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Again, onboard robbery attempts on trains leaving Milano Centrale station

Again, onboard robbery attempts on trains leaving Milano Centrale station

Dec 16th, 2017, 08:34 AM
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Again, onboard robbery attempts on trains leaving Milano Centrale station

I was again on a train leaving Milano Centrale station when a team of thieves boarded the train at both ends of the carriage and targeted a pair of middle aged women who were struggling with large packages and heavy luggage. The scam involves arguing with passengers about where to put their luggage, insisting that the luggage be put into the overhead racks. The thieves will offer to "help", including thieves posing as other helpful passengers. While your arms are raised over our head, several people rifle your pockets and purse.


Since one set of the thieves - young blond girls -- pushed past me to get to their real targets, the older Italian women, I was able to alert the person I was traveling with to warn him and the other passengers. At first the Italian women ignored us, but eventually the thieves got nervous enough they left, unsuccessful. They tossed a wallet back at one of the Italian women, who turned pale, and both began checking for the rest of their valuables. They fortunately still had them.

I told the conductor about the frequency of this happening, and he said "We know." So now you know too, and you know that you're on your own!

Don't accept help from people with your luggage, and don't be intimidated by people waving tickets in your face (they're phoney) who are insisting your luggage belongs in the rack or someplace else. If that starts happening to you, pay attention to your wallet and your purse and all your belongings, and tell those people to go away, loudly.

Safe travels, especially in the crowded holiday season, when the train stations will be filled to the max with travellers and, alas, thieves.
massimop is offline  
Dec 16th, 2017, 08:46 AM
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I wonder why they would return the stolen wallet?

Was this a local or a long-distance train?

I've often had fellow passengers offer to help me put a bag overhead, so I wouldn't automatically assume offered help was coming from a thief. If you can handle the bag yourself, turn down the offer, politely though, in case it's a Good Samaritan. And do keep your valuables out of the reach of wandering hands.

Also, the less luggage you have, the less vulnerable you are.

My daughters and family are both coming to Italy for Christmas. One packs light, one doesn't. I'll warn them both.
bvlenci is offline  
Dec 16th, 2017, 09:11 AM
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Last year we were on the train to Milan. A man left his seat to go to the toilet. Another man, very smartly dressed and talking on his mobile phone, sat on the seat opposite him. As the train pulled into a station the man on the phone calmly stood up and took what appeared to be his luggage off the racks about the seats and got off.

It was only when the other passenger came back that it became clear that his case with his passport, money, etc had been stolen.

If traveling alone don't leave your personal belongings unattended for a second even if in first class.
jinz is offline  
Dec 16th, 2017, 09:45 AM
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I suppose you are going to say that everybody ELSE in the coach stood by and did nothing to HELP, is that correct?
Dukey1 is offline  
Dec 16th, 2017, 10:46 AM
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Thanks for the helpful reminders to always be careful in those situations.
baladeuse is offline  
Dec 16th, 2017, 10:54 AM
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There were fewer than 12 people in the carriage when this happened, 15 mins before the train left the station. There were 5 thieves, 2 women being targeted, my partner and I, and perhaps a few others at the rear of the car. This all happened in the middle of the carriage. As I said, the thieves were split into 2 groups, each group entering from a different end of the car and trapping the victims in between.

It took me a more than a minute to catch on that there were 2 groups. I thought the 2 men who had come to "help" lift the luggage to the overhead rack were fellow passengers, but they got so nervous when I started talking loudly to the victimised women to watch their wallet, and they left the car before the train left the station, that I finally realised they were thieves as well.

I doubt the other few passengers who were boarding and finding their seats comprehended anything of what was happening.


The girls who tossed the wallet at the victimised women were interrupted by my loud warnings to the women. They pretended to have "found" the wallet on the floor, but they were pissed and worried. They dispersed fairly quickly once I kept talking to the victimised women despite the women ignoring me.

