!” (The Roman equivalent of HEY!!!).

So here are some tips for not getting your stuff stolen when you come to Rome:

On public transport

Forget about blending in. You look like a tourist because you are speaking English and looking bewildered. I’ve been here nearly four years and regardless of how much longer I stay, I will always look like a straniera (foreigner).

The potential pickpocket has made you based on your shoes alone. Are you wearing neon Nikes into which you have tucked your pants? Wedge heeled sneakers with glitter accents? Perforated leather boots? I didn’t think so, Foreigner!

Processed with VSCOcam with m3 preset

Here I am doing the wrong thing while waiting for the metro.

Shift your bag and keep your hand slung over it. Pull it in front of you as you enter the train, metro or bus. Don’t ever keep the zipper out of your sight (e.g. behind your back).

photo 2-3

If you can avoid it once you enter the metro, don’t stand near the exit. This increases the possibility of a snatch and run as the doors are closing.  While we’re on the subject: Put your fancy phone away.

The scenario I see play out time and time again at Piramide (our photo location) and the Colosseo stop is this:
Oh, hum. This metro is a bit crowded and the stop is popular. But I have an itinerary! I must get to the next place on your list as quickly as possible. So let me wait politely while people get off and on, then be the last to enter. (This is mistake number 1: I never wait politely. I position myself in front of the door, and as soon as people get off, I am the first one to get on).

Oh it really is crowded. These nice young teenagers with babies are pushing me because they need to get on this metro too! With babies! Oh god, I don’t want to hit the babies! Let me focus on that. All I need to think about is getting on this train and not hitting the babies.

Why is everyone pushing me??

The pushing is the distraction. I usually see them work in groups of two or three. A girl on either side pushes you, while the third girl sticks her hands in your purse/pockets.  You are so focused on getting on the metro and avoiding being pushed that you won’t feel it.  Then, as soon as they have your wallet, they get off the metro just as quickly as they pushed you ON TO the metro. The doors close. Off you go, minus all your cash and credit cards.

Please please please PLEASE trust me on this one: if the metro is too crowded- do not get on it. Just wait! There will be more. If you are determined to join the fray, the worst thing you can do is be the last person on– because there will be someone coming up behind you at the last second to relieve you of your valuables and then watch you ride safely off into the distance.

wallet rome metro

Here is the male version of what not to do.

But really: pickpockets have no problem getting all up in your personal space.  They are going to stick their hands all the way into your front pockets, and you will let them! It will be too crowded and overwhelming to stop them. So again: as you enter and leave the metro- be aware of your surroundings.

Once on, if someone (or a group of people) gets on the metro, and you see a bunch of Romans instinctively move away? You should consider doing the same. They will be much better at spotting potential pick pockets.

Keep your eyes on kids or teenage girls in groups.

If anyone is too close, move.  The unwritten rules of personal space are different in Italy, but there is no reason for someone to be smashed up against you– they are doing something shady. MOVE.

Don’t let your bag/pocket be covered. (This one is harder to explain, so bear with me while I try).  I’ve seen well dressed Italian gentleman pickpockets run a scam with a newspaper.  Opening the newspaper in the crowded metro so as to keep your bag out of view. While one guy rustles his paper, the other guy rummages through your bag.  OR maybe it’s a map instead of a newspaper. A scarf that some lady is spreading out? A sign begging for money that has just been slipped over your pocket.

And once you escape the clutches of public transport and are out and about: stay aware.  Protect your bag in crowds. At restaurants: do not put your bag on the back of your chair or on the ground. You should be able to feel it at all times i.e. on your lap, over your knee, between your feet. Same goes for all of your luggage and bags on trains, in train stations or at ticket machines. Watch them.

Rome is beautiful, and incomparable. You will love it here. But for the love of god, PLEASE watch your stuff.

 

 

14 Comments

  • Reply jenny April 26, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    Oh, so true. A goup of teens, with baby, tried to stop me getting off the metro, got in front of me really close after my husband had got off. I just shoved the one in front of me aside and jumped. That was my first day in Rome…

    • Reply Natalie April 29, 2014 at 3:07 am

      I’m sorry that happened! I have seen groups of girls operating around Colosseo, Piramide and Termini a lot more recently.

  • Reply rinaz April 28, 2014 at 6:40 am

    From reading this post, I got the feeling that maybe there is someone you know who got their wallet stolen in the metro. I hope that they are fine.

