Overall Rome is a safe city, and most visitors will have a trouble-free time during their trip to the city. However, with the increased number of tourists, scams and pickpockets in Rome are more active than ever. The fact that my bag was recently stolen made me all the more aware of it.
Make sure to read my post Is Rome Safe?
While there are a number of different scams going on in the city, some of which I’ve encountered firsthand – not only in Rome but in other cities in Europe such as Paris – and others that I’ve only heard of, that doesn’t mean you’re going to experience them. However, it’s better to know about them than go to the city without any prior warning at all.
Scams And Pickpockets In Rome To Be Aware Of
There are a few different scams to be on the watch for when you’re exploring Rome. Some things are easy to spot, others will take you by surprise. Either way, it’s always good to know how to recognize scams when they arise, so here are a few to bear in mind.
The friendship bracelet / gift scam
This is one of the most common scams in Rome and in other major tourist destinations. I have seen it unfold a bunch of times, and blocked it from happening too. It can happen in a couple of different ways. It usually starts when an overly friendly person comes up to you in the street, often with some fun chat or banter to get your attention; it could also be an overzealous hawker or street vendor who wants to try and sell you some of their products.
These scammers will take you by surprise and put a colorful bracelet (though the latest trend in Rome is a white one) onto your wrist. If you don’t refuse in an assertive way or pull your wrist away, they’ll chat to you about how it was made, and eventually you’ll be asked for some amount of money in exchange.
The best thing to do is to not engage with these sorts of people in the first place; when a stranger puts a bracelet on your wrist, they’ve already crossed the line into your personal space.
If they already have done it, take it off immediately and walk away. Be assertive in saying “I do not want this bracelet” and threaten to call the police. They will be on their way in a second.
The help with the ticket vending machine scam
We’ve all been there – looking like tourists when using ticket vending machines at train and metro stations. But in Rome, you may be approached by a “friendly local” who will offer to help you with purchasing a ticket.
Being a confused tourist fumbling with the ticket machine is like a signal to this particular scammer. One of their distraction techniques is to press on the buttons of the machine to increase the numbers of tickets you may buy. You will likely get mad at them and make a scene, and that’s when an accomplice will strike – you will be a victim of one of the most common pickpockets in Rome.
Even if they appear genuine – but trust me, they never are – never give your money away to these “helpful” people. They’ll either straight away run off with your money or be more subtle and help you with your ticket whilst pickpocketing you.
This also happens with ATMs, particularly in the Termini area. Scammers can be very creative. Some may even pose as employees who inform you that certain ticket machines or ATMs aren’t working, and will guide you to another, which has been fitted with a device that steals your credit card details.
The best thing to do in these cases are assertively refuse any such help, walking away if necessary, and only use ATMs located inside banks. In general, keep in mind that pickpockets in Rome and in other major tourist destinations are very active around transportation hubs.
Route 64 Pickpockets in Rome
Route 64 is the route taken by a bus that begins in Termini and leads all the way to near the Vatican. It’s typically a very crowded bus and also typically used by tourists, as it passes by many interesting sights along the way.
Because of this, it’s also used by pickpockets in Rome. These will usually get unnecessarily close to you, and “dip” your belongings, meaning they will take whatever is easily in reach from an open bag, back pocket, etc. Be aware of your surroundings and, most importantly, have nothing flashy on show to steal in the first place.
Deaf / dumb people asking you to sign petitions and give money for a cause
This is one of the most common scams in Rome, Paris, London and pretty much any major tourist destination in Europe. You may not realize this scam is even happening until it’s occurred, so knowing that it is a thing is the easiest way to avoid it. What happens in this scam is that a group of people, sometimes children, will approach you motioning you to sign a petition on a clipboard; they’ll also motion that they cannot talk or hear you. You’ll find them close to big tourist sights, usually.
However, once you’re distracted with signing the petition, one (or more) of the group will put their hands into your pockets to see what they can find. Alternatively, they may demand a cash donation for the charity they purport to be raising money for.
Simply turn the opposite direction and walk away if anybody approaches you in this way – it’s very easy to get quickly surrounded by people. Let me tell you that from experience!
