The United States has its fair share of street crimes. But pickpocketing is not one of them. Law enforcement in the United States exert a fair degree of control in touristic areas but this is not the case in Europe, particularly in Spain and Italy (a friend of mine was pickpocketed inside the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona!!).
One of the biggest worries for many tourists, travelers and Expats in Italy is the fear of falling prey to pickpockets. Being robbed by a pickpocket will certainly ruin your day but it could also mean that you’re stuck without your passport or other vital travel documents! But you shouldn’t let the fear of being pickpocketed stop you from visiting or enjoying Italy because there are some very easy ways that you can significantly reduce your chances of falling victim to these crimes.
How Common Are Street Crimes In Italy?
Italy is generally a very safe country although in certain places the risk of being pickpocketed is much higher than the nationwide average. Tourist hotspots, busy transport hubs and crowded markets all attract opportunistic pickpockets and thieves who seek to take advantage of the situation to target unsuspecting visitors and travelers.
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In 2014, there were around 180,000 recorded pickpocketing cases in Italy. However, this figure has been steadily falling ever since this peak in the numbers; with just over 130,000 cases being recorded in 2019. Even so, despite the decline in figures, 130,000 cases in a year is a large number of victims which means taking sensible precautions is always worthwhile.
A considerable percentage of the victims of these crimes are tourists who often don’t have the same levels of situational awareness that locals do and are therefore easier targets for the thieves. However, there are some practical steps you can take to reduce your chances of being robbed as well as to mitigate your losses if you are unluckily enough to be the victim of a pickpocket.
Be Aware Of Your Surroundings.
There are certain places that you might be planning to visit which have a reputation for being the hunting ground of pickpockets. This means that in these locations you need to be extra careful and aware of your surroundings. Of course, this can be difficult in crowded places but simply staying vigilant will probably put off a potential thief who will be looking for an easier target.
Ferry points, train stations and busy tourist hotspots attract pickpockets and thieves, as do ATMs, busy buses and trains. If you’re taking money out of an ATM try to use an indoor machine and always avoid ATMs that are not well lit or off the beaten track. Similarly, when you’re on a busy train or bus it’s worth keeping your bag close to your body while maintaining an alert state of mind for the journey.
Stay Safe By Knowing The Diversion Tactics That Pickpockets Use.
Pickpockets and thieves use a wide range of tactics and techniques to distract you so they can take your money, wallet or other belongings more easily. Most of the techniques that thieves use involve trying to distract you or get you off your guard so they can take your belongings without you even noticing!
Remember, that some pickpockets are extremely skillful so you do need to stay alert in order to avoid becoming one of their victims. Some of the techniques that pickpockets and thieves use include:
- Offering to help you with your luggage at a train station, bus stop or outside of your hotel.
- Pushing you or bumping into you on a busy street.
- Sending a child to offer you flowers while begging or asking for a monetary donation to distract you.
- Unofficial, or black market, street vendors who try to sell you items before robbing you when you take out your wallet.
- Offering to take a photo for you outside of a famous landmark in the hope of being able to steal your camera.
If you find yourself in a situation like those listed above then the best thing you can do is to remain calm and walk briskly away from the scene before you get scammed. In 99% of cases, the thief will leave you alone once they realize you know what they’re trying to do because they prefer to target an unsuspecting prospect!
Of course, not all pickpockets and thieves work to a plan using tried and tested distraction techniques. Others simply roam the streets and busy tourist spots looking for opportunities to grab your wallet, camera or bag. With this in mind, there are several main things that you can do to avoid becoming the target of an opportunistic thief.
Places Where You Should And Should Not Keep Your Valuables.
Never Keep Your Phone, Wallet Or Other Valuables:
- In an open, outer pocket of your jacket.
- In the outside pocket or your bag or backpack.
- In an open purse or bag hanging from your shoulder.
- On the top of a restaurant or cafe table where it can be easily snatched.
Always Keep Your Bag Or Purse:
- Close to your body and within easy reach – never leave your bag or purse hanging from the back of a chair or on the floor while sitting on a bench or in an outdoor cafe.
- Keep your bag or purse zipped shut.
While You’re On A Train:
- Always keep your luggage close to you in an overhead rack or at your feet under your seat.
- Always use a luggage lock to keep your suitcases safe.
While You’re Traveling By Car:
- Never leave bags, purses or other valuables unattended in your car.
- Never leave items in clear view on the back seat or dashboard of your car. Avoid parking in isolated areas or on backstreets; and when it’s possible always try to park in a secure parking lot or garage.
Extra Tips To Keep Your Belongings Safe From Pickpockets In Italy.
Just like anywhere in the world, crowded spots are more likely to attract thieves and pickpockets. Tourists and visitors are often selected as targets by thieves because they are more likely to be excited and absorbed by the new surroundings and are often tired and unalert due to busy travel itineraries.
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However, there are highly effective ways to mitigate your losses and reduce your chance of being targeted by thieves.