    I always advice friends who are visiting to keep their valuables close with them at all times and it’s not only the gypsies that steal things … even nicely dressed men.

    • Reply Natalie April 29, 2014 at 3:10 am

      It’s more my guilty conscious for having seen two pickpocketing incidents in the last few weeks and not reacting quickly enough. But absolutely I know Rome residents and friends that have been targeted too- losing wallets on the bus, or having a purse snatched in Campo.

      And I completely agree it’s not all about groups of teenagers– I have seen men in suits doing the pickpocketing!

  • Reply Kimberley Monari April 29, 2014 at 3:39 am

    I lived in Rome & I remember that the bus that goes to the Vatican from San Silvestro is crowded with thieves. Everyone’s gawking out the windows! Shoulder bags? They can ride by on a scooter & snatch them off. Finally, a beggar can hold out their baby & then go right under the infant for your money!

  • Reply Tiana Kai May 3, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    It’s so funny because growing up in Miami made me tough on the streets, but I notice that I have even less time or patience for petty talk here in Italy. The latin culture is extremely friendly, but you learn at a young age to not respond to all the external cackle or calls from strangers. I was raised to be on guard and to always watch my surroundings and purse. I really do not trust anyone. The few times I’ve let my guard down in Italy in reply to some stranger they’ve ended up being totally nuts. Sometimes I start small talk with a joke, but when I’M the one who starts the conversation and IF I feel like the mood fits and IF the person looks innocent and normal. Love this post! Rome felt really safe to me, but I did feel uncomfortable walking to alone back to the hotel from the Trevi…lots of weirdos out past midnight.

  • Reply Meenal June 28, 2014 at 11:39 am

    I completely agree with the dangers of being a tourist in rome!!! Yes you can be careful and put your wallet and phone in your front pocket,but you know what? That doesn’t help either…..
    It is atrocious and disgusting,had a personal experience last month where 3 girls jostled around my husband and took both his phone and wallet from each of his front pockets,he was wondering why they were hustling close to him and even screamed,i was already in the train. It was the worst experience in my life ever. They are a well formed group who doesn’t care about the cctv footage too!

    • Reply Natalie June 29, 2014 at 4:06 am

      Oh, Meenal– I am so sorry to hear that! I think it’s terrible that the police don’t do more to stop those groups from working on the trains/metros. I am truly sorry that you had that experience!

  • Reply gina July 19, 2014 at 7:42 am

    So…from another California girl — an LA-bred-and-raised and NoCal-fed one no less….yes, Rome does feel very safe but please watch your stuff even if it feels safe, yes even when it is much safer than California could ever feel…this means — even when you are at a children’s playground where lots of families come and go with their kids on late summer nights in a very residential neighborhood, please watch your stuff! Watch out for guys on scooters (even though it’s “normal” in Italy for them to be driving on sidewalks and through playgrounds/parks), especially if they come too close to you. I learned the hard way (they grabbed my laptop by the screen straight off my lap as I was typing). As Nathalie says, Rome is beautiful but for goodness sake, be aware of your surroundings and watch your stuff!

    • Reply Natalie July 22, 2014 at 7:25 pm

      Hi Gina! Sadly, that is good advice. So sad to hear that the snatch and scooter is alive and well.

  • Reply Porta Portese: Rome’s Flea Market | An American in Rome September 4, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    […] Oh. And watch out for pick pockets. […]

  • Reply 12 Ways to Stay Safe in Rome – An American in Rome August 19, 2016 at 7:35 am

    […] Be aware of your surroundings. This is a much bigger risk of pickpockets who will opportunistically snatch your phone or wallet. Here is more on how to avoid pickpockets in Rome. […]

  • Reply Jose January 2, 2017 at 7:25 pm

    19 December: the flight to Rome was smooth and unevenful; the processing through passport control was efficient; the train ride from fiumicino to roma termini was unencumbered. everything moved swiftly… including how my wallet was taken off me from my front pocket… by a group of children… seven-year olds would dare block my way, and i thought they were just being playful. but what depressed me the most was the location of the police station, and the unfriendly cube that greeted anyone with an incident to report. all it lacked was a huge sign stating “leave your hopes behind you”.

    • Reply Natalie January 2, 2017 at 9:32 pm

      Ohhhh no. I am so sorry Jose!

    Leave a Reply