People randomly asking for money for a sandwich or for gas
This scam features people who seem to be well dressed asking for some money for a sandwich or gas. It could seem legitimate because of how these scammers present themselves; they’ll say things like “I forgot my wallet” or “only help me get a sandwich” or something similar. But their job is to walk around the streets asking people for money.
Again, as with any situation involving strangers approaching you in the street, it is best to avoid over-friendly people and continue on your journey.
Though this is one I have yet to see myself, this scam definitely exists in Rome and is a particularly tricky one to spot. These people will be either dressed as police officers, or they may be one though dressed in plain clothes. They sometimes have fake badges to show as well, instantly giving people confidence that these are real police officers.
These kinds of fraudsters often work in pairs. They may approach tourists under the pretense of a “security check”, which involves them getting out their passports, forms of identification and other valuable belongings. In this case, during the check, money or other important items in your belongings may go missing without you even realizing. They’ll then send you on your way.
It can be difficult to avoid this scam. You may be concerned that the person involved is a real police officer. The point is that police can legitimately stop and search anyone on the streets in Italy. So keep your eyes very much open. If you are worried, it may be helpful to ask the person searching your belongings if it can be done at a police station instead: this may be enough to scare them off.
Inflated prices at bars and restaurants
This one is a particularly pricey scam in which tourists are lured into bars, restaurants and clubs which seem legitimate – until the bill comes. This can range from simply finding yourself in a place that has extortionate prices to begin with, or being led into a tourist trap by a “friendly local”. In the case of the latter, tell them you’ve already got plans or that you’re not interested, and move on.
In some cases, people are presented with bills having eaten or drank their fill, that run into the thousands of euros, and will be stopped from leaving until they’ve paid the hefty bill, or at least given away a large sum of their money.
Illegal taxi scams
While there are plenty of legitimate taxis to use in Rome, unfortunately there are also illegal taxis that ply the city streets, too. Actually, you can even see them in airports – they are the ones that will approach you inside the terminal. Official ones will wait for passengers on the reserved taxi lane.
These shady drivers will try to get as many euros out of you as they can. They may overcharge you for the fare, charge you an extortionate amount for your luggage, give you back the wrong change, or have the wrong price on the meter (or say that it’s not working).
These kinds of scams are best avoided by only taking official Roma Capitale taxis. Try not to flag a taxi down in the street, and pick up taxis only at official taxi stands which can be found close to many big tourist sights.
A bagarino is essentially a ticket tout who resells tickets or sells unofficial (fake) tickets at higher prices than you’d usually pay. They usually operate around areas that have long queues for things like museums and historic sites.
They will approach you and offer tickets that allegedly allow you to skip the line, or that are a bargain price. The bottom line here is to not buy tickets from unofficial bagarini like this. In any case, you need to book most attractions in Rome well ahead of your visit so it’s easy to avoid this scam.
Cheap tourist restaurants / no menu in restaurants
Restaurants that serve up bad food with overinflated prices are, sadly, a reality in Rome. These kinds of tourist traps will often have a smartly dressed waiter or member of staff outside welcoming people and trying to get them inside the restaurant. They are literally everywhere, especially near the major tourist sites.
The menu they hold or that is plastered outside will be available in various languages, which could be attractive to some tourists. Not all multi-language menus mean that the establishment is a tourist trap, but what you should do instead is to take a look at the prices before you head in.
If you’re unsure, or to avoid this entirely, check out reviews of restaurants before you go; you could even potentially make an itinerary of places you’d like to go instead of randomly walking into a restaurant you know nothing about.
You can also read my post The Best Restaurants In Rome.
How To Avoid Scams And Pickpockets In Rome
Don’t flash your belongings
This is probably the easiest way to not get targeted by pickpockets. Only if you look like you’ve got something to steal, and you are obviously a tourist, will pickpockets and other scammers approach you in the first place. Try to look as natural as possible in your surroundings and keep any important belongings well out of plain view.
