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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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! www.pcmag.com
It is unlikely that any of these things will happen to you while in Italy. But hopefully these tips will help you to avoid the possibility. Are there any tips I missed? Please share your tips and stories.