I know a man who was pickpocketed on an Italian train (also by girls) but the girls mistakenly took a business card billfold, thinking it was his wallet. They threw it at him. As I posted earlier in the year, I found a discarded wallet in the train vestibule one time. These pickpockets don't want to be caught with other people's wallets and will throw them away or even give them back if they think they've been unmasked as thieves.

One of the reasons I became suspicious of them was that, normally, young women boarding a train in Milan are smartly dressed, even if the clothes are not expensive. If they are traveling as a group, they are lively and talking to each other. This trio were wearing shabby voluminous windbreakers, and were sour-faced. One was pushing ahead while the others dragged behind, not meeting anyone else's eyes.

It reminded me that one of the few times I thought I was in danger of being pickpocketed in Italy was during the Xmas season. I think thieves thrive on people struggling with packages, purses stuffed with cash for shopping, the huge volumes of people passing through the train stations.

In wintertime in Milan, it's not hard to tuck away all your money and passports, etc under your jacket and sweater. Keep your stuff under your clothes.
massimop is offline  
Dec 16th, 2017, 11:47 AM
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Thanks for the warning. We are headed to Paris and thinking of using a car service from the train station when bogged down with luggage. We will be coming from Reims to the 2nd in the middle of the day.
Macross is offline  
Dec 16th, 2017, 11:51 AM
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were you yelling in Italian? Just curious.
DebitNM is offline  
Dec 16th, 2017, 12:14 PM
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Dukey I know exactly what you mean. It all happens so fast and by the time you realise something is on the go it is over. What an awful experience and it is important to share stories as it helps keeps everyone safe.
jinz is offline  
Dec 16th, 2017, 02:39 PM
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Neither of us was yelling, although I spoke loudly (in both English and Italian) because I was halfway down the carriage from the attempted theft.

My travel partner and I were together as we boarded the carriage, and I was pulling wheeled luggage behind me. When the grubby young women tried elbowing around me down the aisle, I stepped into a seating aisle to get away from them, but then I was separated from my travel partner and alarmed for him. I called sharply to him in English to watch out for the girls behind him. He did, stepping away, into the seating area, but then when I saw the girls heading for the two women, I told my travel partner he should warn the women.

I didn't hear exactly what he said in Italian, but by that time the young thieves were arguing with the 2 older women, telling them they had to move their luggage from between the seats (where it fit perfectly) and grabbing it to put it in the overhead. I could see my travel partner's words hadn't really been heard -- the whole point of this scam is to fluster the victims. At that point I spoke loudly in Italian that the ladies should not let the girls touch their things -- but the women really didn't pay attention to me -- I was just one more element of confusion.

By this time two men had showed up to begin struggling to lift the women's heavy suitcase into the bin, and I called loudly again in Italian to "pay attention to your wallets." The two older women didn't hear me -- they were too concerned with their luggage falling back down, since it couldn't fit in the bin -- but the rest of the crew definitely heard me. When I again repeated the warning about their wallet in Italian, the two men let go of the suitcase completely -- I thought to get away from the girls. One of the young women then tossed a wallet at one of the older women (my companion saw this, not me) and then they left. I saw the older women digging through their bags and pockets to reassure themselves and each other they still had their cell phones, other valuables. I thought the men had returned to their seats, but then I realised they weren't sitting anywhere in the car. Shortly after that, the train left the station.

Fortunately the two older women didn't appear too rattled once the girls quit badgering them and they realised they still had their stuff. I didn't speak with them at all. I'm not sure they realised we were trying to talk to them. It didn't matter. I'm just glad that, for whatever reason, the scheme to rob them didn't work.
massimop is offline  
Dec 16th, 2017, 02:41 PM
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I live in a rural area in Italy, where most people are very trusting. It's a common habit to leave your keys in the door if you go out for a short time, in case a relative or friend drops by while you're out. In our building (address not to be revealed) the front door is never locked. Two of my neighbors usually have the house keys in their own doors. One leaves her door ajar when she goes to work, because her mother does grocery shopping for her, and doesn't have a key to the house. None of the garages in the building are locked on the inside, and since the front door is never locked, and everyone leaves their keys in the car, all of the cars could be stolen easily. In the supermarket, many women leave their purses in the shopping cart while browsing the shelves. When they buy something, if they don't have their glasses, they hand the wallet to the salesperson and ask him to count out the money.

