If you plan on visiting Italy, one of the things you will hear is to beware of the pickpockets.
Well, Italy is one of the top tourist destinations in Europe, which begs the question: is pickpocketing really as bad as people say, or is there something more to it?
Pickpocketing is common in Italy. Pickpocketing is more prevalent in major Italian cities such as Rome, Naples, Florence, and Venice. Most pickpockets in Italy can be found around busy and crowded areas such as the public transport system and popular tourist hotspots.
That would be the short answer, but there is more to it.
How Bad Is Pickpocketing in Italy?
Generally, Italy is considered a safe country, and pickpocketing in Italy is not as bad as it used to be. However, Italy, and Rome in particular, is still ranking among the top tourist places in Europe where you can get pickpocketed.
That being said, The police have cracked down on pickpockets, and there is usually a good police presence in many tourist hot spots.
There are multiple accounts of people solo traveling to Italy without ever having any issues with pickpockets. In fact, some people often argue that the problem with pickpockets in Italy is blown out of proportion.
Over the years, the total number of crimes in Italy has been going down considerably each year over the past decade. Between 2014 and 2019, the number of reported pickpocketing cases per year went down from approximately 180,000 to about 137,000 cases.
Mugging and violent thefts are rare in Italy compared to the US. However, pickpocketing and petty theft are still more prevalent in Italy than in the USA.
Where Does Pickpocketing Happen in Italy?
Pickpockets in Italy hang out near popular tourist hot spots, central areas, and the public transport system. Pickpockets frequent busy and crowded places such as bars, carnivals, train stations, metro stations, and around street performers.
Pickpockets are often concentrated in and around larger cities such as Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice, Pisa, Bologna, and Rio.
Crowded buses, trains, and metro cars provide a good opportunity for pickpockets. It is common for groups of pickpockets to work various train lines that are not necessarily located in a specific city. A good example is the train lines between Florence, Pisa, La Spezia, and Genoa.
Tourist areas and attractions attract pickpockets simply because these areas are very busy, and there are many distracted people who are not paying attention.
Thieves can also be found at the beach, where people can often be distracted or sleeping.
Pickpockets are more common in Rome than in other major Italian cities such as Florence, Naples, or Venice.
Some popular sites for pickpocket attacks are famous squares and piazzas like the Piazza Navona and the Piazza di Spagna, busy areas and streets, and popular tourist destinations such as the Vittoriano Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and the Campo de’ Fiori Colosseum.
Pickpockets also hang out at major stations like the Stazione di Roma.
Pickpockets in Naples hang out near popular tourist attractions, the ferry terminal, the train station, and on crowded trams and buses.
There are a lot of stories of people getting pickpocketed on the train to and from Naples.
Pickpockets in Milan are often found in busy tourist areas and on crowded buses, trains, and metro cars.
The Milan Central station used to be notorious for how bad pickpocketing in the area was. However, it has significantly improved over the last several years.
There are pickpockets in Venice. Piazza di San Marco, Canale Grande, Rialto Bridge, Academia Museum, and other popular tourist attractions are common spots frequented by pickpockets in Venice.
The Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia is another spot that people should be careful when traveling to and from.
Pickpockets can also be found on water taxis, trains, buses, metro, and other crowded and busy areas and tourist hotspots.
How to Avoid Pickpockets in Italy
Pickpockets are looking for easy targets. Easy targets are considered people who are distracted, do not keep an eye on their belongings, stare into their phones, or are tired or drunk.
Many popular tourist locations are often too crowded, so avoiding the crowd can be nearly impossible. Because of this, it is important not to put yourself in a vulnerable position to begin with.
There is no need to be overly paranoid. Just using common sense and having some situational awareness is often enough to avoid pickpockets.
- Dress casually and do not flash expensive jewelry, gadgets, or wads of cash, especially when in public places. Doing so can quickly attract the attention of pickpockets.
- The general rule of thumb is never to carry things you cannot afford to lose. So stick to the bare minimum. Carry your ID, or a copy of your ID/passport, a bank card, and some cash. Also, do not forget to make copies of your credit and debit cards, ID, and passport.
- Men are advised to keep their phone wallets, money, and keys in their front or inside pockets. Using a money belt or a neck wallet can be a great way to protect your important documents and cash.
- Women are recommended to have a cross-body purse and keep it in front or the side of their body and with a hand resting on top of it.
- Backpacks and purses should be kept closed or zipped, and valuables should be kept deep inside the bag or in an inner zipped or buttoned pocket.