Prefer a cross-body bag with multiple pockets
Wearing a backpack or handbag on your shoulder is a signal to scammers that there’s something easy to snatch. If you wear a cross-body bag instead, it can’t be snatched. Having multiple pockets to distribute your belongings between means you’re less likely to lose everything at once, too (just in case).
Never take out your wallet in the street – especially if you’re alone
Again, any indication that you have something to steal will make you a potential target for scammers and pickpockets looking for an easy opportunity. With this in mind, keep your wallet well hidden. Try not to take it out in public, especially in the street or if you are by yourself, as lone travelers are much more of an easy target than a group. Keep some spare change for things such as metro tickets, water etc in your pockets, or on external pockets of your bag, so you don’t have to take your wallet out too often.
Wear your backpack in front of you on public transport
If you are wearing a backpack, make sure to wear it on your front when you’re on public transport. Buses and the metro can get busy and crowded, and not being able to see your backpack means you’re unaware of somebody reaching into your bag in search of valuables. Wearing it on your front means you can see everything that’s going on. Keep it close to you and in sight at all times. Don’t put your wallet or your phone on the back pocket of your pants – that’s literally an invitation for pickpockets in Rome, and anywhere else!
Be careful of your belongings in restaurants
When you’re in a restaurant, especially when you’re sitting outside or on a terrace, do not leave your bag on the floor, hanging on the back of your chair, or on the chair next to you. This makes it very easy to steal. Instead, wear it or attach your bag via the strap to the leg of the table or chair you’re sitting on, or even to your leg. I know it sounds paranoid, but you’re better safe than sorry.
Call the police if needed!
Calling the police can seem a bit over the top sometimes, but you shouldn’t be afraid to do it if you have been targeted by scammers or pickpockets in Rome. The city’s designated tourist police is all around key tourist spots will be able to help you if you are in trouble: they are very aware of the various scams taking place in the city. Often, the mere threat of calling the police will be enough to get rid of somebody who is harassing you – just as my story below proves.
The Time My Bag Was Stolen In Rome
It was September 5th, 2022 and I had just arrived at Roma Ostiense train station from Viterbo, where I was visiting family. As I fiddled with the vending machine to get a metro ticket, someone tried to scam me suggesting she could help me get tickets (more about this scam later). But I was quick to react: I told her I didn’t need help, in Italian and English, and when she kept lingering on, I firmly said that if she didn’t get away that minute I’d call the police. She left immediately, but I could see she was still lingering on, looking for her next victim.
I made my way to the Colosseum area, where I decided to stay this time, and after I dropped my bags I went to have a bite at a nearby restaurant.
I was sitting outside, in a very constrained place where it was actually difficult to move around. As I often do when I eat alone, I left my bag on the floor. Rookie mistake, I know – and I should have known better, since I am such a seasoned traveler. But you know, I was tired, sweaty, hungry and just didn’t think anyone would squeeze in such a tight place. Besides, the restaurant, while popular among tourists, was a local place.
It was a busy place – as I have said at the beginning of this post, Rome has never been so crowded with tourists. So lots of people went in to ask if a table was available, and out to leave after paying. And I was just by the door. It happened then. I got distracted for a second – that’s literally all it took – looking at my phone, and when I went to grab my bag to pay the check I realized the bag was gone.
I literally jumped, ran to the street, and screamed “someone stole my bag” – incidentally, I did that in English first, then in Italian. The only person that immediately offered help when he saw me in such distress was a tourist – most likely from the US.
I will never forget his calm, polite approach. He told me to sit, calm down, have some water and not to worry, he’d help with whatever I’d need, lunch would be covered and if I needed cash to get by that day he’d give me some. Then he said to do whatever I had to do. All the while, the staff from the restaurant was completely blaze about what had just happened on their premises. They did not even offer me the comfort of a glass of water.
So I sat down, my hands trembling as I called one of my banks to cancel my card. As I was on the phone with them, I started getting notifications on my Apple Watch my other, contactless card, was being used! I literally had to rush to block that too. They made 4 “purchases” within 3 minutes, all under 50 euro as anything over that amount requires a PIN even on a contactless card.