A man in our town, whose house is right at the edge of a road, recently left his keys in the door, and when he later went to retrieve them, they were gone. The same man, a month later, left his car in his daughter's driveway, with the keys in the ignition, while he went to knock on the door. She wasn't home, but the car was gone when he returned to the driveway. Since his car key was on a chain with all his other keys, he had to change his locks a second time.

People like this, when they're traveling by train, are not likely to take any precautions with their possessions.
bvlenci is offline  
Dec 16th, 2017, 02:49 PM
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I learned at the Termini station that, in a similar situation, the target was not the two nearby women who I thought I was warning. The target was me, distracted by what looked like a nearby pickpocketing.

These people are masters of distraction. Hope Massimop wasn’t robbed.
xcountry is offline  
Dec 16th, 2017, 02:54 PM
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I am heartened to hear that someone attempted to warn the victims. All too often it seems people stand back and do nothing because they won't want to get involved.
Dukey1 is offline  
Dec 16th, 2017, 11:18 PM
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All my valuables were buried under several layers of clothing, since it was quite cold yesterday in Milan (for me!). But the minute the young women started pushing past me, I also moved immediately all the way over to the windows, out of the aisle, and pulled my wheeled luggage in there with me. My travel partner also stood with his back (and backpack) up against the windows, his hands protecting his stuff. Ordinarily both of us would have gone to the assistance of two older women, both much shorter than we are, who were struggling to lift a heavy bag into the overhead bin (actually, we would have pointed out the space between the seatbacks, on the floor, where their bag had been stowed and ultimately was stowed). But this time all we felt we could safely do was tell the women to watch out and glare at the thieves. Once they were gone, I did instinctively double check for my wallet and phone etc, because these thieves really are pros, and they had been on the train behind me for some minutes before I spotted them.

As for people getting involved, the first time I witnessed a robbery on the train from Milano Centrale, I didn't realise it was a robbery. (See previous link.) Even here, both my travel partner and I later discussed that we were reluctant call out the word "thieves!" because even though these types of pickpockets generally flee rather than fight, both of us were born in NYC, and we are cowards that way!

Both times I have witnessed this scam in Milano Centrale the targets were older Italians. It's possible the thieves have more luck bullying and confusing older Italian women with their arguments of "that's my seat, your luggage needs to move, it belongs up there" and that Italian women are more likely to have put everything valuable into a purse that's easy to pop open. But even though I pass through Milano Centrale dozens of times every year and never been robbed, I never assume I'm not a target, whether I'm on the platform, getting some coffee, boarding the train or getting seated and settled, and anything valuable I have is maximally out of reach of fast fingers.
massimop is offline  
Dec 17th, 2017, 03:17 AM
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Upon reflection, putting together what xcountry and Dukey1 wrote, my advice is to ignore that scoldy inner voice (or outer voice!) that nags you to "get involved" with helping in a situation like this -- especially don't offer to help lift bags over your head for strangers. Don't leave your things unattended to assist or intervene. I didn't realize (and am still not sure) how many thieves were in that group.

Sure Mom taught you to always help old ladies but take care of securing your own valuables first.
massimop is offline  
Dec 17th, 2017, 03:34 AM
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Massimop I suggest there is a parallel between getting involved with thieves and getting involved here when someone is being bullied, which you do to your credit. I doubt you can successfully fight the urge to jump in.

I involve myself in physical altercations in all sorts of situations as I still believe I am 25 years old. As my wife says “it must be comforting to know how you're going to die.”

So I’ll keep getting involved knowing the theives or bullies will eventually win a round. What a great trip report that will be.
xcountry is offline  

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