- Don’t keep all your cash in one place, and be vigilant when you have to take out your phone or cash in public.
- Keep your belongings near you when going to a restaurant or a cafe. Do not hang your bag or jacket on a chair. Keep your belongings in your lap or down between your legs. Avoid placing your purse, backpack, or other valuable items far away from you. It does not take much for a thief to swoop in, grab your purse, bag, or camera and run away.
- Always remain alert when getting on and off buses, metro and train cars, passing through turnstiles, and on stairways existing or entering stations.
- It is not advisable to stand near the doors of the trains or metro cars. Instead, arriving early is recommended so you can be one of the first to board and be situated far away from the doors. Stand away from the doors, ideally with your backpack or purse facing a wall. Pickpockets often use the moment when train doors are closing to steal and leave the train or when somebody is getting in or out of the metro car.
- Try to carry yourself with purpose and look confident. This is an excellent way to make yourself fit in and not stand out as an easy target. Do not be afraid to say a simple “No” or completely ignore suspicious people trying to strike a conversation or when dealing with pushy beggars and peddlers. Many locals recommend yelling “Ladro” (which means “thief” in Italian) if you catch a pickpocket trying to steal something.
Common Techniques Pickpockets Use in Italy
There are a lot of different strategies pickpockets can use to steal.
Pickpockets will almost always try to find a way to divert your attention and distract you.
Often pickpockets work in teams of 2, 3, 4, or even more people, and while one person will be distracting you, another will try to steal whatever they can put their hands on. Pickpockets can be quite resourceful and sneaky.
Their strategy is to create unexpected circumstances that can distract or disorient people.
- One person may fall down and block your way or bump into you repeatedly.
- In some instances, a couple of pickpockets can try to box you in, preventing you from moving while they will try to fish for any valuables.
- One strategy thieves use, shared by one of the national police forces of Italy, is where one person knocks on train windows to distract the passenger inside while another person who has boarded the train will snoop through their belongings.
- Another common tactic can be to try and spill something on you.
- There have been reports of tourists being approached by strangers claiming they are an undercover cop warning them about pickpockets in the area. The goal is to figure out where you may be keeping your wallet or valuables, which later they can try to steal. Sometimes pickpockets frequent areas where there are beware of pickpockets signs with the same goal. People will often check their pockets which gives away where their wallets are.
Be cautious when strangers approach you. Oftentimes pickpockets will try to find a way to get into your personal space. For example:
- Pickpockets may try to distract you or befriend you while trying to figure out where you keep your cash and wallet.
- They may act as a fellow tourist in need of help, and they can use a map to block your view and distract you.
- Some may try to offer help with your luggage or with buying a ticket and how to use the train ticket machines. Others may tell you you are supposed to put your luggage in the overhead compartment, only to use the opportunity to steal from you while lifting your luggage up.
- Some may act friendly, trying to hug, fist-bump you, or high-five you, only to try and tie a friendship bracelet on your wrist or give you a flower (which are some of the more common scams tourists run into).
- Others may act like they are drunk in order to bump or lean into you.
- Be mindful when looking at the arrival and departure boards for a long time. Many people report being approached by suspicious-looking people asking if they need assistance.
Of course, not everyone is out there to get your cash, but you have to be careful because pickpockets will try to look like ordinary people to avoid raising too many red flags.
I recommend checking out this short video by Polizia di Stato for some good examples of common pickpocketing techniques.
How to Spot Pickpockets in Italy
Pickpockets can be of any age or ethnicity. Sometimes they can dress smart and look like ordinary people. Some pickpockets can also be teenage girls and boys and even pregnant women.
Look for people who are:
- Pulling luggage that seems empty.
- Carrying a coat over their arm or having it hang off one shoulder.
- Carrying big shopping bags that often may be empty.
- Looking at what other people carry.
- Suddenly crowding the train and metro platforms seconds before the doors of metro and train cars open.
- Getting in other people’s personal space seemingly for no reason.
What to Do if You Have Been Pickpocketed in Italy
If you have been pickpocketed in Italy, report the crime at the nearest police station, cancel your bank accounts if necessary, and contact your country’s embassy or consulate if you have lost important documents such as passports and ID. Cancel your phone service if your phone has been stolen.
A detailed list of all the embassies and consulates can be found online here.
When reporting the theft, request a copy of the report, which may be required when contacting your consulate or insurance company.