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, including break-ins and bike snatchings. Worst of all are the pickpockets in Rome.

If your things are not kept under lock and key, they will disappear.

As the high season 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 off guard 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 and avoiding pickpockets in 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 pickpockets.

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 truly incomparable. You will love it here. But for the love of god, PLEASE watch your stuff.

Do you have any other tips to avoid pickpockets in Rome?

How to avoid pickpockets in Rome


20 thoughts on “Pickpockets in Rome

  1. jenny says:

    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…

    • Natalie says:

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

  2. rinaz says:

    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.

    • Natalie says:

      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!

  3. Kimberley Monari says:

    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!

  4. Tiana Kai says:

    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.

  5. Meenal says:

    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!

    • Natalie says:

      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!

  6. gina says:

    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!

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  9. Jose says:

    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”.

  10. robert jantzen says:

    In 39 years of part time (summer) American expat life in Rome, only 2 incidents come to mind. We made the mistake of taking the elevator from the new Line B extension up to the surface with my wife, but a bunch of adult Rom got in, and they sort of isolated her in the corner, distracting me, and afterwards, my wallet was missing. With my monthly transport pass. No more elevators. The second time we were sitting opposite a younger couple on the bus and all got off for the Barberini Metro A stop, without exchanging any words. But we were waiting together for the trains, all of which were arriving jammed full. We had a dinner appointment with some friends, so when the third train came we forced our way into the door, and apparently there was an 11 year old (guess) Rom girl next to me and just before the doors closed I felt her being yanked out of the train by another Rom. My wife said check your wallet. Gone, we jumped out. This other couple had seen the girl run to the other direction metro stop, and pointed her out, so I grabbed her and got my wallet back, then the cash, but forgot about my transportation pass. She was obviously frightened, I just let her go. Cursing the use of tickets the rest of the month. Now I find out you can replace the monthly pass during the month too, which I had to do when I misplaced my pass this past summer. But the scene was a classic one as described by Natalie. I became Facebook friends with the young lady of the couple who saved my day, she works for Lega Ambiente, so as often happens in Italy, something bad leads to something good!

  11. helena says:

    Great conversation. I’m hoping to get back to Rome so I can use the tips! On my last trip I wore…a fanny pack in front. I looked like a complete dork. I kept my hand over the zippers when someone got too close. Other than looking awful it seems to have worked. No problems.

  12. Paul says:

    My wife and I are going to be in Rome in October for our anniversary, never been there, and quite concerned about this sort of thing. Would using a taxi service be better? I hears they can take you for a ride too. We are not staying in the city center, but, out a bit with no close-by Metro line, any thoughts would be great, thanks.

  13. Michelle Rapier says:

    I lived in Roma for 15 years and absolutely loved it and miss it to this day. Fortunately, I was only robbed once and all they got was a cheap gold-colored brooch although they were going for the real gold bracelet I was wearing. I was aware of my surroundings and knew I was being followed as I was going down Via Veneto to Piazza Barberini. As I rounded the corner on Barberini a “mother” holding her “baby” pulled her wrap up around me and stole the brooch. I hit her with my umbrella and screamed at her in Italian to go away. I won. My purse never held anything of value and was always a crossbody so I could hold on to it better. My credit cards, money and passport (usually left at the office unless traveling out of Italy) were in a soft pouch I made which had a strap that I wrapped around my bra strap and then tucked into my bra. No one ever went after that without me knowing it. My best advice to my visitors was to not act like a tourist, always be aware of your surroundings, walk with a purpose and keep a hand on your valuables at all times. I saw a guy get pickpocketed by a bunch of kids with the cardboard trick. They were so fast! When I told him they had just robbed him, he didn’t believe me until he checked his fanny pack. I told him the one who had his valuables had already run away. He wasn’t paying any attention to his surroundings and was easy pickings. Roma is such a wonderful place and you can’t let the thieves ruin it for you.

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