Staying Safe in Italy – How to Avoid Pickpockets and Other Crimes

pickpokets in ITaly

When I first moved to Italy, people were constantly stealing from me – my wallet from my purse, money from my coat pocket, countless phones from my backpack.  Last week, I was on a city bus in Milan and I foolishly had my small wallet in the outside pocket of my backpack.  I knew not to do this – SUPER easy way for someone to steal your stuff – easy pickings for pickpockets.  In fact, I had just told hubby I would never put anything important in that pocket because it was too easy to steal stuff from.  Anyway – I did it, and on the bus, I could feel a man bumping up against me, I tried to get away from him and got off at the next stop.  He followed me and got off too.  I immediately checked my backpack and realized my wallet was gone.  I started chasing after this guy – and I guess I must have looked like a crazed, insane, scary woman because this guy stopped, turned around and returned my wallet.  Ha, ha, ha!   What kind of thief does that?  Clearly he could have outrun me.  I am a small girl and had my 4 inch heels on.  I felt very empowered and also scared after that event, but it also got me thinking about safety in Italy.  So here are some points to keep in mind when traveling in Italy.  *Note this is coming from an American perspective.

safety in italy, pickpokets in italy, stolen goods in italyDo not let the pickpockets get you in Italy

General Safety

Violent crimes such as assaults, rapes and murders are much more rare in Italy relative to the United States. According to The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in 2012, the murder rate per 100,000 citizens in the US was 4.7.  That is 14,827 murders.   Whereas in Italy, it was .9 or 530 murders.  For rapes in 2010, the number was 27.3 and in Italy 7.6.  I think those numbers speak for themselves.

Obviously horrific crimes can and do happen all over the world.  However, when traveling in Italy, you can expect to feel relatively secure.  The best rule is to use common sense.   Don’t walk down dark, empty streets alone at 3AM – especially women, but even men.  Be aware of your surroundings.  Be aware of your belongings at all times.  It is easy to get distracted when you are seeing the Colosseum for the first time and thieves know that.  They also know that after a long day of seeing the Trevi Fountain,  St. Peter’s and the Pantheon, you are going to be tired and not paying attention to your purse you have placed on the ground next to your chair at that outdoor café.  Be aware!


The majority of crime that happens in Italy, especially to tourists, relates to pickpockets.  These people are so smooth and subtle, you don’t even know it’s happening.  Usually you will be robbed in crowded places:  a packed bus or metro, a chaotic train station, a crowded café or just on the street.

Women should carry a cross body purse that you can clutch onto from the front. It should have zippers and lots of interior zipper compartments.   If you are carrying a purse that is handheld, it is very easy for a thief to tear your purse from your hands and run away with it.

Sometimes they also use a scooter maneuver, in which there is a driver with a  sidekick who rips your purse out of your hands as the scooter is moving.  Once my friend had her purse stolen from inside her car while she was in it at a traffic stop.  She had her windows down and her purse in the passenger seat.  Thieves on a scooter just reached in and grabbed her purse and made off.

As mentioned above, backpacks are out for carrying valuables and men should not keep anything in their back pockets.

Also, never leave any type of bag with valuables out of sight at a restaurant, cafe or bar.  This means on the ground or hanging on a chair.  Super easy way to steal.

Here is a video with some examples of pickpockets and how they operate:


You can usually identify Gypsy women by their dress which tends to be in layers and often includes some kind full skirt or even a shawl.  Many times they will have toddlers and children with them.  A lot of times they will be begging on the street or will even perform short pieces of musical entertainment in the metro in exchange for a tip.  No problem for these things.  On the other hand, there are some that are smooth pickpockets, using methods similar to the ones stated above.  Other times, they will crowd around you and steal your belongings.  This last method is actually kind of scary because having 5-7 people (often children) all over you is a freakish feeling.  And you know they are stealing your stuff, but you are outnumbered.  Again – just be aware of your surroundings so as to limit such encounters.  If you see someone or something that looks off, step into a store or café’ until you feel safe.

Lock up

This might sound like a no-brainer – but lock your car doors and your hotel room doors.  It is true that in Texas from time to time we leave our front doors unlocked as well as our cars.  Don’t do this in Italy.  Once my friend left the hotel room unlocked while he was sleeping in the room and thieves stole all his stuff WHILE he was in the room.  Mind you my friend is no small guy.  What nerve!  Who would do such a thing?  The same goes for cars, leave nothing unlocked or in plain view such as computers, cameras, bags or phones.  They will break the windows and steal everything.