The rest of the afternoon consisted of a trip to the police (I actually went to the Carabinieri station on Quirinal Hill) for a very detailed report, to the nearest bank to get a list of movements the police needed and some cash (the other bank gave me a virtual card I could use by connecting it to Apple Pay), then back to the police and finally to the hotel. The main nuisance right at that moment was that along with my bag, all my documents were stolen and that is a major nuisance, especially the driving license which is what I need the most at home.
Together with the bag (which I had gotten a year before during a day trip to Orvieto with my sister) and my wallet with all my documents and €100 in cash, I had lost my prescription sunglasses – thankfully insured – my power-bank and cable, a refillable water bottle, a purse where I kept emergency medications (I have asthma). It was an overall value of around €500.
The first thing I did once I got back to the hotel and had my police statement was disavowing any credit card payment that had been made (I got the money back in my account within a few days) and file a claim with my insurance, which however turned out not to cover cases in which items are stolen from public / open spaces.
I was still fiddling with emails to insurance companies and all when I received an email. A group of Harley Davidsons’ bikers from Turin had found my wallet on the floor along Via degli Annibaldi, not far from where the restaurant was and right on the way to the Colosseum. Moments later they were at my door with my wallet and (almost) all my documents. I was in tears!
As I went to the police again to file another statement that the wallet had been found, I got a message on my Instagram account: a guy found my Social Security Card on a parking vending machine and sent me the exact spot where it was (the same street where the wallet had been found).
Needless to say, all my senses were very alert after my bag had been stolen, and I was significantly more aware of scams happening near me. The day after my bag had been stolen, I stopped two tourists from getting the bracelet scam – they had their wallet open, full of cash, ready to pay for a bracelet they never wanted. I told them it was a scam and they should immediately call the police. The scammer was not exactly happy about it and almost followed me into the imperial forum!
Since I have been through the entire ordeal myself, let me tell you what to do if you are ever the victim of pickpockets in Rome.
What To Do If You Are The Victim Of Pickpockets In Rome
Block all your credit cards
The first thing to do if you realize your bag or belongings have been stolen is to cancel all your credit and debit cards immediately. Scammers take cards to use them and in some cases, they begin using them right away; canceling cards as soon as you can lessens the chance of you losing any money.
Many banks now have an app you can download on your phone and that allows you to block the cards in a matter of seconds. In fact, my sister, who works as a fraud and security analyst at a major bank group here in Italy, pointed out that many bank apps allow you to deactivate and activate again your cards in a matter of seconds. I now walk around with two deactivated cards in my purse, and one active virtual card on my Apple Pay. I can activate my cards via the bank app whenever I need a physical card to make a payment.
If you don’t have your phone with you, and have no access to the apps, get hold of a phone as soon as possible and make all the necessary calls.
File a police statement
The next thing to do is to head to the nearest police station (can be either Polizia or Carabinieri). Here you can file a statement. Most likely officers will speak Italian and some level of English, but don’t worry – they are always very kind, polite and understanding and I am sure you won’t have a hard time communicating.
Officers at the police station will ask you the exact details of where the crime took place, what time it took place and what was stolen – I literally had to remember all the items in my bag! You may even need to give a description of whoever took it (if you saw them). You’ll also need to give them a bank statement too, if your stolen cards were used to make purchases.
If any important documents (passport, identification card, etc.) have been stolen, the officers at the police station will give you a signed document that you can use instead. This document is a certificate that states your documents were stolen; you can also use it to board planes.
Go to the nearest embassy or consulate
The next step will be heading to the nearest relevant embassy or consulate to get your passport replaced. Most consulates will give you a new one in a matter of a few hours in emergency circumstances.
Check your email and social media accounts
Another thing to do is to keep an eye out for any emails, Facebook or Instagram messages you may receive. You never know, somebody may find your documents or valuables and want to get in touch so they can be safely returned to you – that’s what happened in my case, and I was so glad that whoever found my documents went above and beyond to locate me and return everything!
Finally, I honestly hope you are never a victim of pickpockets in Rome, or anywhere else in the world. I was and I felt terribly violated!