Money – You Don’t Need To Take Much Out With You.
It’s always useful to have some cash on you when you’re out and about in Italy but you don’t need to take too much with you. For meals in restaurants, shopping and buying entrance tickets you can use your credit or debit cards and so you only really need cash for smaller expenses such as buying the odd souvenir, tipping a waiter or buying a quick coffee.
Therefore, you should rarely need to have more than about 50 to 100 Euros on you at any one time. If you have extra money in cash then it’s better to leave it in the hotel safe or behind the reception desk at your accommodation.
Secondly, you should keep your cash and your credit cards in different places. This means that if you are unlucky and do get pickpocketed then you won’t be stuck without money or cards! You can also use multiple bags to carry your valuables. For example, you could use a secure handbag as well as a money belt that goes under your shirt to split up your cash and cards.
Some thieves use higher tech methods to steal money directly from your card but you can stop this happening by using a RFID blocking wallet. This blocks the signals from interfering with your cards and keeps you safe from electronic pickpockets. There’s a wide range of RFID wallets available, including the large capacity RFID wallet for women and men.
Jewelry And Cameras – Be Careful While You’re Out.
It’s only natural that you’ll want to dress your best while you’re exploring the sites of Italy but it’s usually a wiser idea to dress down and try to blend in a little bit. This means that you should avoid wearing ostentatious necklaces, bracelets and earrings that might attract the unwanted attention of street thieves.
Of course, it’s fine for you to wear your wedding or engagement ring but generally you should keep your jewelry to a minimum. During the evening though, if you’re eating at a fine dining restaurant or in the hotel dining room then it’s okay to really get dressed up. If you are wearing expensive jewelry just be extra careful and order a taxi from the hotel reception so you know that they’ll call a trusted company to take you to and from the restaurant.
When it comes to bringing your camera with you should always keep your camera close to your body or safely in a secure bag. Never leave your camera bag unattended and be aware of your surroundings if you’re taking photos in a crowded location.
As with all things, a little common sense will go a long way and since Italy is a very safe country then as long as you’re sensible you should have nothing to worry about. For instance, when you’re heading out to do some sightseeing it’s always a good idea to reduce the amount of valuables that you have on you at any one time.
Passport And Documents – Strategies To Protect You.
In Italy the law requires you to carry an official form of ID with you at all times. This means that even if you’re a tourist you’ll have to be able to produce ID if you’re asked by the police while you’re out during the day. Of course, you’re actually very unlikely to be stopped by the police but you should still comply with this legal regulation.
However, if you want to be safe and still comply with the law you can actually carry a photocopy of your passport with you during the day and leave your physical passport in the hotel safe or behind the reception desk. This means that you don’t have to take your passport with you and risk having it stolen.
It’s also a good idea to make photocopies of your insurance information, driving license, flight details and itinerary and keep them separately from the original documents. This will give you a back up option if you do lose the originals and will make it easier to continue your travels and arrange replacements for the documents while you’re in Italy.
You can also keep copies of your documents on a secure email account or in the cloud so you can access them at any time while you’re in Italy.
Travel Insurance – Essential For A Trip Abroad.
You should certainly invest in a good travel insurance policy that protects you from theft and losses. A good travel insurance policy will cover you for almost any eventuality and although you may not think it’s worth it, the peace of mind that it will give you is really worth every cent!
What Should You Do If You Are Pickpocketed In Italy?
If you are unlucky enough to be pickpocketed despite taking all reasonable precautions then you should try to stay calm and immediately get help to resolve the issue.
The first thing you should do if you suspect you’ve been pickpocketed is to double check your bags, hotel room and other likely places just in case you’ve accidentally jumped to the wrong conclusion.
If you’re out in the city and have been robbed then it’s worth having a quick look around the area because most thieves will take the money, camera and other valuables but dump the rest of your items. Of course, this is still a bad thing but at least you might get your bag and some of your other personal items back.
Once you are sure that you have been robbed then you should report the theft to the local police as soon as you can. You need to file an official report with the police in order to be able to make a claim with your insurance policy.
The Primary Emergency Police Number in Italy is: 112. This is a 24 hour number with phone operatives available 7 days a week. Alternatively, you can visit any one of the local police stations in person to file your crime report.
After you’ve called the police you should call your insurance company who will be able to give you any extra advice that relates to your personal insurance policy. If you’ve lost any of your cards you should contact your bank and cancel them as soon as you can.
If you’ve lost your passport then you need to contact the nearest consulate or embassy to report the loss so they can cancel the passport for you and arrange for you to get an emergency replacement.
Staying Safe From Pickpockets In Italy.
Provided that you stay alert and are aware of the potential risks then you should be safe from pickpockets and thieves if you apply a little common sense! Of course, there are situations when there really is no way you could have stopped a robbery but in most cases you can avoid becoming the victim of crime by taking sensible precautions and staying alert to your surroundings.