It is true Italian men tend to be obvious about their appreciation for women. But generally speaking, they are harmless.  That said, there are the creeps you might encounter on a crowded bus, tram or metro that might take the opportunity to “brush” up against you. I had this happen in Rome.   If this is the case, turn around and put the person in their place, even in English.  Those around you will understand what is going on and will not take kindly to a slimy man trying to take advantage of a woman.   They will assist you in cases like this.   For all the rest, just as mentioned above, common sense is the key.   Don’t put yourself in a vulnerable position.

Train Safety

Obviously traveling at night it is best to reserve a spot in a sleeping car.  Make sure all your important belongings are with you.  I like to sleep with my wallet and cell.   Be careful on regional trains as well.  For example, if you are headed from Milan to Como late in the evening, make sure you sit in a car with others.

Credit Cards

Cloning credit and debit cards is relatively easy.  This happened to me too.  See?  It has ALL happened to me, I am such an expert.  Thieves have various methods of accomplishing this task.  It actually happened to me at our bank.  I used the ATM and there was a small device attached to the machine that I did not notice.  When I inserted my card, my number was copied.  But you might ask how they got my pin number.  Apparently there was also a camera attached from above that I did not notice.  My husband always tells me to cover the pin pad with one hand while I am typing in my pin, and I never do it.  Here is an article that discusses what happened to me, to give you an idea of what to look for. Note the first picture!  Ha, ha, ha….guess hubby knows his stuff!

It is unlikely that any of these things will happen to you while in Italy – just make sure not to go around like this guy and you should be fine.   pickpokets in ITaly

Hopefully these tips will help you to avoid the possibility.   Are there any tips I missed?  Please share your tips and stories.

Happy Travels!

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Staying safe in Italy by avoiding pickpockets and other criminals.




31 Comments on “Staying Safe in Italy – How to Avoid Pickpockets and Other Crimes

  1. These are excellent tips. I am horrified to hear that some people travel abroad with no thought to this type of thing. We wear money belts all the time.

    • I know! It is amazing to me too. But I have to say that although I had Italian hubby looking out for me, it still happened a LOT to me when we first moved here. I think also because I had a 3 month old and a 3 year old and was always struggling with strollers, diaper bags and well….kids. I was an easy target. This last incident was totally my own fault. Anyway….yes…with the kind of travelling you guys are doing, for sure you are the masters of keeping your belongings! 🙂

  2. Oh no! I’m sorry you’ve been robbed so many times in Italy! 😦 We’ve traveled throughout the country on 4 separate occasions and fortunately, have never been pick-pocketed! Lucky, I guess! I always wear a Pac-Safe purse when traveling though, that has cut-proof straps and wire mesh encasing the entire bag!

    One time though, in Rome, we were trying to get on the subway, and 3 or 4 teens who looked Italian (dressed in Italia shirts etc…), but were actually gypsies, blocked the door and tried to create confusion. Hubby grew up in Rome though, and recognized what was going on, just as one of them made a grab for his mobile in his pocket. Lol, he pushed the guy off the train after that. Funny thing, is when we called the police to report, he said there wasn’t much they could do, and that next time, hubby should just punch him in the face!

    • Hi Shelly! BRAVO Marito! whoohooo!!!!! Yes….let me tell you…..our apartment was broken into as well. My sister’s double stroller was stolen too! ha, ha, ha…all kinds of crazy stuff. I was mentioning to Sue above that when we first moved here, I think I was an easy target because I had two small kids and just was not used to city life. Coming from Texas where you are always in the car and have lots of personal space, I was not used to having people in such close proximity at ALL times! Anyway….I felt vindicated when I got my wallet back the other day!

  3. So awesome that you chased that man down and got your wallet back!! I don’t know if I’m living in a bubble or something but I don’t think pick-pocketing happens very often in NL – except, I’m sure, in central, touristic Amsterdam. I do on occasion get a man cycling at my exact walking pace right beside me – never does it turn into anything but it’s creepy all the same 😛

    • Hi Sophie! I know! I felt sooooo “kill bill” that day! Truly! Anyway…..hubby says I am still an obvious target EVEN AFTER my “kill bill” day. I think maybe because I am kind of unorganized and always fumbling for stuff. I have these huge bags that I can never find stuff in. About your cycling and walking partners…..yes…..creepy for sure. Have a good weekend!

  4. Great tips Diana! I will keep those in mind when we travel…hopefully soon!

  5. Some very great tips! I think that many of them can and should be used outside Italy as well 🙂

    • Yes, it is true right? But I admit we still keep our doors unlocked lots of times in good ol’ Texas. Hopefully we will be able to continue that tradition for a long time.

  6. Great tips. Sorry you had to write this from personal experience though. The video was good but I can’t believe anyone would fall for that flower hoax or buy cellphones on the street!

    • I know….actually…who would buy ANYTHING on the street in that manner!!? Still, I think the video gave a overview of what to look out for regarding pickpockets. And yes…..I have seen it ALL! I must have “sucker!” tattooed on my forehead!

  7. I presume that unfortunate fellow on the right is all red as he has just plunged his hand into that giant soup ladle

    All good advice though. Hope you have a great (and crime free) week, Diana.

    • !!!!!!!!!!!!! Graham!!!!!!!!! you made me laugh and laugh and laugh with this comment…in fact…I am still laughing and finding it difficult to type….ha, ha, ha, ha… funny! You are fantastic…. Thanks for brightening up my day! You have a good week too!

      • Ooof that’s a relief, I was a little concerned that you might have thought I was being flippant with a serious subject. Ciao!

        • Noooo….no way. Yes, it was a serious and kinda boring post and that is probably one of the reasons I loved your comment so much! Buona giornata!

  8. My elderly Sicilian waiter followed me into the ladies’ and tried to kiss me the other day – ugh. Nothing like that ever happened to me in Italy though! Good list! 🙂

    • EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW…..Linda! Sorry to hear that! What nerve! Sorry…now that I am writing this response I am kinda laughing. Glad they are minding their manners when you are here.

  9. Being aware is probably the #1 tip I’d share. I witnessed a colleague get pickpocketed on the subway in Barcelona. Touch wood, with all my international travel I have never been a victim to these types of crimes. Maybe it’s my bitch-face scaring them off. 🙂

    • Nancy! You are so funny! Well believe me I scared that guy pretty good the other day. No – – I think my main problem was that I was SO flustered when we moved here. From Texas to city. That part alone…trying to struggle with the groceries and the stroller and two kids all on the street. Just stuff I was not used to (we do EVERYTHING in the car). SUCH an easy target. But then we had other stuff happen —sis’s stroller stollen, house broken into….and well yes….the debit card cloning thing…..ha, ha, ha…for sure an easy target in all aspects I guess. 🙂

  10. Sorry about your experiences Diana. But great tips. I myself am very careful while traveling there 😦 sadly so!

    • Hi! Thank you! Yes….brava…good girl….best to be on guard a little otherwise you spend all your holiday trying to replace all your stuff.

  11. this reminds me of when my purse was stolen in Malaga right before we got married. I still don’t know how someone made it out of the bar with my giant bag without me noticing! Although totally my fault – I left it under the table and was busy having drinks and socializing. Oops. 🙂

    • Lyn! I was totally thinking of you and that night. And the stroller too. 😦 and Poor daddy in Florence. And when we were with Cyn down in Calabria, someone broke into our house. ha, ha, ha….can you believe it all? We are not very lucky.

    • I guess some kind of crazy rage took over…..rage maybe more at myself for being SO STUPID!

  12. A pickpocket returned what he stole! That’s the first time I have heard the story – LOL 😀 Thanks for the tips – they are brilliant and very helpful!
    BTW, I have a backpack with many pockets and I think that helps to confuse any potential pickpockets (well, also the owner actually, sometimes she forgets in which pocket she had put her wallet 😀 )

  13. Ha, ha, ha!!!!! I am the same!!!! I have a ton of internal pockets…and I always try to be all crafty about where I put stuff that I forget too!!!! Funny! Have a great week!

  14. We were in a nice Restaurant in Milan, and I stupidly hung my purse on the chair. Sure enough, the waitress stole it! I didn’t realize it until we were leaving, and it was too late. We tried to talk to the manager, but they all acted like we were crazy. I wanted to call the police, but my husband is a retired firefighter, was a sheriff’s deputy for a few years, and an experienced world traveler. He said he didn’t like the way they were handling it and felt we needed to cut our losses and leave the restaurant. Immediately after walking outside we saw we had gotten texts about suspicious charges on two credit cards. We stood in front of the restaurant and called our banks to cancel the cards. Not a good feeling! I was so angry!

    • I am so sorry to read your story. Agree…not a good feeling at all. Always need to be super attentive.

  15. We were in a nice Restaurant in Milan, and I stupidly hung my purse on the chair. Sure enough, the waitress stole it! I didn’t realize it until we were leaving, and it was too late. We tried to talk to the manager, but they all acted like we were crazy. I wanted to call the police, but my husband is a retired firefighter, was a sheriff’s deputy for a few years, and an experienced world traveler. He said he didn’t like the way they were handling it and felt we needed to cut our losses and leave the restaurant. Immediately after walking outside we saw we had gotten texts about suspicious charges on two credit cards. We stood in front of the restaurant and called our banks to cancel the cards. Not a good feeling! I was so angry!

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